Provo • The brother of BYU football star Francis Bernard says the Cougars’ junior linebacker is being forced to redshirt against his will and wants to transfer to rival Utah.
James Bernard, 25, a former walk-on at Utah who completed his college career at Winston-Salem State in North Carolina, said his 22-year-old brother has asked BYU for a release.
“Just to be clear: My brother wants to transfer, regardless,” James Bernard said. “We talk almost every day. He just doesn’t want to stay there any more.”
Francis Bernard did not immediately return calls or text messages seeking comment. A BYU football spokesperson also did not immediately respond to inquiries about the situation.
Thursday, BYU announced that Bernard, a Herriman High product, “is using his redshirt season for personal reasons and will be a junior for the Cougars when he returns to the field in 2018.” The school said the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Bernard “will continue to participate in all team practices, meetings and activities during the upcoming season.”
No so fast, James Bernard said Friday. He said the reasons why BYU wants Francis to redshirt this season are “fuzzy” and haven’t been properly communicated to his family. He acknowledged that they are related to the school’s Honor Code.
“It isn’t because of academics. He is on track with all his classes,” Bernard said. “He had to catch up a little, but he did that. He was ready to be in classes this fall, signed up and everything.”
Francis Bernard was suspended from the Poinsettia Bowl last December for violating team rules, but told The Tribune during spring camp that he was in good standing with the school and the team, and eager to play this fall.
James Bernard said his brother has an ecclesiastical endorsement from the bishop of his student ward at BYU, required of all students who attend the school owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He said the bishop, Bernard’s parents and the player himself have had several meetings with representatives from BYU’s Honor Code Office this summer, but the representatives have never told him exactly how he ran afoul of the code of conduct.
“My parents kept asking them, ‘Why can’t our son play?’ Just simple, general questions, and they couldn’t even answer that,” James Bernard said. “Usually when you are getting punished, they tell you what you are being punished for. But my parents couldn’t even tell you why he is not playing, and they were in the room.”
In January of 2014, BYU ended its practice of publicly acknowledging whether a student had been disciplined by the honor code office unless that student had announced a transgression publicly or if it was a matter of public record, such as an arrest.
James Bernard said the family is bitter because there was no indication from BYU that Francis’ playing status was in jeopardy until the first scrimmage of camp on Aug. 5.
“That’s where everything is fuzzy to me, because if you know [coach] Kalani Sitake, he is a big players’ coach. The players love him,” James Bernard said. “The whole time he is telling Francis it is a green light, you are going to play this season. And then we go to bat for [Francis] in the honor code meeting, and they come out and say he can’t play, just randomly.”
James Bernard said as of Friday evening his brother had not been contacted by any coaches from Utah.
“No, not at all. … But he wants to stay in-state,” he said. “He wants to go up north a little. He wants to go to Utah.”
BYU’s response to Bernard’s transfer plans are unclear. One option the school could take could be to refuse to release him to another in-state program, but let him go anywhere he wants out of state with its blessing.
Student-athletes who transfer from one Division I program to another must sit out a year, per NCAA rules. Athletes who get “released” from the school in which they depart can begin receiving financial aid and support and can be contacted by schools to which they are released.