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Kragthorpe: Boos show how Utes' standards have been raised

Published November 8, 2010 11:49 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

While it has been awhile since I was profiled in a book as an overly obsessed football fan — of Boston College and the Baltimore Ravens, at the time — and my game-day job description exempts me from parking hassles, ticket prices and uncomfortable temperatures, I do know how it feels to care deeply about a team and want to be rewarded for the effort.

What happened Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium, where the previously unbeaten Utah Utes were booed and coach Kyle Whittingham apologized for his team's performance in a 47-7 loss to Texas Christian, makes an intriguing case study of exactly what a ticket buys these days.

The fans "deserve better," Whittingham said.

Do they? What should that investment guarantee? A home-team victory? A loss by 39 points or fewer? Full effort for 60 minutes? A quarterback switch, on demand?

This unwritten contract between the team and its ticket-buyers is among the great dynamics of sports. In a business where Utah's coach earns roughly $100,000 per game, it is difficult to say expectations should ever be lowered.

But the standards have become awfully high around here, haven't they? The Utes went nearly 50 years without winning an outright conference championship (until 2003), and now they're not allowed to lose a game?

Asked again Monday about the response, Whittingham was slightly defensive. "Well, you're booing an 8-0 team," he said. "But, I guess, 'what have you done lately?' "

Whittingham stayed away from the word "spoiled," which he used in 2005, his first season as head coach. So will I. Yet I would have to describe the response as harsh for a program that had won 21 consecutive home games and 39 of 43 games overall.

Whittingham would not criticize the critics who fund him, however. "You have the right to do whatever you want to do, if you pay your money," he said. "I'm not one of those guys to say you've got to act this way or that way. How you act is how you choose to act."

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan always defends fans' freedom of speech in response to a perceived lack of effort. "I think fans deserve it every time they come to the game," he said. "If you're not playing hard and they boo you, they're trying to send a message to you. … If you don't put the effort into it, they get disappointed, because they've got to go to work at 8 o'clock in the morning."

Obviously, the lines have become blurred between pro and college athletes. Observing that his position coach, former quarterback Brian Johnson, was booed at times, Ute QB Jordan Wynn accepted the treatment he received. "That's a part of the deal; you've got to be able to handle that," Wynn said.

The boos when Wynn kept returning to the field probably were not directed so much at him, but at the coach for not making a change. By leaving Wynn in the game, Whittingham "violated the contract with ticket-buyers," Ute fan David Maxfield said, believing that Whittingham "gave up, surrendered and decided to instead coach a practice session the rest of the way."

Ute fan David Ewing welcomed Whittingham's apology, saying "the team was obviously not prepared to play and the coaches didn't do everything they could to try and win the game."

That's at least debatable, although it's questionable how much good inserting Terrance Cain would have done. Maybe the score would have been 40-14.

I've learned this lately: Fans demand a lot of the Ute football program, which is mostly a good thing. Whittingham and his players usually live up to those expectations. When they don't, they'll hear about it. But in the school's upcoming Pac-12 era, those fans may become more willing to appreciate an 8-1 team.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.comTwitter: @tribkurt






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