Utah Athletic Director Chris Hill had a sit down with interview with the Deseret News and Lee Benson. The discussion was mostly about his time at Utah, and how he got here. There was one quote that lit a fire under the local media, and that was when Benson asked Hill:
Given the controversy it stirred up, do you ever revisit your decision to not play BYU in football every year?
Hills response set the local media a fire on Twitter.
Not too much. The deep, dark dirty secret is our fans are not disappointed. That’s a hard thing to say, right? There are three groups. There’s our fans, who say it’s only two years (off), we get to play Michigan here, it’s not like every year we’re not going to play them, it’s not that big a deal. Then there’s the media, bless their hearts, but it kills their self-serving jobs. What are you going to talk about on the radio if you don’t have the BYU-Utah game? What are you going to write about? And of course BYU wants us to play every year. But my job is what’s in the best interest of the University of Utah, and the Michigan game this year at our place will be the most-watched game out of Salt Lake City ever.
Why would Hill say this? Is it the truth? The response from the majority of my sample size on Twitter, which may be biased, was they they could not care less if Utah played BYU every season. So one has to examine, who benefits from this game being played?
Utah's benefit used to be a full stadium. That is not the case any longer. Utah has sold out their stadium for years, and was at 101% capacity last season. Utah would have the opportunity to show recruits who the best team in the state is by the results on the field. Utah takes this game very seriously, and the emotion they expend can rival any other game on their schedule. With the changing landscape of college football, and the split between Power 5, and Group of 5 schools, the game with the Cougars might be viewed nationally much like a game with Fresno St or Utah State, even though it could be the biggest game locally.
BYU's benefit is the opportunity to play rivalry game, when they don't have conference games on their schedule to compete for a conference championship. They are trying to rekindle the rivalry with Utah State, and make the battle for the Wagon Wheel have more meaning than it has in the last few decades. It used to seen as the annual beat down of the Aggies, but the last few years the Utah State has come out on top a couple times, including their first victory in Provo last season. That was their first win in Utah County in a few decades. During the first part of this century, BYU would only sign 2 for 1, or one game in Provo only deals with the Utah State. Now it has moved to home and home deals, alternating from Logan to Provo. The game with the Utes seems to be more important to BYU than the match up with Aggies, but it is gaining momentum. BYU was OK signing 2 for 1 or one game only deals with the Aggies, but has seemingly to put their foot down, and will only accept home and home deals with the Utes.
What about some of the people that feel the most attacked...the local media. It is the game that moved the meter most for ratings and viewership. It made for good radio, tv, and written media. Throw out to ignite one fan base or another, and watch the rivalry fire burn. Mentions of four in a row, Johnny Harline, Max Hall, Austin Collie, Morgan Scalley, and other things to get the goat of one fan base or the other. Then proclaim, "Who says The Rivalry is dead?" Having this game go away would decimate the ratings and readership. When Utah is preparing for Colorado, which has been decided by one play every game they've played in the Pac 12, the hype doesn't do what "Deseret Duel" did. There has been a vocal push by the media to play the game in November every year. A wish that has been granted for 2018, but the game being played then will be an anomaly.
BYU stands a lot more to gain from this game being played. The local media benefits greatly from this game being played. Utah has little benefit from playing The Holy War. Utah's goal is to get a Pac 12 South Championship, win the Pac 12 Title game, and get into the College Football playoff. A victory over BYU doesn't accomplish any othose goals. Utah fans are beginning to comprehend the reality of the situation the Utes are in. It is a fun local game, that brings emotion out of both fan bases, but it's not a game that Utah "needs" every season.