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Kragthorpe: BYU no longer Utah's measuring stick

Published May 10, 2011 10:37 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

This is what $21 million in annual TV revenue buys: a very nice, new house in a development filled with mansions that are being upgraded all the time.

The University of Utah's conference affiliation and its share of the Pac-12's rights deal with ESPN and Fox Sports give the school an entirely different frame of reference. The Utes are not merely building a bigger home in their old neighborhood.

BYU no longer is their only point of comparison.

That's revolutionary, I know. The natural reaction of Ute followers to Wednesday's news is to proclaim a continuing victory over BYU, which obviously would have joined Utah in the Pac-12, if invited.

But that whole ingrained mentality in Uteville needs to change, and soon. The Utes have to measure themselves by the other Pac-12 South football schools — Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, UCLA and USC — and the rest of the league.

That makes BYU No. 12 on the list, in a practical sense, if not emotionally so.

Similarly, BYU fans must realign their thinking and base their self-worth on something other than the hope of Utah's failing in the new league. Establishing some standard of acceptable football performance is critical for BYU, whether that's the Top 25 or a BCS game or lower-tier bowl eligibility, and that becomes tricky now, outside of conference affiliation.

As for Utah, fans have to stop comparing themselves strictly with BYU. Conference standings serve as athletic programs' report cards. Competition within the Pac-12 is how Utah will be judged, and BYU is not in that league.

That's where the celebration of the Utes' newfound riches ends and reality hits home. While this TV money enhances Utah's program, the same is true of every other Pac-12 school. Certainly, the Utes' share is more meaningful to them because it accounts for a bigger percentage of their income, and their initial trajectory is higher.

Yet they're in essence paying a $22 million entrance fee in lost TV money during a phase-in period before earning a full share in 2014-15, and it will take awhile for their athletic budget to come even close to middle of the league.

The Utes will be competitive in Pac-12 football from the start, but they have to keep upgrading. The "arms race" that coach Kyle Whittingham often cites only will accelerate with everybody's additional money (including splits of Utah's forfeited share). I have confidence in those schools to find ways to keep spending it, even if Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said the funding would "reduce the stress" on administrators and other resources would be "used less to prop up athletics."

All I know is it will be fun to watch this play out. The past 11 months have been good for both schools, with Utah's Pac-12 affiliation and the subsequent TV contract and BYU's move into independence accompanied by its own ESPN deal. Can we all agree that Utah played itself into a wonderful opportunity and BYU was uniquely positioned to make its move?

Of course not.

What's laughable is how much ink and airtime was wasted last summer, debating how the rivalry would be diminished once the mutual conference membership ended. Each side remains obsessed with the other.

To me, that's reassuring, because I insisted the rivalry would remain intact or even intensify with the Utes and Cougars meeting every September, as Pac-12 scheduling policy dictates. I'd love to have BYU-Utah become a season-opening fixture, in fact, creating a summer's worth of anticipation.

But after that game comes and goes, the season will continue in different directions for Utah and BYU, with no conference standings to distinguish one school from the other. That might be healthy for everybody, once they get used to it.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.comTwitter: @tribkurtFacebook.com/kurtkragthorpe






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