Guest: Jeff Rodeback – BYU Athletics and Keeping It in Perspective

Jeff Rodeback

After BYU’s disappointing first-round tournament loss Ole Miss tonight, I found myself wishing that BYU cared more about its big-name sports. Maybe then the Cougars would win more high-profile games.

But the fact is that BYU doesn’t care about sports. Tom Holmoe might disagree with me, but it’s true. BYU does not care about sports, at least not in the way other big-name schools do.

Shortly after Bronco Mendenhall became BYU’s football coach, I attended a meeting where he discussed the interviews he had before becoming head coach. His final interview was with then-Elder Henry B. Eyring of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Elder Eyring’s job was to decide whether or not to hire Bronco.

In the interview, Elder Eyring didn’t mention football once. They talked about education, missions, the importance of the late teens and early twenties, the way BYU fits into the mission of the LDS Church, and just about everything else besides football. After that interview, Bronco got the job.

Fast forward a few years, and I was working for BYU’s police department. I wasn’t a police officer, but I worked closely with police officers and was heavily involved in security and traffic management on campus and at athletic events. Part of my job included writing parking tickets — and I gave plenty of parking tickets to well-known athletes.

I know what you’re thinking, but no. Jimmer always parked legally.

I arrived at the police department for work one day and heard a story about a football player coming to the station to apologize to my co-worker. She had written him a parking ticket, and he had confronted her in a rather unpleasant manner.

Word of this football player’s actions got back to Bronco Mendenhall, and shortly thereafter the player was at the police department, offering my co-worker a thorough and heartfelt apology. It may well have been a sincere apology, but was also undoubtedly influenced by the player not wanting to lose his spot on the football team. People who have been with the department for a while will tell you that players weren’t always like that — but they have always been like that since Bronco took over.

Then there’s the story of Brandon Davies, who, during the pinnacle of the Jimmer glory, got suspended from the basketball team for an honor code violation. It was possibly the one chance BYU will have during this quarter of the century to get to the Final Four, and BYU suspended one of its star players for doing something that any other university would hardly lift an eyebrow at, let alone a finger. Brandon can be seen in highlights from BYU’s games in the NCAA tournament that year cheering emphatically from the bench, right next to his teammates. He came back strong and was a starter for BYU the next two years, and has made some NBA appearances since.

A year or two after that, I was with a police officer on a late-night patrol of the Marriott Center. It was a few hours after a difficult men’s basketball home loss. The arena was completely empty except for one person, who turned out to be Dave Rose. We bumped into him as he was leaving the administration area beneath the concourses. It was after midnight, and Coach Rose was visibly downtrodden—the loss had clearly taken its toll. He was the last person to leave the arena after the loss, and it reminded me somewhat of the captain of a sinking ship. But after that his team finished the season pretty well.

My point is that the coaches care about winning, but there’s more to BYU’s football and basketball programs than just getting talked about on SportsCenter. BYU is about helping good people — including athletes — become better people, and they don’t let sports scores or national criticism or whining fans (myself included) get in the way.

Where else can you find a group of talented Division I basketball players willing to give up basketball for two years to talk about religion in different languages and faraway places? It was players like that who took down the #3 team in the country a few weeks ago on that #3 team’s home court.

Yes, there are some BYU athletes who like to party at Vegas casinos. Yes, there are some BYU athletes who get too many parking tickets. Yes, it bothers me when Bronco holds pre-game firesides and says BYU’s goal is a national championship this year, every year. Yes, the value-based football slogans seem cheesy to me, and yes, I wish Jimmer got more minutes in the NBA. But none of those things changes the fact that Bronco Mendenhall and Dave Rose are men of character who understand the importance of the college years in the lives of young men.

Say what you want about coaching tactics, recruiting practices, and win-loss records. At the end of the day, I respect a coach who makes a star football player apologize for yelling at a parking attendant. I respect a coach who holds a star player to the same code of honor as the rest of his university, and talks about church missions on national radio, as Coach Rose did on ESPN Radio in Dallas this week. If it comes down to choosing between moral respect and a high win count, I choose respect. Because there’s a lot more to life than winning ball games.

And there’s usually a Utes loss waiting just round the bend to keep my spirits high.

Jeff Rodeback lives in Irving, Texas, and is studying Aviation Management.

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