They weren’t paying attention at Florida. Alabama couldn’t have cared less. Duke, Ohio State and Texas were busy yawning.
But at BYU on Saturday, people were charged to the max. A car slowly eased past the South Field entrance, windows down, with George Thorogood stuttering “Bad to the Bone” from the speakers. Fans streamed in, some wearing T-shirts left over from the football season that said, “Every Day is Game Day.”
Maybe, but the chance for a two-championship day?
Not your run-of-the-mill opportunity.
Nothing beats finishing first, no matter who is paying attention. And it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp elbow, which surely happened in BYU’s 27-24 national collegiate rugby championship win over Cal.
Meanwhile, the Cougar volleyball team was in Los Angeles on Saturday night, playing for the NCAA title against UC Irvine. In that one, the outcome wasn’t as good for the Cougars. Irvine won in straight sets (25-23, 25-22, 26-24).
Still, Provo was home to two teams that played for national titles, on the same day.
How many towns can say that?
The Florida Gators won two national titles each in football and basketball in a 3-year span, and one each in the same year (2006-07 season). That was gigantic. But BYU had a shot at winning two titles within nine hours.
Hence, the campus was in a fine mood on Saturday afternoon.
“A national championship is a national championship,” said BYU rugby fan Matt Jensen.
Perhaps this is the place to add the qualifier. Rugby and volleyball are “non-revenue” sports. Rugby isn’t even formally funded by BYU, though it does play on campus.
It’s not that the players don’t work as hard as those in glamour sports. But they don’t enflame the masses. A few thousand fans showed up for Saturday’s match in Provo.
It was a large audience for rugby but minuscule for football.
Football and basketball are the empire builders. Everything else is frosting.
Unlike basketball, not every school has a rugby or volleyball team. Volleyball has just 30 men’s teams nationally. At one point rugby had three-dozen top division college teams. Few of the latter are funded by their universities, so teams spring up and fade away. Some play games when and where they can, when and if they can afford it.
One BYU rugby representative estimated there are fewer than 20 college teams nationwide in the Cougars’ classification.
But one thing has clearly been established: BYU and Cal are the nation’s best and play in the best organization, the Varsity Cup, which has supplied 31 of 34 rugby national champions. The Cougars and Bears were joined this year by six other teams for this year’s competition.
Volleyball has enjoyed both strong attendance and school funding for years.
In both sports, BYU has warranted the love. The rugby team has played in eight consecutive Varsity Cups, and won titles in 2009, 2012 and 2013. Meanwhile, volleyball won championships in 1999, 2001 and 2004.
Not everyone knows that. But to those who do, it’s reason enough to get fired up on a weekend in May.
Funding or no funding, BYU was invested in Saturday’s outcomes. Give any school a shot at the national championship, and it will gladly take credit. Utah won 10 national titles each in gymnastics and skiing, though not every school fields teams in those sports, either. (Women’s gymnastics used to only have a couple of dozen but now has 62 teams; men’s skiing has just 11 teams.)
So in both volleyball and rugby, BYU did what every school should — it took what was there for the taking. Though the volleyball title will have to wait, it was a bodacious season nonetheless. The Cougars were ranked No. 1 going into the title game.
Consequently, fans of BYU — the school, if not the sport — celebrated through the afternoon.
“I can’t wait for the volleyball game tonight,” one fan was overheard to say at the rugby match.
He may not have known a scrum from a side out, but he knew the Cougars were in the hunt.
BYU wants to win championships in football, too. But it isn’t about to ignore titles in other areas. Nor are a few thousand fans. As BYU student Brantley Brooks — attending his first rugby game — was saying, “If we’re the best in the nation in anything, I want to be there for it.”
It’s never a bad day when your teams are bad to the bone, in a very good way.
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company