Dear Desmond Howard,
Recently, you made a comment on ESPN concerning BYU players serving LDS mission. For some reason, you felt like you need to cry foul on this topic.
To quote you: "BYU has been getting away with this hustle for years. You've got grown men playing against those boys. 17-, 18-, 19-year-olds sometimes. ... I think this is as foul as it gets."
That's a pretty strong statement.
I know you know football extremely well, Mr. Howard. You are a Heisman Trophy winner and have been an analyst for many years now. You are hardly the only person to make this kind of comment about BYU, but this comment reminds me of a segment on another ESPN show:
First off, were you aware that BYU isn't the only school that allows young men to serve missions? In 2015, 147 football players at a FBS school returned from LDS missions. Out of those, 74 attended BYU. That means about half went somewhere else!
Mr. Howard, if missions are such an unfair advantage, where is your condemnation of Utah State? The Aggies had 22 missionaries return last season. And how about Utah? They had 20. In fact, 14 different FBS schools had returned missionaries.
Interestingly enough, this "hustle" doesn't seem popular with top-recruiting teams like Alabama for some reason.
While I never played college football, I did serve an LDS mission to Guatemala. I know first hand that all missionaries have only 30 minutes a day to work out. By the way, most of the weights I lifted consisted of a broom stick and two milk cans filled with concrete. While we did play soccer once a week, I'm sure there's not a conditioning coach in the country that would recommend missionary service as a way to get in shape for football.
To be fair, you are hardly the only one to make this kind of comment. Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez recently made a similar comment:
"They’re grown men,” he said. “We’re going to have 18-year-old kids – some of our guys haven’t shaved yet — and we’re going up against some guys who got families and kids; they got to get day care stuff. It’s going to be a different challenge for us."
People have been grumbling about older BYU players since LaVell Edwards became head coach back in the '70s. That doesn't make your argument any less uninformed.
Mr. Howard, can you imagine the great Bo Schembechler sitting down with you at Michigan your freshman year and asking you to spend two years away from football in some third-world country doing some sort of service with no access to personal trainers or football equipment? How would you have responded to that?
I doubt you would have thought to yourself, "Gee, this is going to be a huge advantage to my football career!"
Even the great Nick Saban at Alabama probably couldn't get away with telling his blue-chip players to go spend two years away from football and go do some service. That's because from a pure football standpoint, LDS missions make no sense.
So, where exactly does the "hustle" come in, Mr. Desmond?
Mr. Howard, I know that doing reasearch for a short little quip is a bit tedious. That said, all you had to do to find out all about football players and LDS missions was to walk down the hall and talk to one of your fellow college football analysts at ESPN: Trevor Matich.
Matich served an LDS mission to Mexico while at BYU. He talked about his mission in an interview with Trent Toone of the Deseret News. To quote from that story:
"When Matich arrived in Mexico, he weighed about 235 pounds. At best, he ate one square meal a day. When he stepped off the airplane after his mission, he weighed a measly 207 pounds."
Does that sound like an advantage to you, Mr. Howard? Do you think any coach in their right mind would want their players to lose that much weight from two years away from the game?
Now, you are correct that returned missionaries return older and more mature. There's something about forgetting about yourself and serving other people that changes you, whether that's religious, military or humanitarian service. This world would be a better place if more people got out and served more.
Hopefully this letter will prove useful to you and any other media personality or college coach who remain in the dark on BYU and LDS mission service.
Thanks for your time (if you gave any to reading this...)!
Lafe Peavler is a sports strategist for the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.