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Last November, Max Hall called out the University of Utah. At the time, he said "I think the whole university and their fans and the organization is classless." He later provided additional details of what led him to form such an opinion and apologized for generalizing his statements.
Apology or not, the damage was done, and the gulf between the two schools widened.
Without getting into the debate of was Max Hall right in saying what he said and was what he said true, Utah may have a chance in the somewhat near future to silence Hall and all critics. Utah can prove that it is a classy organization and university by the way it handles what many believe to be an imminent invitation to join the Pac-10 conference.
While the prognosticators feel Utah fits the Pac-10’s needs geographically, institutionally, competitively, and monetarily, they don’t feel that BYU fits institutionally and monetarily (at least not if Utah is already a conference member). This leads to a fairly common consensus nationwide that Utah will be invited and BYU will not. This is where Utah can make a stand and be classy.
Utah can be classy by conditioning its acceptance of an invite to the Pac-10 on the inclusion of BYU in the Pac-10 or another BCS automatic qualifying conference, such as the Big 12 (in the event a vacancy occurs). While I cannot find anything inherently wrong in Utah unconditionally accepting an invitation to the Pac-10, I cannot find anything classy about Utah jumping ship from the Mountain West Conference (MWC) without looking out for BYU.
Interestingly enough, University of Utah president Michael K. Young is a BYU graduate and BYU president Cecil O. Samuelson is a University of Utah graduate. While both presidents have the best interest of their current school in mind, this is college athletics we are talking about. Surely, President Young still feels he has loyalties to, indebtedness to, and interests in his alma mater (literal translation is fostering mother). Furthermore, President Samuelson is not your average Utah alumnus himself. He was heavily involved with the University long after he graduated. It seems plausible that these two men could reach across the aisle and form an alliance to work together for the good of both schools throughout this period of conference expansion uncertainty.
It is not like such an alliance would be completely without precedent in college football. The reports are that when the Big 12 formed from the Big 8 and the Southwest Conference in the 1990s, the governor of Texas made Texas Tech, Baylor, Texas, and Texas A&M a package deal. If the Big 8 wanted one of them, then it had to take all of them. The same goes for leaving the conference. If one leaves the Big 12, they all leave. Utah could require they be included in the Pac-10 as a package deal with BYU. The other alternative would be similar to a trade in the NBA between three or more teams. The Pac-10 could try to convince the Big 12 that Utah and Colorado joining the Pac-10 and BYU filling Colorado’s vacancy was mutually beneficial.
A HELPING HAND
It might be very difficult for Utah fans to admit it, BYU has indirectly lent the Utah football program a helping hand. BYU dominated Utah in the 70s and 80s in the midst of its unparalleled success. That success had a ripple effect that helped Utah recruit better players and that brought more money to Utah as a member of the same conference.
BYU deserves a lot of the credit for opening the door for Utah to be invited to play in two BCS bowl games. The impact of BYU being snubbed by the Bowl Alliance in 1996 and by the BCS in 2001 led to the rules that were in place in 2004 that guaranteed Utah its spot in a BCS bowl; otherwise, there is no doubt that Utah would have been snubbed, too.
The Whittinghams are a BYU family. Fred Whittingham played at BYU in the 1960s and his son Kyle followed in his footsteps from 1978-81. Utah hired the elder Whittingham as its defensive coordinator in 1992, and Kyle joined him in 1994. Kyle was made defensive coordinator in 1995 and was promoted to head coach in 2005. The turning point in Utah football came at this time. The Utah defense anchored the team success during the Ron McBride era, and it was the only reason Utah was able to hire a coach like Urban Myer. Where would Utah be without the Whittinghams? Where would the Whittinghams be without BYU?
An organization with class is grateful for and acknowledges those who help them achieve. BYU has had an undeniable hand in Utah’s football achievements in the last decade. This could be the time that Utah returns the favor.
With all that being said, I am a die hard Cougar, and I don’t think that BYU will be devastated if Utah chooses the classless road and leaves BYU stranded in a broken MWC. As a divinely established institution led by an inspired board of directors, I believe that the school would not have invested all that it has in the football program if it was going to end up as an insignificant participant. BYU does not put its trust in "the flesh of man." This is not a desperate plea for Utah to help. This is a challenge for Utah to show us the true measure of its character.