Monson: Would BYU-Provo ever drop sports?
Published: April 22, 2014 10:06AM
Updated: April 3, 2014 10:21PM
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Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune BYU students refuse to give up their seats in the students section, even after the announcement was made to seek cover from the rain and lightening, as a rainstorm hit Lavell Edwards stadium, an hour before game time, as BYU prepared to face the University of Texas, Saturday, September 7, 2013.

BYU is dropping sports.

It’s shocking, but the school, after building a tradition of competitive teams for decades, is giving NCAA athletics the heave-ho because … well, the mission of the unique religious institution includes more important, more sweeping goals. Its real priorities lie elsewhere, especially as the rigors and costs, maybe the complexities and ramifications of modern college sports ride a rocket to a place BYU’s Board of Trustees no longer wants to go.

That board, made up of leaders of the LDS Church, decided there are better ways for a burgeoning church-owned school to spend its money. Like, on providing a bigger, better education for an ever-expanding student body. Pressure is on leaders and administrators to yield more educational opportunities for more students at a better cost for those who want to attend the school. So, tradition is changing, focused priorities are changing, sports are being phased out at BYU.

BYU-Hawaii.

Just like BYU-Idaho dropped sports years before.

Yeah, it’s getting lonely in Provo.

And you have to wonder … Would that main campus ever follow suit? Would BYU, after more than a century of playing football and basketball and after adding other sports, men’s and women’s, ever reach the point where it said, “Bag this,” or “De-emphasize this”?

You couldn’t blame it if it did.

BYU-Provo has the same mission, the same religion, the same priorities, the same owner, the same Board of Trustees that its sister schools have. Is what’s good for the goose good for the Cougar?

There are plenty of headaches, hardships, hypocrisies and expenses involved in college sports. And it seems as though those headaches, hardships, hypocrisies and expenses are stacking up like unread National Geographics in your parents’ garage. Add in the prospects now of college athletes unionizing and getting paid for their services and more court cases regarding the way big-time college sports does its business and the heavy salaries high-profile coaches demand, and you have to wonder about an outfit like BYU, a university that sees itself as different from the others. Hundreds of schools follow the form that fielding NCAA teams is worth it.

In some ways it is, in some ways it isn’t. In some ways it’s a noble pursuit, in others it’s a dirty business.

Unlike BYU-Idaho and BYU-Hawaii, BYU-Provo makes big dollars off its football program. It also gains what the school has often said is a major benefit to the missionary-oriented LDS Church: exposure. If the Cougars are good, millions of people who otherwise might know little about Mormons watch them play on television.

“We are fortunate to have many opportunities to reach a lot of people and showcase what BYU is all about in ways that are unique to athletics,” BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said. “That’s why it is important our mission is fully aligned with the university.”

One part of the release announcing BYU-Hawaii’s dumping of NCAA sports indicated that there was growing need for the school to increase its enrollment by 20 percent.

Message sent: “With the rising costs of providing education, many alternatives have been evaluated to find ways to keep costs as low as possible for students and their families. Following much discussion, more than 10 years of analysis, and consideration of several options, the decision has been made to phase out NCAA athletics at BYU-Hawaii over the next three years. The money being spent on athletics programs will be used to provide educational opportunities for the increasing number of students from around the world who can be served by the university.”

Message received: The football program — and to a lesser extent basketball — at BYU had best keep on making money, generating boosters’ donations, and providing exposure because there is more pressure on the campus in Provo for growth — thousands of students who apply to attend the university every year are rejected because of space limitations — than at any of the sister schools.

Hmm. It’s just a thought, a hypothetical.

Sports in Provo may be safe for the foreseeable future — and it would be a sad day for sports fans in Utah and far beyond, rooting for and against BYU, if those programs were ever 86’ed, even for altruistic reasons.

Having the Cougars compete provides a whole lot of entertainment around here. Still, as long as the headaches, the hardships, the hypocrisies, the costs exist, you wonder what the future could look like. You wonder if the priorities held high by LDS Church leaders at 50 East North Temple in Salt Lake City would ever eclipse and eliminate the good times the Cougars provide.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.