What goes around, comes around, and after Tuesday’s BYU-Utah baseball game, one of the greatest rivalries in college sports will be back around as members of the same conference — just as it was 13 years ago and for 88 years before that.

Once the final out is recorded Tuesday night at Miller Park (6 p.m. MDT, ESPN+), the estranged relationship between the Cougars and Utes will be made whole again. Utah joins the Big 12 this summer and reunites with BYU in head-to-head, in-house competition in the fall.

It’s been a long separation. Utah’s move to the Pac-12 and BYU’s exodus into football independence and membership in the West Coast Conference was good for both sides, but it transformed their annual events into clashes of convenience, or worse, it made mainstay meetings optional.

The coach and fan debate turned from the importance of winning the rivalry game to whether it should even be played. Without a conference mandate, the BYU-Utah competitions fell into the hands of its coaches and that triggered another game neither athletic department is good at — playing politics.

Football series sacked

Once the extended agony of losing became greater than the joy of winning, the battles built by tradition turned personal and temporary. During a period of perceived chilliness between coaches Kyle Whittingham and Bronco Mendenhall, the Utes announced before the 2013 game that they wouldn’t be scheduling the Cougars again until 2016. By chance, the two teams did meet in the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl.

Getting ghosted by Utah was a sore spot with BYU because as an independent, the Cougars needed the Utes on its schedule while Utah made it clear that it didn’t need or necessarily want BYU on its schedule. Playing the game was preached as a soft priority — and with Utah’s leverage, the Cougars had little choice but to play along.

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For example, in 2019, Utah dropped the BYU games from its 2022 and 2023 football schedules so it could play Florida instead. As part of an olive branch offering, the Utes extended the backside of the rivalry series through 2028.

The Cougars got a brief taste of life with the upper hand when, as a new member of the Big 12, they watched the Pac-12 implode almost overnight. With USC, UCLA, Washington and Oregon bolting for the Big Ten, the possibility of Utah losing its Power Five status and being relegated to a reworked Pac-12 or even the Mountain West gave many in Cougar Nation a wry “what goes around, comes around” smile.

Krystkowiak refuses to play

After a punch by BYU guard Nick Emery during a 2016 game at the Huntsman Center that resulted in Emery being ejected and suspended one game, Utah basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak took it upon himself to cancel the seventh-longest running series in the history of college basketball.

Krystkowiak determined the rivalry needed a “cool down” and then-athletic director Chris Hill supported him. The coach even offered to pay the $80,000 cancelation fee for the scheduled 2017 game in Provo with his own money. BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe called the move “ridiculous.” The uproar motivated the Utah state legislature to audit the Utes’ athletic department.

The hubbub over football and basketball, and the lesser-known entanglements between the other sports, would have never happened had the rivalry not lost its parental supervision by a conference commissioner. The meaningful rivalry games would have never turned conditional or political, nor would they have been moved to early season or midweek dates like Tuesday’s baseball game.

Rivalry restored

With the nature of conference expansion, the breakup was unavoidable. As it turned out, so was the getting back together. Facing a threat to its survival, Utah had little choice but to grab the lifeline offered by the Big 12 and rejoin BYU as a peer instead of a superior.

Fittingly, the 13 years of separation will come to an end with a midweek baseball game where both coaches will save their best pitchers for their respective weekend series in the Big 12 and Pac-12.

After Tuesday, the next BYU-Utah clash is Sept. 23 in women’s soccer at South Field, where the teams will put everything on the line as members of the Big 12. The game’s magnitude will be restored — both in rivalry lore and in the chase for the conference championship.

Four weeks later, the Cougars will host Utah in women’s volleyball on Oct. 19 at the Smith Fieldhouse. As part of the conference-mandated home-and-home series, Utah will host BYU at the Huntsman Center Nov. 8.

The Cougars and Utes meet in football at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Nov. 9. It will be BYU’s first game in Salt Lake since 2018. After six years, the reunion up north will again be a wonderfully miserable night, where losing the battle will feel worse than the joy of winning it.

The color clash of royal blue and crimson will glisten under the stadium lights. The marching bands will compete for playing time and the MUSS will be at its best.

All will be right with the world. Again.

Big 12 is boss

The best part about the BYU-Utah shared conference affiliation is neither program has the power to mess it up. Nobody rules the roost, not a coach, an administrator or a fan. This game belongs to the Big 12. It will be a restoration to the way it once was — a football fight that will have conference positioning and bowl potential hanging on every point.

There are some who wish BYU and Utah would never play again in any sport, but those are as few as the extremists on both sides who try to hijack the rivalry and turn it into something beyond sports. The reality is, both universities exist to educate while the sports battles are staged for fun.

On the level, the athletic programs are improved from those years in the Mountain West. The two new school presidents, C. Shane Reese (BYU) and Taylor Randall (Utah), are friends. Athletic directors Holmoe (BYU) and Mark Harlan (Utah) respect each other and work well together, and the fervor from the fans still burns brightly.

Even during Utah’s spectacular Rose Bowl season in 2021, Cougar Nation was there every step of the way to remind the Utes of BYU’s 26-17 victory that same season in Provo. Likewise, Utah fans were quick to shout down the Cougars’ stellar Big 12 basketball debut and NCAA Tournament appearance with the results of the Utes’ 73-69 victory last December at the Huntsman Center.

People may have tried to stop it, but the rivalry remains bigger than any one person or administration. In fact, it is as undefeated as BYU’s 13-0 national championship football season in 1984 and the Utes’ perfect seasons in 2004 and 2008 — and as exhausting as it can sometimes be, the rivalry is ready for a revival in all sports.

The last out

BYU and Utah first met in baseball in 1895 and legend has it the game ended in a scoreless tie and a fight. They meet Tuesday for the 380th time. The weather will be spectacular, and Larry H. Miller Field will be packed while the players duke it out in a game that won’t matter much beyond the final score.

But once that final out is recorded, it all changes back into a competition that will mean so much more. What goes around, comes around, and the BYU-Utah rivalry is coming back around in the Big 12, and it’s about time.

Utah Utes Kai Roberts slides into third base and is tagged out by BYU's Easton Jones at Smith's Ballpark in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 9, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is a play-by-play announcer and show host for BYUtv/ESPN+. He co-hosts “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com and is the author of the children’s book “C is for Cougar,” available at deseretbook.com.