SALT LAKE CITY — The second-most surprising thing about BYU I’ve seen in the last month was when its football team engaged in a full-on brawl with Memphis at the end of the Miami Beach Bowl.
The most surprising was that BYU didn’t beat the Tigers to the podium to explain the fallout.
Memphis announced Tuesday it will penalize a dozen players with suspensions, ranging from missing practice to one or two games. A few hours later, BYU announced it is handling its disciplinary measures internally. Considering the fight occurred on ESPN is reason enough for BYU to make a strong announcement on the matter.
Sucker punching an opponent on national TV should warrant some kind of public explanation beyond we’re dealing with it.
That doesn’t mean BYU did nothing. The school announced last year that honor code violations wouldn’t be specified — and that’s BYU’s prerogative. At the same time, Bronco Mendenhall has compared his players to scriptural figures. In that light, a say-nothing approach to the “Miami Beach Brawl” is strange.
BYU said its review is done. If not naming players, it should have at least announced how many had been suspended, and for how long, as did Memphis. That way the public could see there is no tolerance for such behavior, regardless of who started the fight.
The incident in question occurred Dec. 22 after a 55-48 double-overtime Memphis win. As Tiger players began celebrating, fighting broke out near midfield and by the BYU sideline. But it wasn’t an ordinary emotion-fueled shoving match. The violence included a Memphis player stomping on a downed Cougar and at least one BYU player repeatedly delivering blows from behind an opponent.
This was particularly awkward for BYU, because it recruits on the premise that it wants only athletes who live exemplary lives. Yet it was Memphis that announced its disciplinary decision in a Tuesday news release.
"We hold our student-athletes to the highest standards of sportsmanship and personal conduct at the University of Memphis. The actions of a few members of our football program in Miami were completely unacceptable,” said athletics director Tom Bowen. “I can assure our community, fans and stakeholders that we have and will continue to hold our young men and women accountable and will use this unfortunate incident as a teaching tool for all our student-athletes moving forward."
BYU later responded with its own statement: "We are grateful for the cooperation and communication that has taken place between BYU and the University of Memphis in an effort to live up to the high ideals of sportsmanship to which we both aspire. BYU also has completed a thorough review of the incident. The determined disciplinary measures are being handled internally."
Not much new information there.
It’s possible BYU got surprised by the Memphis announcement and was planning to make its intentions public at a later date. But because BYU holds itself to a "higher standard" than other schools, it should have been the first to make an announcement. Athletics director Tom Holmoe tweeted shortly after the game: “We expect better of our athletes, even in the face of a difficult loss. We intend to fully review this matter. I apologize to Cougar Nation.”
Mendenhall said in the post-game summary, "You want them to rise above that and have fantastic sportsmanship. I'm sure if you go back and look, there'll be an instance or two that ignited. Probably the majority wanted to handle it really well."
After that, there was nothing but chirping crickets.
I don’t doubt BYU is disciplining the guilty parties, nor do I doubt that the majority of players were sickened by what happened. I saw receiver Mitch Matthews, defensive lineman Latanoa Pikula and others trying to maintain order as things escalated. What I didn’t see was BYU being transparent in the follow-up.
By issuing the statement on Tuesday, Memphis made BYU look reluctant and secretive.
Mendenhall is the first to laud his players for their character. In my overall experience, he’s not off base. But the university should also be first in announcing disciplinary measures have been taken and what they were.
In that area, BYU badly missed on its infamous former football slogan: “Quest for perfection.”
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