Utah Sports Ruckus: For BYU it's about time to raise political havoc

By Nate Gagon

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, May 22 2014 4:02 p.m. MDT

In 2009, ESPN created a comprehensive all-time college football “Prestige Ranking.” BYU was ranked No. 25 — higher than well over 30 Power 5 programs, including Utah which ranked No. 43.

In July 2012, Sports Illustrated’s Steward Mandel unveiled his “Program Pecking Order” for college football, identifying programs based on prestige as kings, barons, knights, or peasants. Mandel identified 13 programs as kings and 10 as barons. BYU and Utah were both labeled in the next category as knights, along with 27 other programs including Arizona State, Arkansas, Cal, Colorado, Michigan State, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Stanford, Washington and other Power 5 programs (plus Boise State). While Mandel did not rank the schools within each category, this would put BYU somewhere between No. 24 and No. 52 in terms of college football prestige.

In 2010, Bleacher Report’s senior writer, Michael Pinto, did a power ranking of the top 50 college football programs of all time. BYU came in at No. 25.

In August 2013, scout.com released its list of the greatest college football programs by decade based on AP poll data. BYU ranked No. 15 in the 80s, No. 26 in the 90s, and No. 26 in the 2000s. Interestingly, Utah State is the only program from Utah to register AP poll data in the 2010s so far.

The prestige and pecking-order rankings of college football programs by Sports Illustrated and ESPN speak not only to BYU’s on-field performance but also to its overall prestige as a program. In December 2012, Jeff Call of the Deseret News wrote a piece on a statistical study that confirmed BYU’s strong national following.

In the article, Call quotes ESPN’s national college football reporter, Joe Schad, as saying: “I think BYU is certainly a national brand, in the same ilk as Notre Dame. They have a national recruiting base and a national following. BYU is a very attractive brand from a television perspective. My company desired BYU as a broadcast partner. BYU is attractive to our television audience and to our executives.”

So, again the question: Can anyone rationally argue that BYU, based on its athletic accomplishments and other applicable merits, does not deserve to be included in the top tier of college athletics?

If BYU so clearly deserves to be included, then why is it being forced below the large and ever-expanding dividing line between the Power 5 conferences in American college sports and the rest?

It’s a question that deserves attention from those that are, or claim to be, interested in equality and anti-discrimination in America.

Is it just a coincidence that BYU, the flagship institution of what one study in "American Grace" found to be the third-most hated religion in America, is the one institution finding itself in this situation? Maybe.

If BYU and its supporters want to secure the university’s place as a top-tier athletic institution long-term, however, they better make absolutely certain it is just a coincidence and they better be prepared to play every discrimination and equality card in the book.

In a wide-ranging 2012 survey from the Pew Research Center, 46 percent of LDS Church members said they face “a lot of discrimination in the U.S. today.” When asked to describe in their own words the most important problems facing them in the U.S., 56 percent cited misperceptions about Mormonism, discrimination, lack of acceptance in American society and similar issues. The word most commonly used to describe Mormons by others was “cult.”

That 46 percent statistic is a massively high number. In doing research, it’s not difficult to find examples of why many LDS members feel this way. BU Today had an interesting piece in 2012 called “Why We’re Afraid of Mormons.” A fairly recent poll by the Washington Post found that 20 percent of Americans would not want a family member marrying a Mormon.

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