Vai's View: Pac-12 membership comes with consequences for Mormons

Published: Friday, Sept. 30 2011 1:35 p.m. MDT

Fans of the University of Utah wave banners after a turnover in their favor against BYU during the second half of play at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City Saturday, November 27, 2010.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

The other day, my mother called from Seattle, where my parents recently moved to live with my sister. Mom called to tell me my nephew Jarrett Finau, my sister's oldest kid and a freshman defensive end at the University of Washington, just learned from head coach Steve Sarkisian that he made the traveling squad.

He's going to be in Salt Lake on Saturday to play Utah.

As we spoke, it suddenly dawned on Mom what that meant.

"Do you think they'll let Jarrett stay to attend the priesthood session?" she innocently asked.

"No, Mom," I replied, suppressing a laugh. "Coaches don't like to leave their players behind on road trips. Especially 18-year-old college freshmen."

Our conversation did provoke some thoughts on the propriety of scheduling games in Utah, especially Salt Lake City, on conference weekend.

Traditionally, BYU always played Utah State on Friday before conference, whether it was in Provo or Logan, in order to free up Saturday for General Conference. Utah typically played on the road or adjusted kickoff so it wouldn't interfere with General Conference, though that's difficult to do with sessions at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturday.

But the Pac-12 doesn't care about General Conference. Neither does it care about playing Sunday games.

Protecting Conference Weekend in Utah, so far as I know, was not in the bylaws of the Western Athletic Conference or Mountain West Conference when Utah and BYU were members. It was done out of respect for BYU's fan base and Utah's dominant religion because the WAC and MWC relied heavily on both schools for its existence.

The same way that the NBA was respectful of Larry Miller's request that the league avoid scheduling Sunday games for the Jazz in Salt Lake during the regular season. NBA commissioner David Stern couldn't do anything about the postseason because of its TV contract, but he had more control over the regular season so the commish did his best to accommodate Miller's request.

If the NBA plays at all this year, EnergySolutions Arena will still be locked out — on Sundays. The Jazz haven't played a home Sunday game since the 1999-2000 season. That speaks volumes of the juice Larry Miller had with the league. NBA owners aren't pious as much as they are savvy businessmen and in marketing their product. Apparently, they don't see financial sense in playing Sunday games in Utah because of the prevailing LDS culture.

Utah athletic director Chris Hill, on the other hand, either doesn't believe he has Larry Miller's influence or he doesn't care to use it with the Pac-12. Keep in mind when Miller made his request of the NBA for no Sunday home games, he was a fairly new owner and didn't have near the influence he would later wield. It couldn't have been easy. But that was something that was important to Miller. Clearly, it's not a priority for Chris Hill. Yes, it's a state school and I don't expect the matter to be as important to Hill as it was to Miller, but you'd have to be brain dead to ignore a large segment of your fan base and prominent donors. If you need a reminder, just glance up from your seat at the names of your stadium and basketball arena. They're LDS and I'm fairly certain they'll be at the Conference Center on Saturday, not Rice-Eccles.

I'm aware that the Pac-12 doesn't care about community standards or Sundays or General Conference weekend or Yom Kippur and Ramadan, for that matter.

They dictate when and where the Utes play; Sundays, General Conference weekend and High Holy Days be damned.

Hill seems particularly eager to please his new conference. As he told Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News a couple months ago, "We don't want to play a ton of games on Sunday, but I also want to make sure we send a message that we can play on Sundays and we have played on Sundays."

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