The cooling off period in the Utah-BYU basketball rivalry won't last very long.
In a victory for common sense, Utah athletic director Chris Hill announced on Thursday that the Utes have agreed to resume the series with the Cougars in Provo in either Nov. or Dec. 2017. Hill said the two schools are in negotiations regarding future matchups.
The announcement comes four months after Utah backed out of a previously scheduled 2016 game at BYU and offered no assurances the series would resume thereafter. Utes 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 last season. Two years earlier, 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 January 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."
Utah's decision to halt the series shocked and angered many around the state. 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.
One day after Utah put the rivalry on hold, members of the BYU student section showed up to a home game against Santa Clara wearing construction hats, bicycle helmets, football helmets and other forms of safety gear. They further mocked Krystkowiak's purported safety concerns by responding to any hard foul during the game with chants of "That's not safe!"
It wasn't only BYU students who weren't happy to see the rivalry in jeopardy. State legislators voiced their concern and Cougars coach Dave Rose couldn't hide his anger either.
"I disagree with the decision," Rose said in a January statement. "I know our students, our players, our fans and college basketball fans in the intermountain area want to see this longstanding rivalry continue."
That Utah reconsidered should be welcome news for both sides.
BYU needs the game more than Utah does from a strength of schedule standpoint because it plays in the WCC rather than the Pac-12. But the Utes benefit too from a quality non-conference game guaranteed to generate local and national interest annually and to draw a sellout crowd to the Huntsman Center every two years.
Resuscitating a century-old rivalry is also good for college basketball as a whole. In an era when conference realignment has already robbed the sport of some of its most iconic rivalries, there's no reason to needlessly eliminate another one.
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