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About Utah: BYU is lone holdout for not playing on Sundays

Published: Tuesday, July 6 2010 10:26 p.m. MDT

In the current realignment of college sports leagues, a lot has been made of BYU's policy of not allowing its sports teams to play on Sunday, citing, specifically, No. 4 of the Ten Commandments — or what ESPN's SportsCenter would call the top 10 do-good gems — which states: "Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy."

I find this remarkable.

Not that BYU doesn't play sports on Sunday.

But that everyone else does.

They all do when it comes to the NCAA Division 1 level, at any rate. Apparently, no other major athletic program in America has a policy that prohibits its teams to participate on Sunday.

This includes any number of private institutions run by Christian churches — Southern Methodist, Texas Christian, St. Joseph's, Notre Dame, etc.

I'm not suggesting what churches, or anyone else, should preach. Holy writ is open to interpretation, and heaven knows there are plenty of ways to interpret "to keep it holy." To some, what could be holier than an afternoon at the ballpark?

But, still, to have the "Never On Sunday" faction reduced to just one major sports-playing university in America reflects quite a defection.

There were years — thousands of them, actually — when conventional wisdom leaned decidedly in the other direction. Whole epochs of time passed when the people who played on Sunday were way in the minority — and sometimes in jail.

If you were to chart a rough timeline of the whole sports on Sunday chronicle, it would go something like this:

 1441 B.C.: Moses receives the Ten Commandments, including No. 4.

 After that, the followers of Moses, i.e. The House of Israel, became so enthusiastic/obsessed about what they CANNOT do on the Sabbath Day that when Jesus came along, he managed to look downright liberal by comparison (e.g. "ox in the mire").

 After Jesus came his followers, the Christians. Early Christian history — due to political harassment, being fed to the lions, etc. — is spotty about pretty much everything, but we do know that when the Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian, one of the first things he did, in 321 A.D., was clamp down on Sunday activities.

"Let all judges, and all city people, and all tradesmen, rest upon the venerable day of the sun," he wrote.

He also completely killed off — for 15 centuries — the Olympic Games because they worshipped pagan gods, but that's another topic.

Thus with Constantine was ushered in Sunday sports taboos that persisted until about the time your grandfather was born.

The Sunday sports debate was mostly a non-issue during the Dark Ages, when people were busy 24/7 lighting torches, looking out for the Huns and staying alive, but included as part of the Great Renaissance (especially, for some reason, in England and thereabouts) was the invention of games such as golf, cricket, rugby, football and so forth.

By 1600 and the time of the first King James, long before LeBron, the fuss over whether these new sports were evil and should be allowed on the Holy Sabbath had progressed to the point that royal edicts were issued allowing some sports — archery and running were two — to be participated in on Sunday, but only "after services."

Members of the burgeoning no-nonsense sect known as Puritans were appalled at this, and when they made their way to America, they vowed not to allow such backsliding in their new land.

For 300 years, from 1600 through 1900, it was against the law in most of America to legally participate in organized sports on Sunday. These laws were called blue laws.

There were heated debates over blue laws long before there were heated debates over civil rights.

About 1900, things started to change. In 1902 the first professional baseball teams, in St. Louis and Cincinnati, were allowed to play on Sunday.

But it wouldn't be until 1934 that the last of baseball's blue laws, in Pennsylvania, would be called out.

It would still be a while after that before colleges and universities would begin to occasionally play sports on Sunday. But each decade found a few more schools joining in. At first it was mainly just tournaments. Later, television contracts seized on lucrative Sunday audiences.

That brings us to the present day, when BYU is the exception, not the rule. The Cougars have a ton of history on their side, and the 20th chapter of Exodus, but not much else.

Sunday used to be out. Now it's in and it's BYU that's out.

And alone.

It's amazing how relatively quickly that all happened.

Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com.

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