SALT LAKE CITY —
With Florida State rumored to be heading for the Big 12, speculation is again rising as to whether that would increase BYU's chances of getting in a major conference. If BYU doesn't get invited, it might be because it doesn't fit geographically, or because TV rights gummed it up, or because FSU and Clemson took its place.
Or maybe because BYU chooses not to go there.
But one thing seems clear as time passes: It's not Sunday play that would keep the Cougars out.
If scheduling were a big problem, no one would have ever talked to BYU in the first place. Conferences have known of this no-Sunday deal since the days of Brother Brigham himself.
"It's not like we've been catching anyone by surprise," noted BYU sports publicist Brett Pyne.
As BYU continues to gain mention, a lot of things could be said about the Cougars, not the least being that conferences know what they'd be getting. BYU can be quirky, but sometimes quirky works just fine.
I bring this up because this spring, a Houston high school faced a Sabbath dilemma of its own. Robert M. Beren Academy, an Orthodox Jewish prep school, was set to play a state 2A semifinal boys basketball game against the Covenant School of Dallas, at 9 p.m. on a Friday.
But sundown on Friday also marked the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath. The Beren players agreed not to play the game, due to religious beliefs. That's when things got complicated. The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) refused to change the start time of the game, citing bylaws.
Eventually a group of Beren parents filed a lawsuit, prompting TAPPS to reset the semifinal game for Friday afternoon, and also schedule the title game for after sundown on Saturday, thus avoiding interruption of the religious observance. (Beren won its semifinal game but lost in the championship.)
Moral to the story: If you can't beat 'em, sue 'em.
Oh, and this: BYU isn't the only place that believes in taking time off for worship.
When BYU was in the trusty WAC and Mountain West conferences, Sunday games weren't a big worry. BYU was the league's meal ticket for a lot of years, and it played whenever it wanted — meaning any day but Sunday. Still, there were times outside of conference play when the issue arose. In 1958, the Cougars forfeited a College World Series invitation. The NCAA issued its first ruling on Sunday play in 1968.
The 2002 BYU women's basketball team was put in an NCAA Tournament bracket that would have meant an Elite Eight game on Sunday, had the Cougars advanced that far. But they didn't. he 2003 mens basketball team was accidentally scheduled for a Thursday-Saturday bracket that fed into a Friday-Sunday schedule. The NCAAs contingency plan was to move the Cougars to a different bracket if they reached the Sweet 16.
As it turned out, BYU lost in the opening game, so it became a non-issue.
In 2011, BYU tennis player Evan Urbina — who wasn't LDS — forfeited a semifinal match in the Mountain Region Championships because it was on a Sunday. In that same tournament, two BYU doubles teams reached the final match, also set for Sunday. In the latter case, the region allowed BYU to host the championship match the following Tuesday.
The NCAA rulebook states, "If a participating institution has a written policy against competition on a particular day for religious reasons, it shall submit its written policy to the governing sports committee on or before Sept. 1 of each academic year in order for it or one of its student-athletes to be excused from competition on that day. The championship schedule shall be adjusted to accommodate that institution, and such adjustments shall not require its team or an individual to compete prior to the time originally scheduled."
All of which seems to indicate if the NCAA Tournament can accommodate BYU, so could a high-profile conference like the Big East or Big 12.
Still, the Beren Academy situation illustrates how future problems could arise, at least at some level. What if a college had a policy against Saturday play? Or Thursday? What if a religious school only traveled via horse and buggy and couldn't reach a tournament site on time? Would the NCAA accommodate that, too?
It's hard to say where this could end.
Either way, you have to give BYU credit. While it has forced some scheduling changes over the years, one thing it hasn't done is sued to make it happen. The Cougars have only said if the game is on Sunday, the party can start without them.
Whether it's scheduling games or negotiating to buy a car, it only works if you're truly willing to walk away.
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