Broken Wheel: BYU, Utah State put in-state rivalry on hold 'for now'

Brigham Young Cougars carry the Old Wagon Wheel after beating USU in Logan Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. BYU won 51-28.

Brigham Young Cougars carry the Old Wagon Wheel after beating USU in Logan Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. BYU won 51-28. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

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PROVO — BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe was always going to have to make some tough scheduling choices as his team transitioned to the Big 12.

One of them is the end of one of the longest standing rivalries in state history.

BYU and Utah State jointly announced the cancellation of four games scheduled through the 2026 season Thursday, using contractual language voiding the existing agreement if a change in conference affiliation occurred. That means the contest scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 29 in Provo will be the last in the Wagon Wheel rivalry for the foreseeable future.

"As we prepare to enter Big 12 membership, we've had to make many adjustments to nonconference games on our future schedules," said Holmoe, who also lost a long-term contract with Boise State, per the Broncos athletic director. "We are grateful to Utah State for being a willing partner in scheduling games throughout the years, especially the last decade as we've navigated independence.

"While we don't have the Aggies scheduled beyond 2022 at this point, we will continue to work together to play this in-state game again in the future."

Both teams are hopeful that a future scheduling series can take place.

"Utah State and BYU have a long-standing history of annual competition on the football field and our goal is to continue the rivalry," said Utah State athletic director John Hartwell. "While we are disappointed to see the series go away for now, we are committed to working with BYU to find scheduling opportunities in the future."

Under original terms of the game contract obtained via public records request, the four-game series was scheduled to begin Sept. 16, 2023 in Logan and run through Oct. 2, 2026 in Provo. In the event of a canceled game, the canceling or forfeiting team would owe $1 million buyout fee, per terms of the deal.

However, a subsequent paragraph adds that the defaulting party would be free of liability if it "joins a conference, whether currently existing or newly created, that is different from its current conference or independent affiliation, and that includes at least four schools that currently belong to a Power 5 conference."

The two schools have met 90 times since 1922, the second-most played game in Aggies athletic history. But with the Cougars' upcoming move to the Big 12 beginning with the 2023-24 academic year, a scheduling crunch ensued.

With the move, Holmoe has canceled or pushed back all but three games on the 2023 schedule, leaving only home games against SEC foe Tennessee and FCS foe Southern Utah, as well as a road game at Arkansas, to go along with the program's inaugural season in the Big 12.

A game against Utah State was previously scheduled for that season, indicating until Thursday that the game could be played if the Big 12 opted for an eight-game conference schedule in 2023, when Texas and Oklahoma are likely to remain in the league along with newcomers BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF.

The cancellation of that game, however, may lead one to believe that the Big 12 is planning for a nine-game schedule. Further details of the schedule release will be announced by the conference this fall, including whether it will include eight or nine conference games.

But several voices in the room, including outgoing commissioner Bob Bowlsby, have been an advocate for a nine-game league schedule, at least as long as the conference remains at 14 teams.

"In football, I'm an advocate for nine games because I think our conference quality is good enough that it's valuable for us," Bowlsby told BYUtv when he made a campus visit in February. "We're going to be at 14 for a couple of years, so playing a full round robin is not in the cards."

The series cancellation also leaves BYU with seven games remaining in 2024, including the return of the in-state rivalry with Utah following a two-year hiatus; two games in 2025; seven in 2026; and no more than four scheduled through 2035.

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