PROVO — In 2015, when BYU and Utah weren’t scheduled to play each other in football, the Cougars and Utes ended up playing anyway — in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Could a similar, unscheduled postseason meeting between the archrivals happen in basketball?
For the first time since 1944, BYU and Utah did not play against each other in basketball this season. Citing incidents in two games over the past three years, Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak requested an interruption in the series, leaving Cougar coach Dave Rose fuming.
“This doesn’t make any sense to me at all,” Rose said at the time, in January 2016.
Utah decided to cancel the contracted game against BYU that was scheduled to be played in Provo last December. As part of the contract, Utah must provide BYU an $80,000 buyout, an expense Krystkowiak promised to personally pay for in four payments of $20,000 over four years.
After falling in the West Coast Conference Tournament semifinals last Monday, BYU (22-11) appears to be headed to the National Invitation Tournament next week. Utah, meanwhile, fell to California Thursday in the Pac-12 quarterfinals and its next stop is also expected to be in the NIT.
Many have speculated that if both BYU and Utah end up in the NIT, that tournament will try to arrange a showdown between the rivals.
“We’ll see how that plays out. Conspiracy theorists already have it done,” BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said last week during a Q&A with local reporters. “If it happened, it happened. It happened with the bowl game the year we weren’t playing so somehow people want us to play. It’s going to happen one way or another. It would be very ironic if it happened that way. If it did, it would be a good matchup.”
Holmoe is a member of NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Committee, which is tasked with the selecting, seeding and bracketing the NCAA Tournament’s 68-team field.
According to nycbuckets.com, which projects the 32-team NIT field, BYU is projected as a No. 3 seed and Utah is a No. 2 seed. Its mock bracket has the Cougars playing a home game against Fresno State and the Utes hosting Auburn in the first round, with the winners meeting in the second round.
Even if BYU and Utah don’t play this season, there are contracted games between the two schools in the coming years.
The Utes are scheduled to play the Cougars at the Marriott Center in December 2017. BYU and Utah will also play at Vivint Smart Home Arena in the Beehive Classic in 2018 and in 2019 the Cougars will take on Utah in the Huntsman Center.
BYU owns a 129-128 all-time record against the Utes in a series that dates back to 1909.
As far as the basketball series with Utah goes, Holmoe didn’t have much to say about it.
“There was a decision made not to play. They didn’t want to play. We didn’t have a contract and they came back and we finished off a contract,” he said. “I had nothing to do with that. I don’t really care to comment. It’s not my business. It’s their business. I’m excited that we’re back with them. (Utah athletic director) Chris Hill and I have spoken a few more times in the past couple weeks about things. I think we’re back to scheduled games. We’re looking forward to the future.”
In football, meanwhile, Utah has won six consecutive games against BYU dating back to 2010.
Asked how important it is for BYU to beat Utah in football, Holmoe said: “It’s very important. I grew up in (Los Angeles). So I watched the UCLA-USC rivalry for as long as I can remember to the point where I would cry as a kid when UCLA would lose. I get that. Our kids cry when we lose to Utah. Some adults cry when we lose to Utah. I love that. I think it’s great. I don’t like losing to Utah but I love the competition. When you win those games, you’re on the other side of it. There’s nothing that makes your heart beat more and make you feel that sense of accomplishment than to be able to go into that game and win that game. The football and basketball games are really important. But if you know me and have seen me at the baseball or softball or tennis — or whatever the sport may be — it’s all relative to those kids. It’s exactly the same. The forces outside in football and basketball are way bigger but I love the rivalry.”