Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
PROVO — It's not just the honor code that makes the BYU football program unique. There is also an academic quotient involved that sets it apart from just about any other university.
Prospective BYU football players must be top students to be part of the program.
Every year coaches spend hours upon hours finding not only those that fit in athletically — and morally — but also academically.
The baseline to enroll at BYU and to be part of its football program is a 3.3 GPA, coupled with a 19 on the ACT. There is a bit of a sliding scale, as someone could qualify with a 3.0 GPA and a 24 on the ACT, according to coaches, but they try to stick as closely to the stated "baseline" as possible.
Most schools, particularly state schools, don't have enrollment requirements quite as high as BYU's. Utah, due to its joining the Pac-12, recently raised theirs to a baseline of a 2.6 GPA and an 18 on the ACT while Utah State calls for a 2.5 minimum GPA and a 19 on the ACT.
A recent Associated Press review of most of the 120 top-tier football programs showed that athletes enjoyed a significantly better chance at admissions being bent on their behalf. BYU, like most private universities, doesn't provide minimum academic requirements for enrollment; however, the football program does.
"It's all something that is very unique to BYU," said assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Joe DuPaix. "I know for a fact, from experience, that other programs aren't necessarily like that. Every program is different, but we're not one of those that are going to go out and offer a kid just because someone else did. We're going to see if that kid is a fit-first kid, and academics is a huge part of that. Academics is a huge part of what we are as a football program."
When coaches visit any high school or junior college looking for recruits, they go down a checklist to see which prospects are right for the program.
First, they ask the coaches what players they have who can compete at the Division I level. "It's the first question we ask," DuPaix said. "We want to know if they have athletes that can help us beat the BCS teams we have on our schedule."
Second, they ask if those players are good fits academically. "We want the best students here at Brigham Young University. We want kids that can thrive here academically, along with those that can recognize how great of an importance receiving a good education is."
Third, they go about the character issues involved with the honor code. "That's obviously one of the more unique things about BYU, but we're very conscious to only bring in those kids that can represent the university and the program well with how they conduct themselves on and off the football field."
Like other parts of the Cougar recruiting pitch, the unique educational requirements are presented plainly to each recruit by every member of the BYU coaching staff. While that explanation may chase a good many off, it also attracts many others.
"It's a good recruiting tool," said senior running back and honor student Bryan Kariya. "Parents and the players can see that there is a great emphasis on education here at BYU, and then want to come here with it being a huge part of what BYU offers."
The coaches believe strongly that the academics offered at BYU will greatly benefit a young man's life. They present the academic environment at BYU plainly and enthusiastically to any recruit they encounter.
"We have some of the finest professors in the country right here at Brigham Young University," said DuPaix. "To match that with the person we're looking to recruit, and to bring on to campus to be part of our family, we're continually striving to find that right kid. The kid that can see what a huge benefit a BYU education can be in his life."
The goal to achieve a good education isn't just presented to players during the recruiting process. While at BYU, players are consistently encouraged to strive toward greater academic success.
"We have great resources here at BYU for our football players," said DuPaix. "We have a full academic center that oversees our football players once they come in. Every athlete is going to have their own, unique need, and whatever that need is, we're going to do the best we can to facilitate it, not only so they can just pass the class, but find success in doing it. We want them to feel the success of an education and to feel how it's benefiting their lives."
The baseline academic requirements for student-athletes at BYU hasn't changed much over the last decade, according to university spokesperson Carri Jenkins. What has changed is the success rate of those student-athletes obtaining a college degree.
"Eight years ago, we had 85 percent of our student-athletes who exhausted all of their eligibility graduate," she said. "And now that number is at 93 percent."
While the goal of a good education may appear, on the surface, to be completely separate from football goals, Kariya doesn't see it that way.
"Part of being a good athlete is understanding the concepts that we're trying to apply here on the field," he said. "If you don't know the plays, you're not going to be able to run them. If you can't recall the formations and exactly what your responsibilities are, then you're not going to be able to do that subconsciously on the field, which is really the goal. So getting those study habits down definitely helps out on the football field."
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall proudly proclaims the goals of his program as to achieve greatness in family, faith, knowledge, friends and football — in that order.
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