College football is alive and well in the state of Utah.
The University of Utah just completed its first season in the Pac-12 and used its new conference affiliation to net its highest-rated class of recruits ever.
BYU had yet another 10-win season, its fifth in the past six years, and had most of its games televised nationally as part of a contract with ESPN that paid the school more for media rights than some conferences receive as a whole.
Utah State had its first winning season in over a decade and went to a bowl game.
One major Utah school that didn't have any success in football this past season was Utah Valley University, located in Orem, about 10 minutes away from BYU. That's because the school doesn't have a football team.
Utah Valley University (or UVU as its known in the state) is unique as far as Utah colleges goes. It only became a university four years ago, prior to which it was a junior college known as UVSC and served mainly as a gateway for students trying to transfer to BYU or Utah.
Since becoming a four-year university in 2008, UVU has flourished. It is now the largest public school in the state and second largest university overall in Utah, behind only nearby BYU. At over 33,000 students, UVU is very much a "big-time" university.
UVU's reputation and image, however, are far from "big time." It is almost unheard of outside of Utah and inside the state, it is widely viewed as a second-tier commuter school.
As a BYU student, I am acutely aware of the struggle for respect UVU faces. It is only a 10-minute (or 15, depending on traffic) drive down University Avenue between the BYU and UVU campuses. I have had roommates who attend UVU.
Yet you would hardly know that UVU had any students or supporters at all, judging from the local pride. BYU banners and logos adorn a plethora of local streets and businesses.
UVU logos are pretty much only ever seen on the school's campus, and the occasional billboard that the school pays for along the I-15 freeway that runs along one side of the UVU campus.
There is far more support locally for even the University of Utah, which is located an hour away in Salt Lake and is the bitter rival of local favorites BYU.
What UVU needs in order to rally its support base and gain some respect is something that the students and alumni can rally around as a source of school pride.
The school does have a Division I basketball team, but they compete in the Great West Conference, which doesn't receive a bid to the NCAA tournament. As such, they receive little support from their fans and don't really have a large effect on school pride.
A football team would provide UVU's students, fans and alumni with the point of pride that the school so desperately needs. Honestly, UVU's lack of a football team is one of the major contributing factors to its lack of respect. The sentiment in the state seems to be "If they can't even field a football team, they really aren't that major of a university."
College sports are a HUGE deal in Utah. The state does have two professional sports teams, the NBA's Utah Jazz and Real Salt Lake of MLS. However, there is no professional football team in a state whose inhabitants are football crazy.
The largest fanbases in the state easily belong to BYU and University of Utah, who are much more popular and well-supported than either the Jazz or Real Salt Lake.
So in a state whose inhabitants take college sports, and especially football, very seriously, it is really holding UVU back by not fielding a football team. Outsiders don't take the school seriously, and even its own students have very little school pride.
If UVU wants to gain respect in the state and give its students something to be proud of and rally around, it is going to need to add a football team.
The Provo-Orem area could very easily support another football team. Within an hour's radius of UVU's campus are nearly two million inhabitants, most of which are sports fans (sports are incredibly popular in the Mormon community, which accounts for the vast majority of the residents living in that one-hour radius of UVU).
At over 30,000 students, the school also has a large student body just waiting for something to rally around and be proud of.
Recruiting also wouldn't be much of a problem. Utah prospects such as Chase Hansen and Troy Hinds wound up spurning major football powers such as Nebraska, Michigan, Oklahoma and Stanford in order to stay in-state and play for Utah and BYU, respectively. There is plenty of local talent in Utah.
In addition, the Utah schools all have recruiting pipelines in the major recruiting centers of California and Texas, as well as nearby Arizona, Nevada and Idaho. UVU could certainly get plenty of recruits, if they had a football team. It's a case of "If you build it, they will come."
It's unclear what is holding back UVU from starting a football team. Sure, they probably wouldn't be on the level of in-state powerhouses BYU and U of U, but they could quickly become competitive with the amount of talent available and the thirst for sports that exists in the state.
If Utah Valley University wants to be viewed as a major university in the state of Utah and develop a large fanbase, it is time for the UVU Wolverines football team to become a reality.
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