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Utah-USU to renew basketball rivalry; football future uncertain

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Utah State's #2 Chris Forbes tries to grab the loose ball after a bad pitch from Quarterback #4 Travis Cox before Utah's #29 Ryan Smith can recover it during play in Logan Saturday September 18, 2004. Photo by Scott G. Winterton/Deseret Morning News Septe

Utah State’s #2 Chris Forbes tries to grab the loose ball after a bad pitch from Quarterback #4 Travis Cox before Utah’s #29 Ryan Smith can recover it during play in Logan Saturday September 18, 2004. Photo by Scott G. Winterton/Deseret Morning News September 18, 2004. (Submission date: 09/18/2004)

Scott G. Winterton, Dnews

SALT LAKE CITY — Thanks to the Zions Bank Beehive Classic, Utah and Utah State will square off in December of 2017. It’ll mark the first men’s basketball meeting between the Utes and Aggies since 2010.

A drought of similar duration — or perhaps even longer — could be brewing in football, though.

Despite the “Battle of the Brothers” taking place last fall at Rice-Eccles Stadium, no future games are scheduled in a rivalry that has been played 122 times since 1892. From 1919-2009, it took place every year.

Athletics directors Chris Hill (Utah) and John Hartwell (Utah State) have had conversations about continuing the game, but nothing is definite at this point and time.

“Football scheduling has become so tricky because you’ve got some schools going so far out,” Hartwell said. “So we are looking, probably, at the first dates that match up as probably in the early 2020s. So it’s still a handful of years away.”

Hartwell added that he and Hill are both on the same page in that continuing the rivalry is a very good thing — even if the game isn’t on an every-year basis.

Problem is, even that’s complicated. So much so, in fact, that Hill noted that things are so crazy with conference realignments and such that it’s hard to project out more than five years.

For the next four seasons, anyhow, Utah’s non-conference slate (three games) is completely full. During that span, the Utes have contractual agreements for home games with BYU, Idaho State, Northern Illinois, North Dakota, San Jose State, Southern Utah and Weber State. Road games are set for BYU, Northern Illinois and San Jose State.

Utah State is noticeably absent.

Hill noted that the Utes have a unique situation with nine Pac-12 games and two in-state rivals. If they played BYU and USU each season, that would leave them with just one opening on the schedule. Besides the inflexibility, games against the Cougars and Aggies bring an emotional element comparable to conference play — especially away from home.

“These in-state games are really hard for us right now. I mean, we’re sitting there and they’re tough and some may say we’re dodging it,” Hill said. “But, in a way, playing a team on the road that has that kind of passion and that much on the line to beat you is not exactly something that Kyle Whittingham has encouraged me to do.”

Utah and BYU are scheduled to meet each season through 2020, giving the Utes 10 emotionally charged games per year. Hill acknowledged that makes life a little different.

“We need to make sure that we have a schedule that is helping us reach our goals and also in line with other schools in our league — what they do, who do they schedule and where do they do home-and-home,” Hill said. “Right now we want to match what other Pac-12 schools do, and that may not be something that’s going to fit in perfectly.”

The square peg in the round hole, at this point, appears to be Utah-USU. Hill declined to speculate on the future of the rivalry.

“We know it’s important for people, but at the same time I get back to coach Whit and I,” he said. “I think we are in a highly competitive and very intense situation.”

Adding more emotion to it, obviously, isn’t real desirable.

“I have to be sensitive to the coaches and what they feel is a good schedule for them. If that includes a home-and-home with Utah State, if it doesn’t, that weighs really heavy on decisions I make,” Hill said. “So Kyle and I talk a lot about scheduling. So really, in this day and age, we only have three games to schedule, and Kyle’s done a great job and I want to make sure that he feels good about his schedule preparing him for the league.”

USU, meanwhile, wants a home-and-home arrangement with its next-door neighbor. The Aggies and BYU have a deal though 2020 and have alternated between Logan and Provo on an annual basis since 2012.

“We’re working with some other Power-5 schools, trying to get home-and-homes as well, and it’s kind of our overall scheduling philosophy,” Hartwell said. “We want to have six home games each year, four of those are built in in conference games, and continue to play an FCS game every year.”

Hartwell explained that the other home game — every other year — is spoken for with BYU.

“So in those odd years when we’re not having BYU at home, we’re hoping to fill that hopefully with some Power-5 opponents,” he said.

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer