Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
If you're wondering what all the fuss has been about over in the sports section of the newspaper these past few months, it is this: The BYU football team went through a bad breakup — a football divorce, if you will — and has opted for the crazy unfettered singles life.
The Cougars broke up with the Mountain West Conference, which, on a side note, also allowed them to cut ties with the league's silly TV network, which operates out of Wayne and Garth's basement, but isn't that good.
So the Cougars are stepping out. On Saturday in Mississippi, they will begin life as an attractive single — or independent, as they call it — no strings attached, no commitments, no one to come home to at night, no one they have to share the paycheck with, no one to tell them what they can and can't do.
Was this just a mid-life crisis? A wild hair? A money-grab? After all, it was a move so big and bold that you had to question their sanity. If being an independent is so attractive, why are there are only four schools in the country who have chosen college football's alternative lifestyle — Army, Navy, Notre Dame and BYU?
Only a handful of other schools have tried it. Utah State was single for a while, and we know how that worked out. Hawaii and Air Force also were single for years. All three are married to conferences now.
There are many challenges to the single life. It's difficult to find weekend dates with opponents who are otherwise engaged with their own conference schedule. What do teams have to gain by giving a date to an outsider, especially a solid opponent like BYU, in the middle of conference play? Home games will be even more difficult to schedule. If an independent does manage to land a good TV contract — and the Cougars did — it will require that school to sign up TV-worthy opponents, which means there are very few soft opponents a la UTEP, Wyoming, New Mexico, etc. There also is no championship to play for and no established path to a bowl game.
Life as a single can be a lonely business. Or, to quote a song, "one is the loneliest number."
The Cougars thought about all this long and hard and struck out on their own anyway. Perhaps it's the pioneer stock in their blood.
For BYU, going independent is all about … you were going to say money, weren't you? That's what I thought. But really it's about exposure, if you listen to BYU insiders and suspend your cynicism for a moment. If you've seen the I'm-a-Mormon ad campaign, you will have a better understanding of why the Cougars are hungry for more exposure. The ads show Mormons in various shapes, colors, textures, professions, hobbies, nationalities, etc. They are filmed and interviewed while doing whatever it is they do and finish by proclaiming their affiliation to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It might go something like this: "I am an astronaut, I ride rockets, I skateboard, I play the tuba in my basement, I have a wife and five or six kids … and I'm a Mormon."
BYU would like to do the same thing with its football team, which is understandable in this era of misunderstanding, when Mormon politicians struggle because of their LDS affiliation, when "Sister Wives" is perceived as a portrayal of modern Mormon life, when many don't believe Mormons are Christians, when some consider the LDS faith a cult, when it's still politically correct to poke fun at Mormons, even on Broadway, when no one else is considered fair game.
The Cougars will play 10 games on ESPN this season, more than any team in the country except, ahem, Notre Dame. Talk about exposure. Millions of Americans will get to see real, live Mormons without having to drive to Salt Lake City and gawk at them.
Hi, I like to run over linebackers and knock them into tomorrow, I catch passes, I play on special teams, I have a pet dog and a parakeet, I don't eat Jell-O, I lift weights … and I'm a Mormon.
People will see that Mormons play football and like to watch games, and therefore they must be like everybody else. Utah fans might have something different to say on that subject — but maybe no one will bother to ask.
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