The mission statement of BYU’s athletic department (as A.D. Val Hale reminded us last semester) is to “conduct the athletic program in a manner that will … contribute to the mission of the church through the visibility of our positive example.” While there is the occasional Steve Young, most of what goes on detracts from rather than contributes to “the mission of the church”: alleged “alcohol and sexual activities” by football players, booing Bobik, threatening referees (G.T. football game), players with tattoos (and accusations of airbrushing), etc.
Regrettably, this is the news that makes it out of Provo. Jim McMahon’s DUI with a blood alcohol level at .261 (over four times the legal limit) was parodied in Nov. 2003 on a national sports talk show (“The Jungle”) where McMahon was called a “Mormon.” Now that’s visibility. In short, the risk of negative exposure is far greater than the benefit of positive press.
Telling fans to be more polite or expelling a few athletes who violate the honor code will not stop the rising tide of negative press stemming from athletics. These quick reactions avoid confronting the underlying problem: our culture’s obsession with winning at all costs and the emphasis placed on sports by this institution.
Do a quick survey of your friends: What do you think BYU cares more about? A) Winning Football and basketball games (with you purchasing tickets, merchandise and concessions). B) Your education. Students, in my experience, have overwhelmingly responded “A.” Clearly this is not the way the administration feels about it, but in our dollar driven society one need only look around campus to see that this is the message communicated to students. Even if the rumored salaries of coaches (of football and basketball) are overstated, the sheer size and number of the buildings devoted to NCAA athletics testifies to the overwhelming importance placed on them by BYU.
With the football team in a funk (and “working through” some possible honor code infractions), I hope we move to put undergraduate education ahead of athletics. Keep the head football coach, but when his contract expires cut his salary to that of a new professor in the Theater department–after all his job amounts to putting on a show. Replace assistant coaches with graduate students learning to coach in public schools. Do the same in basketball. With that money alone 20 more faculty member could be hired to replace T.A.s or help reduce the size of the huge GE classes, affording students more interaction with professors early in their BYU experience (thus improving their experience and increasing retention). Take scholarships out of coaches’ hands, make them need-based and put them under the control of the admissions office. This way student-athletes can really be students first and athletes second and won’t be locked in an employer-employee relationship with BYU. Put a faculty member in charge of athletics whose job does not depend on wins and losses but on ethics, academics and financial integrity. Finally, stop emphasizing sports and merchandise and start emphasizing the average undergraduate’s importance. One way to do this would be to build parking structures for undergrads instead of huge athletic facilities that the average student will never enter.
I hear the business-minded students gasping now: “But what about all the money brought in from athletics?” The NCAA itself estimates that nearly 60% of all athletic departments lose money. When one factors capital costs into the equation, few, if any even break even. With BYU football’s recent attendance woes, our athletic department is certainly losing money. In other words, money travels away from educational programs to athletics, not the other way around. To get back into the black, cut back the high profile sports. Research suggests that when athletics are de-emphasized and undergraduate education is reemphasized alumni giving increases.
BYU should not strive to be like big party, big football schools such as Florida State or Michigan. We should shoot higher. When BYU emphasizes education and de-emphasizes sports programs we truly will “contribute to the mission of the church through the visibility of our positive example.”
Dept. of French and Italian