To absolutely no one’s surprise, BYU football coach Kalani Sitake is thrilled to have the rival Utah Utes join the Big 12 Conference next football season.

Speaking publicly after the Cougars’ seventh practice of preseason training camp on Tuesday for the first time since news broke that Pac-12 schools Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Arizona State are jumping to the league that invited BYU almost two years ago, Sitake said it will be exciting to compete against the Utes on a yearly basis.

“I think the conference has gotten a lot stronger. I am really excited that they are going to be on our schedule consistently, so I am looking forward to it. I think those schools that have joined, it is going to be a lot of fun.” — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake

“I think the conference has gotten a lot stronger. I am really excited that they are going to be on our schedule consistently, so I am looking forward to it,” Sitake said. “I think those schools that have joined, it is going to be a lot of fun.”

The entrance of the so-called Four Corner schools and Colorado in 2024 will give BYU plenty of travel partners, plenty of company in the West, and the Big 12 Conference teams in every time zone.

Sitake coached at Utah from 2005-14 as linebackers coach and defensive coordinator before leaving in 2015 for a one-year stint as Oregon State’s DC. He replaced Bronco Mendenhall as BYU’s head coach in 2016.

He said he hasn’t reached out to his good friend, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, about the Utes’ move because both squads are well into fall camp and preparing for openers.

Utah hosts Florida on Aug. 31 and BYU hosts Sam Houston on Sept. 2.

“I try not to (bother him). We are all so swamped right now with what we have gotta get done,” Sitake said. “That doesn’t help us for this year. We all know that it is happening next year, which is going to be fine. I will talk about it with you guys because we have the time now. 

“But I don’t want to disrespect his time, and then also mine.”

BYU and Utah didn’t meet in 2022 and aren’t scheduled to meet in 2023. They have a contract to play six times during the next seven years, beginning Sept. 9, 2024, at Rice-Eccles, but that deal will obviously have to be torn up with Utah moving to the Big 12.

“I got players on this team that won’t play against those guys in the new conference, so we are focused on the schedule we have right now, but excited about the schedule we have next year and the years coming in that conference,” Sitake said.

As for the state of college football right now, with schools jumping leagues and moving away from longtime rivalries in the pursuit of more money and bigger media rights payouts, Sitake said he’s not as worried about it as a lot of others are.

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“We are a society that can adapt. There is a lot of interest in the game of football and college football, so change can be good,” he said. “I know there are people upset about tradition being lost, but that’s just what society is. Things move and they adapt and you evolve and things change.”

Sitake compared the latest changes to what has happened the past few years, with name, image and likeness (NIL) revenue being available to student-athletes, the transfer portal, etc.

“College football will be just fine. We are all adapting to what happen. … All that stuff we have to work with. But the interest and the excitement of college football is still there, and still strong.”

The Cougars were in pads for the second straight day Tuesday, and practice got a bit chippy in the media viewing portion.

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There were at least two minor scuffles, including one between a lineman and a tight end in which punches were thrown.

“Yeah, good to see (the intensity), but not the punches. I mean, I don’t mind the intensity,” Sitake said. “I told the guys that football is violent and it is physical, but we got to be tougher mentally and not throw punches, not cost the team.”

Younger players were involved in the scuffles.

“There are still some new guys that aren’t used to the way we do it. But the veteran guys know,” Sitake said. “I think for the most part, competition is really nice. We have been really physical. Yesterday was a lot of live tackling stuff, so I feel good with where we are at, the competition, and I think we will be in a really good place by the time we (break camp).”

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake celebrates victory over Utah at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. BYU won 26-17, ending a nine-game losing streak to the Utes. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
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