Loyal Cougars

Editorial: It’s OK if BYU fans want to pay for a church football team

BYU’s self-funding football program is a target to be shut down due to coming athlete compensation changes. For some reason.

The NCAA’s long-coming autonomy proposal for the Power 5 conferences passed last week, but no official new rules have been enacted. Reading the local newspapers, it would seem that now is the time for BYU fans to panic.

Salt Lake media have been speculating, as they sometimes do, about if the end is near for the BYU football program. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last.

Regarding these new rules, Salt Lake Tribune reporter Jay Drew pondered:

“Oh to be a fly on the wall at LDS Church headquarters as well when the topic comes up. Does the church which owns and operates BYU really want to be in the business of paying some students who just happen to be gifted athletically, while others struggle to make ends meet financially just as much? The questions go on and on.”

To me, this seems like an odd question. The church is obviously already okay with its school compensating some athletically gifted students, since it has 250 or so currently on scholarship. As unfair as that may be to the other thousands of BYU students, it doesn’t seem any less fair than rewarding other students with scholarships for being good at math, being able to write well, or whatever talents they have that the school wants to encourage and its alumni want to pay for. BYU has been in the scholarship business for a long time and I wouldn’t anticipate that changing, even if the value of the scholarship does.

The pondering continued on Saturday when Deseret News columnist Brad Rock opined,

“The last thing the LDS Church needs to be operating is a quasi-professional football team.”

Both of these articles leave me asking, why is the LDS Church singled out for these kinds of questions? Why is okay for states across the nation to consider paying more to their university football team’s players, but once the discussion shifts to a church-owned school, top-level football has to go because of the moral implications of it all?

Why should we all go happily along with state schools adding more financial obligations to programs that are subsidized and sometimes heavily subsidized by student fees and general funds while asking the church school that lets its fans fund and operate a profitable program to shut down?

It seems to me the LDS Church should be able to consider running its school and athletic program within the same rules the 65 other Power 5 schools are running theirs. If fans of BYU want to pay for their football team, what’s wrong with that? It seems it would be okay for schools with similar size enrollments, football stadiums and endowment resources operating under the same rules.

I don’t know how BYU students feel about football players getting paid, but I’m guessing the financially-struggling students will like it better as long as they are only contributing to the players by buying tickets instead of having a couple hundred dollars of fees tacked onto their general tuition.

Rock’s opinion that operating a quasi-professional football team being the last thing the LDS Church needs seems especially odd coming from a church-owned newspaper. Where do newspapers fall on this list of things the church should or shouldn’t be operating?

BYU seems better prepared to keep up with these changes than many state schools that already operate their budgets at the bleeding edge of viability. BYU builds facilities fully paid for rather than taking out a 30-year mortgage. This financial direction likely comes from church leadership, but it’s a competitive disadvantage to recruit against teams that can build a new press box, stadium, or team facility with tens of millions, or in Cal’s case hundreds of millions, of bond debt.

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall has levied a similar critique, asking, “Why not say nobody breaks off unless they are operating in the black?” Fairly compensating the players for what they do sounds great, but for a program that already is breaking the bank to keep up, where is all this new money coming from?

BYU appears to be one of the few programs out there able to show some restraint as it lives within its means. Despite that financial disadvantage, the Cougars still manage to field competitive, entertaining teams. BYU will never out-Oregon Oregon with shiny new buildings, but the Cougars get what they need (and it’s getting to the point that they really need that basketball practice facility so hopefully that comes soon).

While some fans love to raise conspiracy theories of BYU’s athletics funding, we’re told that the Cougars are self-funding. Donors, endowments, ticket sales, TV revenue and the church permission are what allow the program to operate.

Yes, BYU recently shut down BYU-Hawaii athletics. Last year, their entire athletics revenue was a shade over $2.5 million, according to the US Department of Education. The church shut down Ricks College athletics rather than operate a second athletics program close to the one they already had.

Do we really want to talk about those decisions in the same sentence as the idea of shutting down a $50-million-a-year program like what the church has at BYU?

As long as my tithing money isn’t paying for it, I think the church can do whatever it pleases with the football team. I’d just like to see the nation’s taxpayers care as much about all those other schools’ moral and financial obligations.

I’m not going to be a fly on the wall when the topic comes up at church headquarters, but I would hope the conversation sound like this:

Tom Holmoe: “So, we’re going to be changing our scholarships to keep up with the national model. There’s been some changes to the NCAA rules and we’re going to do what they allow us to do.”

Board of Trustees: “Are you guys still paying for all that on your own?”

Tom Holmoe: “Yeah, it’s all in the budget.”

Board of Trustees: “OK, good luck this year. We’ll see you on ESPN.”

Finally, years ago, when a fan at Education Week questioned something about the BYU football program, Athletics Director Tom Holmoe replied that the school didn’t build the indoor practice facility to turn into a barn for hay storage. We will have to see exactly how the new rules shake out for BYU. I don’t know what of divisions or rules will be coming, but I don’t really see the school turning the IPF into a barn any time soon, either.


  1. Wes

    August 13, 2014 at 9:16 am

    Amen, Brother Welch – keep the muckrakers in check.

  2. derrik

    August 13, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    This is one of the best written articles I have read in awhile. I was surprised reading Jay Drew ‘s take on it, I’m not trying to attack the guy however he lacked complete common sense when writting such a statement. When I read what he said my thoughts were exactly what you wrote so poignantly. If it is out of the athletic budget and not out of tithing, who cares? No one that is using common sense and understanding how budgets work would ever cry foul. If the program brings in money let the program spend the money.

  3. Reed

    August 13, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    Well said. Personally, I don’t care if the money comes from tithing either. Just like the City Creek mall in downtown SLC (where it was adamantly said to not involve any tithing money), if President Monson, or anyone else that holds that office, says it is ok to use tithing funds for it…fine by me. It’s not my money anymore and I trust their input much more than others on what is right or wrong.

    • Chris Wiikwajio

      August 13, 2014 at 2:20 pm

      Thee Church spends money on Missionary work. BYU football is one of the best missional tools LDS have.

  4. Bear

    August 13, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    “As long as my tithing money isn’t paying for it”

    Whose tithing again? You pay it or not but you get no say.

    • Spencer Clark

      August 13, 2014 at 6:40 pm

      That’s what I was thinking. Does he not realize that tithing compensates for the vast majority of costs not covered by tuition? It also pays for athletics. But in the end, he doesn’t have say.

  5. BYU football isn't going away....

    August 13, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    As a donor to BYU football and to the school’s general fund – should BYU eliminate its football program it will be the end of my contributions. My man-cave will be decorated in Red and my green dollars will be sent north.

    • Robert Birrell

      August 13, 2014 at 2:54 pm

      You would honestly go red? Like you, I’m a donor, but if BYU ever shuts down the athletic department my money won’t go to Utah. I’ll stop watching sports before I become a Ute.

      I would probably encourage UVU to seize the opportunity and go green, or become an Aggie (they’re so cute and harmless in their child-like hatred towards BYU). But never, ever a Ute.

      • David C. Moore

        August 14, 2014 at 5:03 pm

        I would NEVER support Utah State, since it’s their highest ranking alumnus on the BYU Board of Trustees that doesn’t like athletics at church institutions of higher learning, given they “detract from the mission of state schools.” Like you I would support UVU picking up the void left by BYU dropping the program, and they have the potential to build a brand that would bury Utah State much the way Boise State did Idaho in less than a decade. But I think 2 former presidents of BYU have used the UVU “trump card” when this subject has come up at BOT meetings over the past 2 decades.

        • Steven Skabelund

          October 23, 2014 at 6:34 pm

          I would NEVER support Utah State, since it’s their highest ranking alumnus on the BYU Board of Trustees that doesn’t like athletics at church institutions of higher learning, given they “detract from the mission of state schools.”

          Interesting comment. Interesting reasoning. I will always love the Aggies, the Utes and the Cougars with all those Utah kids.

      • Bruce Bennett

        August 14, 2014 at 5:53 pm

        If BYU quits football I will just follow other college teams. Not that I want BYU to quit football. I didn’t want BYU to quit men’s wrestling either, but it did. I as an alumnus have no say in what they are going to do about athletics.What ever the Church does with the tithing that I pay is the Lord’s. Its up to the Church leadership as to what it does with tithing money, not me. No, I would not root for the Utes, being i don’t live in the inter mountain west, I could follow other teams, whatever.

  6. AK Cougar

    August 13, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    I completely agree about the tax issue. I am wondering how long the tax bases in the states of these Power 5 schools, including the state of Utah, are going to be happy with their taxes increasing to pay for athletes, especially lower tier Power 5 schools like Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, and the University of Utah. I for one am not happy at all with an increase in taxes. If I were a student at one of those schools I would be ticked to see an increase in fees to subsidize a program. Like Bronco says, if you can’t operate in the black then get out of the business.

  7. gary lamb

    August 13, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    All of the so called “big 5” conferences could sure learn a lot from BYU. Stop financing improvements to your facilities, straining the taxpayers in your conference; especially your own program. BYU isn’t going anywhere. There are more BYU fans and supporters, than there are haters. Sounds like the big 5 are threatened by BYU, but will never admit to it. I am a proud cougar fan and a member of the LDS Church. I don’t worry about how, when, where, or why the tithes are spent. Men much more wise and trustworthy than myself see to that. Keep on keeping on BYU, and long live COUGAR NATION!!!!!!!

  8. Matt

    August 13, 2014 at 6:41 pm


  9. Ivan

    August 13, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    Incredibly well written Greg Welch! Brad Rock and especially Jay Drew love to stir the pot and create anxiety and controversy where none exists – in their minds it sell papers and elevates their status. BYU is getting a huge return on their investment in people learning about BYU and it’s standards and as a result the church’s standards and beliefs. There is a huge national and worldwide following of BYU sports.

  10. Rod

    August 14, 2014 at 5:32 am

    It is a hard change in college football and this new ruling is not best for the program. I attend BYU football games back in the bleak years and never missed a game. As I retire I hope to start again attended the games. I have a good friend is a walk on for the team – no scholarship but he works hard at jobs during the off-season so he can stay. We have hundreds of boys around the world that would play for free just for the honor of wearing the Blue and White. Please don’t join something that is wrong – beef up the scholarships for more students but don’t pay.

  11. Doug Witt

    August 14, 2014 at 8:30 am

    There is nothing that the anti-LDS faction among hard core ute fans would like more than to see BYU shut down athletics so the Pac12ers can say, “See, you just couldn’t cut it with the big boys…” while my tax dollars are going to subsidize the annual shortfall generated by the red team.

    Keep in mind that BYU’s in-the-black operating budget also happens while keeping ticket prices well below the average of the big 5 conferences. Utah Valley fans would faint if they saw prices anywhere close to USC or Stanford, but if that’s what it takes, just do it!

  12. EJ

    August 14, 2014 at 10:31 am

    “Where do newspapers fall on this list of things the church should or shouldn’t be operating?”

    Um, you didn’t study communications at BYU, did you.

  13. Jim Anderson

    August 14, 2014 at 11:36 am

    Baylor is a CHURCH SCHOOL, Purdue is a CHURCH SCHOOL, we could go on all day about schools with football teams that are CHURCH schools…Whats the big deal????

    • David C. Moore

      August 14, 2014 at 4:56 pm

      Purdue is NOT a Church sponsored school by any religious community. It is owned and operated by the State of Indiana as its Land Grant & Space Grant school. Since 1959 it has belonged to the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU).

  14. Dennis H. Clark

    August 14, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    The pharisees won in the Brandon Davies debacle, ruining the finest BYU basketball season in 30 years. If they are victorious in eventually shutting down BYU football, the LDS church should sell BYU (the entire univ.) to an endowment or another private entity. At least in that scenario, BYU could exorcise the enemy within.

  15. Kaysville Cougar

    August 14, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    This is one of the best articles I have read in a long time. It reflects my sentiments exactly. I don’t know where so many people come up with these make believe ideas like the BYU sports dept. will shut down. Yes I do. There are enough people who hate the church and BYU enough that they keep regurgitating this garbage. Then others hear it often enough that they start to believe it. This is kind of like the Democratic accusation of Republican’s war on women. No matter how idiotic it sounded, many started believing it. Here’s to hoping that there are more thinking people who dismiss the fictional talk.

  16. gary lamb

    August 14, 2014 at 11:08 pm

    Enough of the haters already, go to one of your own university blogs and pound your chest there. let us royal blue fans address issues that pertain to us. We don’t care about your opinions or your team……face it we’re just not that into you DEAL WITH IT.