Since 2005, the University of Utah has been a straight football school. The football program has been to a bowl game every year with the exception of the 2012-13 season. This has included two BCS bowl wins. The basketball program has done the opposite with only two post-season appearances (no, I do not count a CBI appearance), plenty of losing seasons and 3 different coaches. But, just maybe, the 3rd coach is the charm. Up until joining the PAC-12, the football program has had all the momentum.
All sports fans know a little bit about momentum. Momentum is not only important for the actual sporting events, but also for retaining the interest of fans. How long can an organization keep fans interested while the team flounders or worsens? Ask the Jazz, they have become experts at it. They have made timely moves that have kept fans interest for many years since the Stockton to Malone era to now. So, what about the Utes?
When it comes to college sports keeping fans interest is about winning more than player acquisitions. My reasoning: There are simply not enough Ute fans that are following recruiting to get excited about player moves. Even the Ute fans within my circle of friends are unfamiliar with Brekkott Chapman. So, it is all about building momentum in the program through winning.
The Utah Utes football program has had nothing but momentum until recently. They were constantly at the top of the Mountain West. Yet, since joining the PAC-12, the football team’s record has only worsened. Many fans will cite the inconsistency at quarterback or other depth issues. Unfortunately for the Utes it is really something else; the program is playing chase. Right now all of the sports teams are chasing a higher standard. This is especially evident with football. There are simply better programs out there in bigger markets, with better facilities and more money. The Utes are working on playing catch up. They have a new facility. They will even have a full share of the TV money soon. But, will the program be on par with the rest of the PAC-12?
I believe this is the ultimate problem the Utes have. If I were to go worst case scenario, the Utes only win 4 games. If the Utes have a losing season, all momentum will be gone. This will leave the opportunity to the basketball program to steal all the attention.
Remember this is all about momentum. The Runnin’ Utes changed their momentum when top recruit Jordan Loveridge decided he was going to be a Ute. Then, last basketball season happened and it was a roller coaster. The season started with a soft schedule to allow the team to build confidence. The non-conference schedule was topped off with a win against Boise State, a legit team. Then the roller coaster began with losses to the team down south and Cal State Northridge. Then the climb up began with three close losses to PAC-12 title contenders. The regular season went a lot like this with close games, a few wins and a few big losses. However, the team grew confidence and momentum by ending the regular season with wins over Oregon State and 19th ranked Oregon. Then, the PAC-12 tournament happened and the teams momentum skyrocketed. The Utes took down USC and Cal before losing to Oregon in the semifinals. Most fans didn’t really start to take interest until the Utes took down Cal in an OT thriller.
The basketball program has continued to build more momentum with two big news stories in the offseason. First, the Utes began planning the new $24 million facilities. Second, Brekkott Chapman (49th on ESPN’s top 100) committed to the Runnin’ Utes. With these announcements and the momentum built by the PAC-12 tournament, fans are beginning to come back to paying attention to the basketball program. The other thing the Utes have going for them is the PAC-12 itself. The wins in the PAC-12 tourney prove the PAC-12 can be up for grabs any year. There have not been any truly dominant basketball programs in the PAC-12 for a while. In the last ten years there have been six different title winners and only one was able to defend that title.
Clearly both of these programs are going somewhere. One program is trying to stop the bleeding and change the way the momentum is going. The other is trying to keep the wave going. At this point the fans are still with the football program waiting for good things to happen. But, if things do not go well for the football team this season, fans will shift their focus. The Utes will become a basketball school again and football and a stadium expansion will be a distant memory.