Bleeding Red: After opening win, Utah gymnasts poised for big year

The Red Rocks are truly queens on The Hill
With faithful fans the Huntsman Center fills
It’s not just women standing in the queue
Oh yes, Utah Men love the Red Rocks too!

COMMENTARY — The Red Rocks completed Utah’s hat trick again BYU with a dominant win on The Hill last Friday night. The final score was 196.175 to 193.850. FYI, a two-plus point victory in gymnastics is essentially a blowout.

The Red Rocks swept the top three spots in vault, bars, and floor, and two of the top three spots on beam. Utah senior Kailah Delaney won the vault with a score of 9.850 in the new scoring system. Junior Baely Rowe had a meet high 9.925 on the bars. Much to my delight, Baely has also retained her signature Michael Jackson moonwalk as part of her beam routine, ending with a flourish of her fingers on the brim of an imaginary hat. Sophomore Maddy Stover tied BYU’s Makenzie Halliday for the top spot on beam with identical 9.825 scores.

utes logoThe floor exercise is commonly the fans’ favorite. Notably, every Utah gymnast incorporated a “U” with their hands in their floor routines, and the crowd roared its approval each time the “U” appeared.

Freshman phenom Sabrina Schwab made her debut as a Red Rock with a last minute decision to elevate her from mere exhibition to the actual rotation during the touch warm-ups immediately preceding the event. She did not disappoint with an event-high 9.90.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this,” said Schwab. “I’ve never competed in front of this many people and to hear them roar like that was the greatest feeling ever.”

Notwithstanding the early start on a Friday night in the midst of a winter storm, 15,023 fans were in attendance for the Red Rocks’ season opener with BYU. To put that in perspective, the Runnin’ Utes are currently averaging 12,809 fans per home game.

11599547Tom Farden, in his first year has co-head coach with Megan Marsden, was very positive after the meet. “We coaches are very pleased with how our (gymnasts) competed and also how they didn’t allow outside factors such as the tight scoring and longer-than-usual TV delays bother them. They showed all the signs of being good competitors and we’ll continue to improve with a few meets under our belts.”

The Red Rocks are on the road this week against Southern Utah in Cedar City on Friday at 7 p.m.

The real bright spot of last weekend’s gymnastics meet was that not one BYU gymnast punched a Ute gymnast, and none of the Red Rocks were ejected for multiple personal fouls. To the contrary, after a Cougar gymnast fell to the floor on her bar routine, Utah fans cheered her when she resumed her routine. The boys and their fans should take a few notes.

Canceling a rivalry

Speaking of the boys, the Runnin’ Utes secured their first conference win by edging Colorado 56-54 last Friday night.

There will be time enough to put the basketball team under a microscope as the remainder of the season unfolds. The real basketball story this past week was Utah’s cancellation of its game with BYU that had been scheduled for next year.

basketball-ballrunningutes2I apologize in advance for the length of the following discourse, but there a few things I have to get off of my chest.

Anyone who has read my columns for the past few years knows that I have been one of the most vocal critics of Utah’s decision to suspend the annual football rivalry game with BYU. However, upon further consideration, I have now changed my mind for two reasons. There is an apparent lack of institutional control by BYU over the conduct of its players, and I am sick and tired of hearing Cougar fans (and their coaches) whine.

One of the primary considerations in cancelling the next game against the Cougars cited by Utah coach Larry Krytkowiak was player safety. Quite frankly, he has a point. And, sadly, it’s not just limited to basketball games and Emery’s cheap shot against Taylor in the waning minutes of the Cougars’ latest loss in the Huntsman Center. Even more disappointing is BYU’s response (or more appropriately, lack of any meaningful public response) to such conduct by its players in multiple sports over the past few years.

The infamous Miami Beach Bowl Brawl is permanently ingrained in the Cougars’ otherwise rich football history. The contrasting manners in which Memphis and BYU handled the matter in disciplining their respective players was stunning.

Memphis publicly announced it would be penalizing 12 players for their role in the post-game fight, including, but not limited to, “suspension from team activities (including practices, scrimmages and game competitions ranging from one half to two games), mandatory anger-management counseling and community service hours, and additional team-regulated punishments at the discretion of head coach Justin Fuente and his staff.”

BYU, on the other hand, merely released a statement that “the determined disciplinary measures are being handled internally.”

In a home game against Boise State last Sept. 12, a Cougar player blatantly punched a Bronco player in the groin. Once again, BYU’s response was merely that this was a matter of internal discipline with no resulting suspension or lost time on the field for the offending player.

The Cougars commonly commit more penalties in football than most teams. Kevin Trahan even highlighted this issue in a story for SBNation last year: “Why does BYU football rack up so many penalties?” Although BYU was much better this season (their 679 penalty yards was 51st in the nation in 2015), there have definitely been penalty issues in the past.

Notably, it was the West Coast Conference, not BYU, that suspended Nick Emery one game for sucker punching Brandon Taylor, otherwise it would have been another matter of internal discipline with Emery losing no playing time as a consequence.

As a member of the LDS Church myself, I am deeply disappointed that its flagship educational institution so often falls short of sportsmanship standards commonly achieved by non-religious institutions. You would think a religious institution would put a higher emphasis on sportsmanship and embrace transparent public communication with respect to the discipline of players whose conduct falls short of acceptable behavior.

In a statement released Monday, Utah president David W. Pershing said: “The University of Utah has a rich history, which is closely tied to Brigham Young University. That connection has led to positive collaborations in academics as well as athletics. Many outstanding BYU students come to the U for graduate and professional education, including medicine, dentistry and pharmacy programs. We are dedicated to ensuring the University of Utah is a welcoming place for all students. While we respect and value the rivalry between our athletic programs, several negative aspects have emerged over the last several years that need to be addressed.”

Pershing continued, reiterating that there will be no Utah-BYU basketball game next season: “I have had the opportunity to speak to BYU President Kevin Worthen about this issue. We are committed to working together to make this historic rivalry a healthier one. BYU and the U will resume their football contests at Rice Eccles Stadium this fall, and we want the games to be exhilarating and enjoyable for both athletes and fans. During the next few weeks, I will create a working group of faculty, staff, students and fans to assist in identifying changes that can be made to ensure future athletic contests are exciting and respectful for all.

“Although there will be no basketball game with BYU next year, we are committed to expanding the schedule to include BYU and other state schools, to the extent that they desire such games. This year, we played both BYU and SUU . In future years, our goal is to again play two in-state schools each year, which will include BYU, USU, SUU, WSU and UVU.”

Please understand that I’m not naively turning a blind eye to misconduct on the part of Utah players, such as Cory Butler Bird’s ejection from the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl for multiple personal fouls, or Seni Fauonuku calling BYU a dirty team at the bowl welcome dinner and dance-off.

Perhaps the rivalry has gotten too intense and a cooling down period is warranted (though the timing is ironic as the Holy War is slated to resume in Salt Lake City on Sept. 10, 2016).

Krystkowiak said the game’s atmosphere has gotten a little too intense for his liking.

Larry Krystkowiak
Larry Krystkowiak

“In this matchup exists a highly venomous and toxic environment that fuels irrational behavior and has nothing to do with enhancing relationships or appreciating differences,” he said. “I feel that this basketball rivalry has a virus in its operating system and it’s time to turn the computer off and reboot it at a later date. I believe we at the University of Utah should stand on our own merits and continue to enhance this community at large, all the while living and playing with integrity.”

I am also weary of the incessant whining by BYU fans (and their coaches).

In response to the cancellation of next year’s contest, Cougar coach Dave Rose has stated, “I don’t respect the decision. I think that you are raised, at least I have been raised, that your word is your bond. And we made an agreement, and basically I try to teach my players every day to do what you say you are going to do.”

Please allow me to put my lawyer hat on (yes, I am a practicing attorney), and give Coach Rose a quick Contracts Law 101 primer. The agreement between Utah and BYU basically said that the schools would play the game, and if one school declined to play then it would have to pay the other school a specified sum (which I understand from various sources to be $80,000). By paying BYU the $80,000 buyout fee expressly set forth in the agreement, Utah will fulfill all of its contractual obligations to BYU. End of story.

I also can’t believe the Utah state legislators and even Governor Gary Herbert have weighed in on the issue and have become mouthpieces for unhappy Cougar fans. My unsolicited advice to Governor Herbert and other state officials is that they focus on governmental issues which the good people of Utah have actually elected them to address and stay out of the sports arena.

Finally, I just can’t stand to hear one more Cougar fan claim that the basketball game was cancelled because Utah is afraid to play BYU. Afraid of having a Cougar player take another cheap shot in the friendly confines of the Marriott Center? Perhaps. Afraid to play BYU in basketball? Absolutely not.

The Runnin’ Utes recently played (and beat) national powerhouse Duke in Madison Square Garden in front of a national TV audience. Utah plays in the very competitive Pac-12 Conference (which has averaged five teams in the NCAA tournament over the last three years compared to the West Coast Conference’s average of two teams). The Runnin’ Utes have beaten the Cougars in basketball three consecutive times. There is just no rational basis for claiming Utah is afraid to play anyone, especially BYU.

Cougar fans’ claims that the Utes are chicken is the functional equivalent of Needles calling Marty McFly chicken for not wanting to race in Back to the Future Part III. Similar to Marty’s response to Needles, Utah has maturely refused to give in to such juvenile taunts, and has simply decided to go in a different direction.

Here’s hoping the Red Rocks continue to rock the house on the road against Southern Utah, and the Runnin’ Utes can notch a few more conference wins at home this weekend.

Bleeding Red is a sports column written by Dwayne Vance. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of St. George News. 

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

 

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