In the wake of Honor Code Gate and the Pac-10 snub and the challenges of Sunday play, etc., etc., this seems like a good time to pose this question:
Is there still a place for Brigham Young University in college sports?
The sports business and culture are changing, but BYU isn't.
Will there ever come a time when the Cougars just can't make it work anymore?
Will the LDS Church, BYU's owner, decide enough is enough?
The school formerly known as Ricks College — also owned by the LDS Church — once boasted one of the top junior college athletic programs in the country. The school changed its name and dumped intercollegiate athletics nine years ago in favor of intramural competition.
Could the same fate await the Cougars, given the many problems they face in collegiate athletics?
Last spring the BYU Women's Cougar Rugby Club forfeited a quarterfinal game in the USA Rugby collegiate tournament in Samford, Fla., rather than play on Sunday.
The selection committee for the NCAA basketball tournament goes through special pains each year to accommodate BYU. But in 2003, the committee mistakenly placed BYU in a bracket that would eventually require them to play on Sunday. The committee had to devise a contingency plan: If BYU won its first two tournament games, the Cougars would move to another region to avoid Sunday play, switching places with another school. The Cougars lost their first game so it wasn't an issue, but there it is: BYU creates problems.
There was a time when few if any collegiate games were played on Sunday, but since TV took over the sports world it has become commonplace. BYU's ban on Sunday play creates headaches for tournament committees and bowl games; it might have been a contributing factor in its failed effort to gain membership in a BCS conference.
Last year BYU suspended its best football player and all-time leading rusher for violating the school's honor code, which bans premarital sex, alcohol, drugs and a lot of other things while also demanding certain grooming standards and specified behavior. With virtually no running attack, the Cougars proceeded to have their worst season in years. Last week, BYU suspended the starting center of its No. 3-ranked basketball team for honor-code violations. The Cougars lost their next game.
The school has demonstrated courage and consistency in supporting and enforcing its honor code and remaining true to its religious beliefs even at the cost of wins and dollars. It has been widely applauded for this stance. Notwithstanding, the honor code does create unique challenges for a school that is trying to compete in Division I athletics. Many non-LDS athletes are reluctant to sign up for what they might consider the life of a monk to play sports for BYU. You can bet rival coaches mention all of this when they're sitting in a recruit's living room. Like the military academies, BYU has a small talent pool from which to recruit as the world increasingly leaves behind traditional values.
You also have to wonder how patient church leaders will be if athletes continue to bring public embarrassment to BYU. After all, one of the purposes of collegiate athletics is to raise public awareness of schools. Over the years, the Cougars have lost a number of star football players to the honor code, including two future NFL players in Ronney Jenkins and Reno Mahe. Both cases attracted considerable media attention.
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