Toting a few gallons of red paint or carrying a couple cans of blue spray, inevitably each year some Cougar and Ute fans make it a mission to leave a little of their colored blood on rival property.
Traditionally, vandals commit their colorful crimes at night during the week preceding the game. The most common instances authorities see include sloshing paint on buildings, walls, sidewalks, streets and statues.
Defacing the block Y and the U on the mountain at each school has long been a challenge for pranksters.
In 2004, eight University of Utah baseball players painted four or five red U’s on the Y. They were caught when an employee at a Salt Lake area Fred Meyer store reported to police that the photo department had processed film showing people painting the Y.
All eight players were charged with criminal mischief.
During rivalry week, campus police say that they handle acts of mischief seriously.
“If they warrant a citation and we catch the perpetrator, typically we will cite them for defacing public property or whatever is appropriate,” University of Utah Police Chief Scott Folsom said.
“We deal with vandalism the same way we deal with any other crime,” said BYU spokesperson Grant Madsen. “For minor vandalism, people will be issued citations. If they have done more vandalism or higher levels of vandalism, it can go as far as having them arrested and charged with a felony.”
Both the block Y and U are on land leased to the respective universities. Incidences of painting the letters have decreased as measures have been taken to patrol them more closely. In Salt Lake, the proximity of new homes on the mountain has also helped decrease vandalism to the U.
Folsom said that with some regularity statues on the U of U campus have been painted and, more recently, people sneak up and steal lightbulbs so that the lights illuminating the U won’t turn on.
“There have been times when clever sayings have been painted onto the surface of the football field itself,” Folsom said. “Sometimes it has been a scramble to get the field cleaned up before the game.”
Both campus police forces said in general, acts of misbehavior on their campuses have decreased due to increased education and prevention methods.
“We expect our students to be responsible citizens like we expect their students to be,” said Captain Michael Harroun of BYU Police. “Of course there are going to be exceptions; there always are. That’s why you have police departments.”
While the University of Utah does not increase on-duty patrols during Rivalry Week, BYU increases staff in marked and unmarked vehicles, as well as adding staff on foot to monitor areas around campus.
“For the game itself, we put on a few more officers simply because there is so much emotional interest in the game,” Folsom said. “And the fact that it is always a full house.”
At BYU, an on-campus service organization, the Intercollegiate Knights, helps patrol sites that are most vulnerable to vandalism. Grounds employees wrap on-campus statues with cellophane one week before the game and camp-out on Y Mountain to watch for vandals.
Coaches and administrators have helped students be more responsible and respectful of university property.
“People realize that supporting your team, commiserating in a loss or being jubilant in a victory doesn’t mean that you have to deface property - and that is before or after a game.” Folsom said. “That means that you don’t have to burn things down, you don’t have to hurt people in order to celebrate the fortunes of your team.”
Folsom said media coverage, the host site and the current standings of the two teams influence the excitement that fans feel toward the game. But, having watched the rivalry for a number of years, he thinks the most important thing is to win.
“Up here, even in down years, if you beat BYU that means the salvation of a season,” he said.
While the acts of pranksters change from year to year, campus police at both universities feel the rivalry is healthy and fun.
“I think mostly what you see is a lot of rhetoric,” said Folsom. “[The rivalry] just seems to have a long and storied history here and so it’s kind of fun to watch the good-natured exchange between the people who bleed blue and the people who bleed red.”
Copyright Brigham Young University 16 Nov 2005