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During a legislative review Monday of an audit released earlier of the University of Utah athletic department, Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, blasted his colleagues for the unnecessary burden the audit placed on the U. and its needless $200,000 price tag.

Dabakis said out loud what most observers already knew.

The audit was ordered by leaders of the Legislature because Utah canceled its scheduled basketball game with Brigham Young University this season after a BYU player sucker punched a Ute during the last game the two schools played, and the U. felt BYU's response to that was lackadaisical.

The findings of the legislative auditors was the U. athletic department conducts itself pretty well, finding just minor problems that needed some adjustments. And never mind that the state auditor's office had conducted an audit of the U.'s athletic department not too long ago and found little wrong with its practices.

That's what got Dabakis' ire about the decision for the audit in the first place.

The motives had nothing to do with making sure taxpayer money was being wisely spent. They were to punish the U. for canceling the in-state rivalry game.

A good portion of the Utah Legislature went to BYU and are avid BYU fans.

So when some senators tried to put lipstick on the call for an audit by saying it provided valuable information that could benefit all of Utah's academic institutions, it was hard to ignore the elephant in the room.

But here's an interesting twist to the idea that legislators wasted taxpayer money by calling for an unnecessary audit to punish a state institution for slighting their beloved Cougars.

They couldn't help themselves. And they didn't even know that their motives were as diabolical as they were.

The New York Times published a story last Sunday about a psychological study explaining why New England Patriots fans believe their team can do no wrong while the rest of the country views the Patriots as the ultimate cheaters.

Even when the Patriots have been caught cheating and been punished for it, their fans blame the enforcers of the rules rather than their team that broke those rules.

Humans are hardwired to believe their group is right. They are on the good side, and it is in their nature to ignore negative aspects of their group and to highlight the negatives of the rival group.

"It's not about the true facts, or about how honest you believe a group is, or what the group's past behavior is. It doesn't mater what sport it is, or what team it is, or even if it's sports at all," said DavidDeSteno, a psychology professor at Northeastern University, who conducted the study.

"Just being part of a group, any group, is enough to excuse moral transgressions because in some way, you're benefiting from it. Your moral compass shifts," he said.

You could apply that to BYU and Utah fans, and there is plenty of evidence to back that up.

Regarding the sucker punch incident last season. The majority of the folks on BYU fan boards blamed the Ute player for being too aggressive, and the BYU player was just defending himself. Or, they believed the punch wasn't so bad and the U. overreacted.

The Ute fans saw the BYU player as a thug, and the school itself creating a dangerous environment where someone could be seriously hurt because of it soft approach to what the punishment should be for the punch.

Ute fans and Cougar fans can see the same thing and come up with opposite conclusions about who was at fault or who was the victim.

That's why the Legislature called for an audit of the University of Utah medical school years ago because some Mormon lawmakers felt Mormon males were being discriminated against in the admissions process.

It's why a group of Utah County legislators back in the 1990s called then-U. President Arthur Smith to task for not hiring more Mormon professors and allegedly allowing anti-Mormon rhetoric to seep into some class lectures.

House Speaker Greg Hughes was one of the legislative leaders most passionately pushing for the legislative audit of the U. after the game was canceled. He is self-admittedly a fanatic BYU backer and in conversations I've had with him it is clear that he can see no wrong coming from the BYU side and everything wrong with Utah.

I'm just as bad. I'll err on the side of the Utes every time.

Hughes and I have discussed incidents over the years having to do with the Utah-BYU rivalry, and we inevitably come up with opposite conclusions about who was good and who was bad.

The Northeastern University professor who conducted that psychological study had us pegged pretty well.

The difference is that I don't have the power to punish the other side with costly audits or budget cuts to satisfy my biases. —