BYU football: Scheduling international games intrigues athletic director Tom Holmoe

Published: Saturday, June 22 2013 5:05 p.m. MDT

Tom Holmoe, Director of Athletics at Brigham Young University, speaks during a press conference Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Kylea Knecht, Kylea Knecht/BYU

Editor's note: This is the third of an ocassional series exploring the issues related to BYU scheduling football games as an independent. Also, read Part One and Part Two.

PROVO — A sign at the entrance of BYU’s campus reads, “The world is our campus.”

It’s not just a motto.

Many of the school’s student body of more than 33,000 have served missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in far-flung locales around the globe. On last year's Cougar football team alone, 77 players had served full-time, two-year missions in more than 30 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Madagascar, Chile, England, Germany, Honduras, Japan, the Philippines, India, Russia, Samoa, South Korea and Sweden.

With the recent policy change for LDS missionaries that allows young men to serve at age 18 and young women to serve at age 19, the number of missionaries departing for service is growing exponentially. The LDS Church estimates there will be more than 85,000 missionaries serving by this fall.

It only makes sense that the BYU football team — which is regarded by the school as a missionary tool of the LDS Church and often holds firesides the night before games — would try to schedule contests around the world, right?

That’s something athletic director Tom Holmoe has been exploring, and it stands as an example of the creative measures he’s taking to schedule games for his independent football program.

Millions of church members live outside the United States, though the majority of them probably don't know anything about American football.

For Holmoe, it’s a tantalizing idea — playing a college football game in a place like Mexico City, London, Berlin or Beijing.

But making it happen is no easy feat.

Not that it’s an entirely new concept, as the Cougars have played two official games on foreign soil in their 91-year history.

In December 1978, BYU downed UNLV in its regular-season finale at Yokohama Stadium in Yokohama, Japan.

The previous year, the Cougars won the Western Athletic Conference championship but could not play in the Fiesta Bowl that season because it was held on a Sunday. So, then-athletic director Glen Tuckett planned a goodwill trip to Japan. BYU played two exhibition games in an event called the Silk Bowl against Japanese teams.

"It was a great experience for the team, a great trip for the kids," Tuckett remembered of the 1977 trip to Asia. "You don't get to go to Tokyo very often."

And what was the quality of Japanese football like? "They know the game pretty well, but they were just overmatched," said former BYU coach LaVell Edwards. "They were competitive little guys. The night before the game I remember thinking, 'This would really be big if we lose.'"

In December 1987, BYU went Down Under to play a game. The Cougars traveled about 8,500 miles to meet Colorado State at Princess Park in Melbourne, Australia. BYU won before a paltry crowd of 7,652, and the Cougars haven't played in a foreign country since.

In the late 1990s, there was talk of BYU playing a game against a Western Athletic Conference opponent in Calgary, Alberta, but it never materialized.

At that time, BYU was wooed by a group of fans in Calgary, which has a large LDS populatio. They tried to convince the Cougars to play a regular-season game there. Then-athletic director Rondo Fehlberg said at the time that BYU didn’t want to sacrifice a home game and lose the gate receipts and TV revenue while having to pay for traveling costs.

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