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At a time when college basketball already has enough trouble attaining relevance during the regular season, Utah is needlessly jeopardizing the game that annually resonates most in its home state.
The Utes have backed out of their previously scheduled 2016 meeting with BYU at the Marriott Center and have offered no guarantee the series will resume thereafter.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak cited incidents in two of the last three meetings between the two teams as his rationale for halting the series.
BYU guard Nick Emery was ejected and later suspended one game after punching Utah's Brandon Taylor late in the Utes' 83-75 victory at the Huntsman Center earlier this season. Two years ago, BYU center Eric Mika was ejected after a flagrant foul against Utes center Dallin Bachynski.
"The events that have occurred in our recent games with BYU led me to ask [athletic director Chris] Hill several weeks ago if we could take a cooling off period and put the rivalry on hold," Krystkowiak said in a statement. "The level of emotions has escalated to the point where there is the potential for serious injury. Chris said he would support me in canceling next year's scheduled game against BYU."
Krystkowiak's decision is a massive overreaction. Was Emery wrong to punch Taylor? Absolutely. Was it grounds to consider halting the rivalry? Not even close.
It was only six years ago that the situation was reversed after then-Utah guard Marshall Henderson punched Emery's older brother Jackson and earned a one-game suspension for it. Both the elder Emery and Rose responded to that situation with composure and compassion.
Said Jackson Emery, "It was in the heat of the moment, I know that Marshall is a great competitor."
Said Rose, "This is not a normal game, it is a rivalry game and emotions run high."
Perhaps that's why Rose was so shocked and angry to receive Krystkowiak's call last month informing him Utah had decided to cancel next season's matchup, the final game under the current contract. The Utes and Cougars have played at least once every season since 1909 with the exception of 1944 when the season was cut short due to World War II.
"I disagree with the decision," Rose said in a statement. "I know our students, our players, our fans and college basketball fans in the intermountain area want to see this longstanding rivalry continue."
If Krystkowiak is sincere in his desire to merely provide a cooling off period for the rivalry, then his approach is a major miscalculation. Halting the series will only fuel the enmity between the two programs and the two fan bases, who already have begun bickering on social media regarding who needs the game more.
The truth is both programs benefit from a healthy rivalry.
BYU may need the game more from a strength of schedule standpoint because it plays in the WCC rather than the Pac-12, but it's not like marquee non-conference opponents are knocking down Larry Krystkowiak's door to come play at the Huntsman Center. San Diego State was the only quality non-league foe Utah managed to entice to come to Salt Lake City this season. Last season, Wichita State was the Utes' only quality home non-conference opponent.
This year's BYU game drew a sellout crowd of 15,131 to the Huntsman Center. Utah is averaging 12,572 fans in its other home games.
Why would Utah not want to play the only opponent who has sold out its home arena? Why would the Utes halt the seventh longest rivalry in all of college basketball? Evidently, they believe it's the best way to send BYU a message that recent behavior will not be tolerated.
Hopefully Krystkowiak will reconsider, however, because there has to be a better solution. In an era when conference realignment has already robbed college basketball of some of its most iconic rivalries, it can only hurt the sport to needlessly eliminate another one.
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