Since its inauguration nearly a century ago, BYU football has had many claims to fame — a national championship, a Heisman Trophy winner and more than 20 conference titles are just a few. But one feat stands out among the others: BYU football has never had a major NCAA violation.
While more than half the prominent NCAA programs have had a significant number of NCAA infractions, BYU and Penn State remain the only two colleges to have won national championships without incurring a serious violation, according to a report by CBS Sports released earlier this year. Honor and integrity are just two of the values BYU strongly endorses, but why exactly have the Cougars never committed a major infraction in football?
Head coach Bronco Mendenhall answered this question by pointing out the high standards to which BYU holds its students and faculty members.
“Our intent is to play by every rule there is,” Mendenhall said. “I think the institution and church we represent hold us to a really high standard. … Most of these violations, I believe, aren’t happening from players within the program. I think they are happening with pressures from others trying to provide things that aren’t in compliance [with the NCAA].”
Mendenhall explained how difficult it is to abide by the rules with BYU’s ever-increasing booster population. He said he is trying to educate boosters and identify those who might not understand so they will not have any problems with NCAA rules.
Senior Travis Uale, BYU safety and defensive co-captain, attributes BYU football’s lack of a serious NCAA infraction to the Honor Code.
“We play to win, but we have a greater understanding of the game,” Uale said. “The way we play [shows] a lot about our school to the world. [We] show them that we can live the Honor Code, get good grades and play great football.”
Sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps shares Uale’s viewpoint. In an interview with CBS Sports, Heaps said BYU players are aware of what they are getting themselves into when they come to play football.
“You see all these controversies around the country, but we’re going to do it the right way here,” Heaps said. “When you come here, you’re in a full understanding that you are going to be living the Honor Code and what will be required of you. We need guys that are trustworthy, good men on and off the field. It takes a special guy to do that.”
There certainly seem to be advantages to playing by the rules. Besides maintaining a football team with character and class, Mendenhall said he believes BYU’s clean slate with the NCAA gives them added credibility, making it easier to schedule games with big-name teams.
“It’s been interesting the flexibility we’ve had to schedule [games with] the elite teams around the country. It’s been liberating,” Mendenhall said.
Liberation aside, Mendenhall acknowledged no one is exempt from committing violations — not even BYU.
“I’m not saying we’re perfect,” he said. “There could be a violation at some point. But I want the program to be successful and show that you can actually do it by the rules and with high standards.”