Sanctimony among rivals

It’s not unusual for rivarly talk to get a little sanctimonious.

One school’s fans thinks it’s better than the other school’s fans in one way, while the other set of fans rides a high horse in the other direction.

Things got pretty interesting around Utah last year when Max Hall unleashed his inner Church Lady in response to some alleged harsh treatment of his family members during a visit to Rice-Eccles Stadium.

A lot of folks thought that must have been a strictly BYU thing. That the Cougars, given their self-described uniqueness and dignity, were above such behavior and deserved better treatment from fans of other schools.

Not wanting to reignite that debate, I’ll wander away from the BYU-Utah rivalry.

After all, Boise State president Bob Kustra has entered the room.

With all the tact and grace of one of those pro wrestling managers filled with bravado because his star client holds the Cruiserweight Championship belt and wants to step up to challenge the Intercontinental Champion, Kustra pulled out the “we’re classier than you” card on his school’s only in-state rival.

Kustra took issue with an article in the Idaho student newspaper — yes, he got upset at something in a student newspaper — titled “Why do we hate” that was less-than-flattering of Boise State University.

“This is a great example of why my wife and I no longer travel to Moscow games,” Kustra said. “It’s a culture that is nasty, inebriated and civilly doesn’t give our fans the respect that any fan should expect when visiting an away team.”

Sound familiar?

Boise State coach Chris Peterson, asked questions about if the Idaho-BSU rivalry game would continue after BSU leaves for the Mountain West next year, was the first, actually, to throw a log on the fire of was was already a pretty emotional relationship between schools.

“Why would we?” Peterson said. “I don’t think our fans even like to go up there. Most of Idaho’s fans are in Boise anyway.”

Kustra backed up his coach further by saying that not only were Vandal fans rude to Bronco fans — he also said he didn’t think there was any significant mean-spiritedness coming from the BSU side of the rivalry — but Vandal fans took shots below the belt by not respecting Boise State’s academic reputation.

“For me, this is not about football. For me, this is a cultural issue. It’s about fans having to learn how to treat other fans and universities,” Kustra said. “What bothers me more than anything else, is that the fans are not about denigrating our athletic program. … What bothers me personally is the denigration of our academic programming. That’s what I simply can’t tolerate.”

Boise State is a young university. It was a junior college not too long ago and even in the state of Idaho has a low academic profile by most subjective standards. Idaho, and even Idaho State, have much more significant academic profiles and histories.

Likewise, BSU is a young athletic university. But it has a very successful football program — a team that quite significantly is the school’s most distinquishing factor.

Boise State’s football team is, indeed, the class of the WAC (and maybe the entire western United States) when it comes to winning and losing over the last decade. That winning, apparently, has clouded the eyes of some.

Given the long-standing history of Idaho academics and politics — University of Idaho grads have run the state for decades — it is no surprise to see Boise State now trying to flex its new-found muscle in anyway it can.

Ending the biggest rivalry the school has, however, isn’t the proper way to do it.

I will be first in line to say rivalies can bring out words and actions in fans, players and coaches that can easily cross the line from good-natured fun to malicious verbal — and even physical — assault.

But a university president and football coach should be far less sanctimonious about these things. To place oneself on a pedestal and pretend you are better than another school or set of fans is not only wrong-minded in regards to rivalry banter, it shows one is likely ignorant of the same behavior going on in his own stands and at his own tailgate parties.

I’m guessing if the president of any school spent a game in the middle of the rowdy fan section as a fan, not dressed as the CEO of the university, their eyes would be opened in a way they never expected.

A university president — the kind of guy who pulls up to reserved parking spot and watches the game from a climate-controlled booth with catered grub while surrounded by yes-men — shouldn’t get his feathers ruffled by potty-language from fans of a school tired of getting its hindside kicked. Neither should he be insulted by the words printed in a student newspaper.

Most of all, a university president shouldn’t resort to a childish take-my-ball-home response when asked about keeping a historic and traditional rivalry alive.

Bringing things back to Utah, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall — accustomed to being in the driver’s seat — is threatening to end the rivalry with the Utes now that Utah is headed to the Pac-12.

“Both administrators and both universities need to take better control of the stadiums, so the game is safe,” Mendenhall said. “And I would be a proponent, unless that is addressed, not to play the game.”

Having been at LaVell Edwards Stadium outside the visitors locker room and having witnessed numerous four-letter words and lukewarm beverages tossed over the walls at departing players and fans, I’d say Mendenhall is right about administrations needing to get better control of things at stadiums.

But college football gameday atmospheres are intended to have a fair amount of trash talking. This isn’t youth soccer where everyone gets a trophy and a juice box after the game, after all.

Save the sanctimony for Sunday and leave the rivalries alone.

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