I’ve spent 35 years as a coach, high school athletic director, principal, director of secondary schools and superintendent. Rivalries are just part of life.
High schools have become very creative and deliberate in strategies to address rivalries that seem to be spinning out of control. Here are a few suggestions that both BYU and Utah administrations, coaches, players, etc. could implement that have proven successful for years at the high school level.
What if a neutral site was selected for the annual basketball game, such as Vivint Arena? (For example, the Jazz only had one Saturday game in December.) There would be no home crowd trying to prove how intimidating their home court advantage really is. There would be less pressure on each team to feel like they have to defend their home turf. There would be less fear of going into the proverbial lion’s den. The game would sell out. Plus, players love the NBA atmosphere they don’t get to experience a whole lot.
What if the fans and the players of the team that was selected by the officials (from a neutral conference) for the best sportsmanship both on the court and in the stands received free pizza with their ticket stub, or some other good from a vendor. Spectators could also wear their favorite team’s garb to a sponsor's location to win prizes, and the business could co-sponsor both BYU and Utah.
What if the players and coaches from both teams participated in a special annual Saturday morning Game Day Breakfast where they saw highlights of great plays of years past, heard interviews from former players who related inspirational stories, and had a keynote speaker (not from either school) talk about how to truly honor the sport of basketball. The players would have time to chat with each other at some simple post-breakfast activities so they could really find out how much alike they are. My guess is some players know each other already, as they mingle in the offseason.
Remember, these are college student/athletes. Their overall purpose should be to build character and learn. What if they and their coaches separately were involved in an annual cerebral activity such as a simple review of current literature that analyzes aggression in sports and thereby become knowledgeable about what they are going through?
Since we’re talking about universities, what if both schools look at what the NCAA has researched in the way of best practices to promote sportsmanship and a positive game environment? And then have university leaders make a commitment to implement them. Remember, we’re in the business of teaching and discovery on both a personal and organizational level. So let’s model the process in a very thorough, effective and transparent fashion.
And finally, get anonymous feedback from the players themselves, after the season, through a carefully crafted confidential survey every year that touched on a variety of issues. Coaches and administrators would then have some actual data to analyze and react to that comes from those most affected. Such a survey would really give a voice to the players themselves.
At the high school level, schools have had to deal with this challenge on a very personal, up-close level for many years. These are just a few suggestions, but the real question (as it has been at my level for many years) seems to be this: Will administrations, coaches, players and fans work together to problem-solve? Remember, where there’s a will, there’s always a way.
Bob Devine has served In administration for 25 years as a high school athletic director, assistant principal, principal, district director of secondary schools/athletics and superintendent.