What goes around comes around and sometimes comes back to stay. After 13 years apart, BYU and Utah are returning to the same conference, and they have no one to blame but themselves, except for maybe Oklahoma, Texas, USC, UCLA, Colorado, Washington and Oregon.

When the Big 12 threw the Utes a lifeline Friday and saved them from their own demise, it reunited a family feud between a couple that can’t even agree on when they first met. Utah says 1896. BYU says 1922.

What matters most to ESPN and Fox is that they meet again in 2024 and every year after that, most likely on Thanksgiving weekend — and on the air. Rivalries, especially heated ones with conference implications, draw a national audience and the BYU-Utah game has proven to be among the best. When given the chance to secure it and broadcast it, the networks couldn’t resist.

University of Utah officially joins the Big 12 Conference
What Utah president Taylor Randall, BYU AD Tom Holmoe and others said about the Utes’ move to the Big 12

The spirited and emotional division between fans over this week’s development is indicative of the game itself. It’s hard to find someone who is happy because it has robbed us of what we enjoy the most when it comes to the rivalry — spite.

For example, the Utes have boldly enjoyed 12 years of what BYU would consider condescending dialogue. Being a member of the Pac-12 put Utah on a self-constructed, in-state pedestal where they pelted BYU for its “less-than” status as a lowly independent. P5 glory was a golden recruiting tool for Kyle Whittingham and a way for rabid Utes fans to put an exclamation point on an argument — no matter if they won it or not.

Yes, life was grand for the team up north. Utah’s football team improved, eventually won championships, and even reached a couple of Rose Bowls. The Utes even had the tenacity to question whether BYU was worth playing anymore — all while Cougar fans watched and wondered if such grandeur would ever swing back their way.

It took a while, but it came.

When Texas and Oklahoma announced their departure from the Big 12 to the SEC on July 27, 2021, the door opened for BYU. An official invitation by the Big 12 was extended and the Cougars accepted on Sept. 10, 2021. BYU agreed to join the league along with Houston, Cincinnati and UCF.

Utah didn’t flinch much. When you are boating on your own Lake Superior, a ripple in the water is hardly noticed. Not even the Cougars’ convincing 26-17 victory against the Utes the following day did much to stir their soul.

However, for the “Team Down South,” it started the restoration of equality. The Cougars went 6-1 against Pac-12 teams that year and as they motored out of independence, the local radio debates started to change.

BYU now had some salvos of its own and what happened next was almost too good to be true for a national fan base that spent over a decade taking it in instead of dishing it out.

USC and UCLA stunned college football on June 30, 2022, by announcing their plans to leave the Pac-12 and join the Big Ten. Suddenly, what Utah thought was a league built on a rock turned to sand and began to wash away.

Commissioner Brett Yormark’s aggressive move to renegotiate and extend the Big 12’s television contract early with Fox and ESPN turned into the play of the year. It solidified the future of BYU’s new conference while hitting the Pac-12 so hard it doubled over and never recovered.

Colorado delivered a second body blow on July 27 by announcing its Pac-12 departure for the Big 12 — citing stability and the lack of a clear television future as its motives.

As seismic shifts to the college athletics landscape goes on around them, Cougars stay focused on the season ahead
Utah, BYU fans and others react to Utes’ move to the Big 12

For Cougar fans, the script was flipped. The story was now about BYU’s ascension and Utah’s uncertain future, and it cleansed Provo’s palate like a sweet sorbet before dinner. Much of Cougar Nation had longed for this kind of day.

When Oregon and Washington announced Friday that they too were bolting the once-proud Pac-12 for the Big Ten, the Conference of Champions fell unconscious on the canvas. But what happened in the hours that followed will go down as the irony of all ironies in the rivalry.

The demise of the league that Utah was completely dependent on forced them into an act of independence and they reached out to BYU’s new conference. The idea of being relegated to irrelevance was not an option.

Sound familiar? The Cougars left the depleted Mountain West Conference and went independent in 2011 to remain relevant until a power conference threw them a lifeline.

“Don’t take them!” was the narrative on BYU social media. “We don’t need them! We don’t want them! We’ve moved on to bigger things! Let them go back to being a G5! They deserve this!”

Other voices celebrated the decision as a way of keeping the BYU-Utah game on the schedule — every year.

What the announcement also meant is the Sept. 7, 2024, game in Salt Lake City is off. So are the five other scheduled meetings. They will be replaced by an annual BYU-Utah Thanksgiving weekend clash as determined by the conference, just as it once was in the Mountain West and WAC days when the rivalry became worth repeating.

The petty debates, gnashing of teeth and one-upmanship are sure to continue. It’s what makes a game worth paying for if you are a television network, and it makes for a battle that has always been and always will be the Super Bowl of the state.

Just imagine the day when BYU and Utah fight over a ticket to the Big 12 championship game and a place in the College Football Playoff. The stakes in this game have been high before, but never like that.

Neither side needs to like how we got here, but here we are, and the Cougars and Utes have no one to blame but themselves. They made the game must-see TV and when it came time to consider if it was worth the trouble, Fox and ESPN said yes.

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Likewise, when it came time for BYU to vote to admit Utah into the Big 12, their rivals, separated by 40 miles and 13 long years, voted yes. What goes around, comes around and sometimes it comes back around to stay.

For the overheated fan, replacing spite with a cold Sprite or even a 7-Up could be just what the doctor needs to order. The BYU and Utah game may not be “Crisp and clean with no caffeine” but it’s back to stay.

Time to drink it up — again.

Utah defensive back Julian Blackmon makes an interception on a pass intended for BYU wide receiver Micah Simon at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. Blackmon returned the pick for a touchdown. | Colter Peterson, Deseret News

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com. 

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