By DAVE HERSAM
Well, my brief watch over the NewsNet sports desk is drawing to a close. As it does, I’m grateful to have had this opportunity, granted only because those who were more qualified turned it down, to serve the campus community covering a subject I love.
It has been my honor and pleasure to supervise two batches of great reporters and cover the world of BYU athletics, a world that was rather small during the summer term — hence the heavy Utah Starzz and Salt Lake Buzz coverage. But things will rush back to life in the fall.
Not that my time and experience here have been entirely dull. I was able to travel to Los Angeles and sit in UCLA’s storied Pauley Pavilion — which has nothing on the Marriott Center as far as facilities go, just a lot more championship banners — and watch the BYU men’s volleyball team earn its first NCAA title. The UCLA arena bled Cougar blue that night, as BYU overwhelmed the opposition both on and off the court. The mighty Cougs downed the 49ers of Long Beach State to the steady and deafening cheers of their fans.
The fun, car accidents, excitement and mocking of that trip are things I will never forget, and the exhilaration I felt with the athletes and coaches during and after the win was an overwhelming payback in return for the efforts we and many other fans made to be there. But the experience was far more than the win on the court.
In many cases, maybe even most, great athletes are not great role models, but this team was an exception. These guys were as good as they appeared to be, and maybe even better people than they were volleyball players. And as volleyball players they were the best in the nation.
While this combination of great athletes who are also good people is not unique to BYU, we do have a unique opportunity here to share more with our athletes than most any other university can. No, the teams aren’t all LDS and they never should or will be, but we do all share the principles and standards of the Honor Code.
Perhaps mention of the Honor Code makes you cringe. We’ve certainly seen the price we pay for standing by it its recent effects to our football team. In June, the second of a great one-two punch of BYU running backs withdrew from school under the shadow of an Honor Code investigation.
Despite these challenges, I’m still proud of the Honor Code and consider it much more of a blessing than a curse. Sure, it hurts when we lose — or simply don’t recruit — some of the best athletes, but look at what we’ve been able to do with those we do get. Teams have had their ups and downs, to be sure, but when they do well, we can not only be excited about the athletics, but also about the character of the players and coach who carry the name and reputation of our university and its founding church to the world.
And don’t think the coaches and players aren’t aware of this responsibility. Many teams speak at firesides and have other church-related engagements on road trips. And despite the great efforts of an ever-expanding missionary force, BYU athletes and coaches are still the only representation of BYU and the church that some people will ever meet or see.
As sad as I am to see BYU lose great athletes, I support the Honor Code office in its efforts to enforce the Honor Code fairly and firmly in dealing with all members of the student body.
Speaking of the football team in the public eye, there are the Rob Morris “Freight Train” campaign, the new Cougar logo and the new Mountain West Conference to consider.
Rob “The Freight Train” Morris. I could take it or leave it I guess, as a nickname and as an Athletic Department PR campaign, complete with TV commercials, bells and whistles. Well, no bells, but they really are passing out whistles with season tickets.
I actually like the commercials. I like them in the same way I like any good sports highlights, especially ones that shine favorably on BYU. What I don’t like is the fact that the campaign smatters of politics and mentions the Butkus award — given for the best linebacker in college football — as if it were a political post to be won.
The award is won in an election voted on by sportswriters, I believe, but should be based on the results of play on the field. Besides, how good is a stadium full of whistles going to sound?
Gratefully, Morris himself hasn’t let himself be too caught up in the hoopla. At the MWC preseason football day in Colorado Springs, he said that while he thinks the attention might be fun for the fans and the team, he doesn’t really buy into it. He realizes that it will all be for naught if he doesn’t live up to expectations with his play.
“It’s OK,” Morris said, “but I just let it go in one ear and out the other.”
Today, at an invitation-only press conference in the stadium, BYU will unveil its new logo. Again, I’m not getting too worked up. While it’s fun to see anything new, I would be happy to stick with the old stuff. But if the change will encourage more fans to actually wear the team colors to the games, I’m all for it.
But the new conference has me excited. To paraphrase that time-honored broadcasting tradition of Monday Night Football, “Are you ready for some football?”
Whatever it may do for other BYU sports (I’m sure the men’s gymnastics and wrestling teams aren’t too thrilled with the new conference) the MWC looks to be a great football conference. While a conference full of great teams makes wins harder to come by, it should be great for the quality of football and level of competition in the conference.
While BYU topped the preseason coaches’ and media polls, all agreed that six of the eight teams have a valid shot at taking the first MWC championship.
The first conference game, which will be here in Provo on Sept. 16 when BYU hosts Colorado State, will be a big deal, complete with conference officials and an ESPN remote broadcast. But most every game of the season looks to be an exciting battle. If BYU is able to deliver on everyone’s prediction of winning the first MWC title, it will be quite an accomplishment indeed.
Alas, not only will I not be covering these events on the sports desk, I won’t even be able to attend the games in person, as I will be back East completing my Communications internship. My family has never had cable, but I might have to push, or even pay, for it now, so as to catch all those BYU games, or spend a lot of time at a cable-equipped friend’s house.
But while I follow my beloved Boston Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, and New England Patriots a lot more closely, I will always keep an eye on the goings-on in Utah and the fate and fortunes of BYU. Heaven knows no pro team would last long with much of an Honor Code.
At BYU, there’s more than just the sports to be excited about.
Rise and shout — go Cougars!