Ep 303 – Smackup: BYU in the Big 12

Panel Discussion

Posted September 11th, 2016

In a manly display of manly manliness, Matt, Tom, Randy, and Glenn discuss BYU’s bid for the Big 12 conference and read through a letter signed by multiple LGBT advocacy groups urging the Big 12 to pass on BYU due to its anti-LGBT policies.

Jocks gonna jock.





  • dmharris26

    Really enjoyed this episode! Thanks Glenn, Matt, Randy and Tom (and also Jake, I assume, for the intro parody song).

    At around the 1:00:48 mark, Matt said that BYU softened their rules about students who leave the church and whether or not they can stay at BYU. Here’s an article at Deseret News describing the change: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865660524/BYU-adjusts-honor-code-policies-for-students-who-leave-LDS-Church.html

    Interestingly, it pretty clearly says that if a Mormon resigns their membership, they will be expelled (and also fired/evicted depending on employment/housing). If they “only” stop going to church or have doubts, they can apply for an exemption. A couple of ironic observations: this “softening” doesn’t apply to BYU-NorthKorea (aka BYU-Idaho); also, the threat doesn’t apply to those BYU students who formally leave any other religion. See http://www.freebyu.org for more info. It’s hard for me to not stare, dumbfounded, at Mormons touting “religious freedom” when they kick students out who no longer believe and resign.

    On the subject of irony, last year when Missouri football players refused to play until the university president resigned over racial issues on campus, the game that was at risk was the game vs. BYU. BYU stood to receive a $1,000,000 payout/penalty if Missouri didn’t play. A historically racist religion was on the verge of receiving a million dollars over protests about racism.

    Full disclosure: I strongly dislike BYU. As I’ve read some of the news stories about organizations protesting BYU’s candidacy to enter the Big12, I am super-annoyed by the not-infrequent comments where people say: “If you’re gay, don’t go to BYU.” Mormons, especially those who grew up in the 70s and 80s, were raised in both a homophobic culture AND a homophobic religion and did their best to deny their orientation. This is still probably true for many teens heading off the college even now. Therefore, it’s not uncommon to end up at BYU before you even begin to recognize let-alone accept your orientation. My own life experience fits into that model.

    • AxelDC

      During the era of “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell”, conservatives blasted gay activists by saying that if you are gay, you shouldn’t join the military. That assumes that 18 year old recent HS grads know that they are gay and are willing to accept that. If you are a gay Mormon and not out to yourself yet, you are not going to tell you parents that you are avoiding BYU because you are gay. Many closeted gays join the military to prove they are not gay, which is why so many join the Marines. I’m sure many gay Mormons do the same with BYU, to prove to themselves and their families that they are true to their faith and fully heterosexual.

      • Allison

        This is exactly right. While I was at BYU, I wasn’t self-aware enough to identify as trans. I saw my gender issues as a trial to be overcome, per the Church’s teachings. It’s not nearly so simple as “LGBT need not apply”.

  • CocoaCoveredHeretic

    Not going to lie. As a Cougar fan I didn’t find this episode particularly well rounded. You really couldn’t find any Cougar fans to come on and defend BYU? You guys should give me a call the next time you’re going to talk football. The conversation would have been a lot more interesting if you’d had somebody to call you out on some of your bullshit!

    It is kind of funny because as an exmormon who grew up rooting for the Cougars I’ve got this hatred for the church, but this nostalgia and love for the football team. I absolutely hate the university and would never attend it myself, but I also can’t even imagine switching teams and rooting for somebody else. That would be college football heresy!! For better or for worse I’m a cougar fan.

    Love the college football talk though. Could use a lot more of that on the podcast! Go Cougars!

    • dmharris26

      Here’s my opinion on your question: “what is stopping any other university from doing the exact same thing if it is such an advantage?”

      I assume that no 18 year old football-talented kid wants to “sit out” for 2 years…they *want* to play and compete. So what stops other universities from doing the same thing is that the Mormon church (and BYU) are in the unique situation where the entire culture puts a huge demand on the 18/19 year old to serve a mission; indeed, it is a “commandment” to do so and the only escape-clause from that commandment is lack of worthiness. By not serving a mission, you’re committing cultural/social suicide, especially if you live in Utah.

      If Stanford said: “all red-shirt freshmen must take 2 years off the program to bulk up and mature”, those players would simply go to another program that will let them play. BYU gets away with it because of the unique Mormon culture.

      • CocoaCoveredHeretic

        I’m sure that is true that no 18 year old football-talented kit wants to sit out, but I’m also sure that they don’t want to sit on the bench for the first 2 years of their career either. They do it because they prioritize playing for a better program over playing right away for a lesser program.

        Along those lines, if Nick Saban started telling kids that they had to sit out for 2 years to play for Alabama, I am absolutely certain that he would still have plenty of players willing to suck it up and do it. I don’t think that every program could get away with that kind of policy. If New Mexico started requiring their kids to sit out for 2 years they would probably just lose most of their good recruits. But the bigger named programs could absolutely put this policy in place if they felt like it was going to give them an advantage. The fact that they don’t tells me they don’t think that it is worth their time.

        • dmharris26

          If we grouped college football teams into 3 tiers: (1) the “best”, (2) the “good”, and (3) the rest; you could imagine the following samples:

          1-the best: alabama, clemson, stanford, etc…
          2-the good: washington, penn state, arkansas
          3-the rest: a few at the bottom of the power 5 (e.g. washington state), and then most of the group of five with *maybe* a few exceptions

          Of course members of those tiers change over time…but my point (and my opinion) is that the only way Nick Saban could tell players to sit out for 2 years would be if all or nearly all of the tier 1 programs also did it. If Saban/Alabama tells a premier recruit that they have to sit out for 2 years, that recruit would most likely just go to another tier 1 school. Therefore, Nick Saban cannot tell players to sit out for 2 years or else he would lose most of his best recruits (to the benefit of Georgia, Florida, USC, Texas, etc…)

          So in that sense, I agree with you that if the coaches could get away with it, they would. I also agree with you that if Nick Saban told players they had to sit out for 2 years, he would still have plenty of players willing to do so. But I think his best recruits would go elsewhere. Only BYU can mostly get away with sitting players out for 2 years because it is built into the culture.

          Hence, for certain classes of players, I think that BYU could use the missionary culture as a competitive advantage to get more mature athletes.

          Maybe it’s a zero sum situation though. BYU is clearly at a recruiting competitive disadvantage due to their honor code: no sex…can’t even have long hair!

          • CocoaCoveredHeretic

            Yeah you might be right that everybody would need to change in order for anybody to to take advantage of it. But ultimately I still think that if it really presented a big enough advantage that they would find a way to make it happen.

            In either case it isn’t like BYU’s players are actually spending all (or even the majority) of the time they take off working on their game. Lets ignore the rest of the players and only look at the RMs. If it actually gave them an advantage don’t you think you would see more RMs on every team out there? There should be a disproportional amount of returned missionaries playing college football than the population as a whole. Why isn’t that the case if it is such an advantage?

            For every one player that came back from his mission bigger, better and stronger I bet you could find 5 more who completely fizzled out and were just a shell of their former selves. This is just a crappy argument that gets thrown out there every year by a coach that doesn’t properly prepare for BYU and loses.

          • dmharris26

            Yeah, you make a good point.

    • AZCoug8

      YES! I loved the topic of the podcast overall, and agreed with a lot of what was said. But really sad that they didn’t have a Cougar fan on the podcast. I’m like you CocoaCoveredHeretic- can’t stop my loyalties to BYU football as much as I despise the university as an academic institution anymore (and I’m an alum).

      As a point of addition, they CAN enforce the dress code, but they don’t in my experience. I regularly wear tank tops to games (BYU tank tops, no less…so hard to find), and I’ve only had a ‘helpful’ student ask that I represent the school better once. But I’ve never been threatened with being kicked out.

  • steve

    A fine episode. Sport can be a great lens to highlight cultural change. With the church and BYU increasingly far from the mainstream, I can’t help but think they’d be a major liability for anything other than reality TV shows.

    A sidenote. At one point it was mentioned that BYU wasn’t taken seriously academically. My experience is in physics… Few, if any, doing serious physics, astrophysics or astronomy consider BYU a real university. The feeling is strong enough that someone applying to a good physics grad school would probably be at a serious disadvantage… Deserving or not, reputations do rub off on graduates.

    I remember an application letter from a U of U student who noted the school is not associated with the Mormon Church and she was not a member…

  • So, football . . . Is that the one where you get a free throw after every homer?

  • Craig S.

    I think Matt was being too generous to the church when he said they wouldn’t kick a gay couple out of a game for holding hands or kissing. Admittedly, I don’t have any direct evidence on this point, but I know the church is not shy about kicking people out of their other properties. I have friends who were kicked out of City Creek Center in SLC for holding hands (obviously this only applies to gay couples, not straight ones). I don’t see why they wouldn’t do the same at games held at “the Lord’s University.”

  • dmharris26

    Another thing about BYU Football and all the talk about them being the “Notre Dame of the West”: this season, Notre Dame opened against Texas on *Sunday*. Super-high profile game on free-over-the-air TV that spot-lighted the Big 12 in a dramatic 2OT win. Big 12 needs to remember that BYU won’t participate in those games even if they ever got invited to.

  • Allison

    Regarding the section about access to bathrooms by transgender students, I believe the letter was referring to recent court rulings and assertions by the Departments of Education and Justice that sex discrimination as covered by Title IX includes gender identity:


    Also, guys: transgender is an adjective, not a noun. Saying “transgenders” to refer to trans people is like saying “the gays” unironically. Please give http://www.glaad.org/reference/transgender a read.

    • Brandon

      You beat me to it. I was coming here to say this same thing. The Obama administration recently released guidelines relating to how transgender students should be treated and protected at school. They referenced Title IX as their legal groups for these policies. It makes sense. Transgender women and girls who go to school are women and girls. They should be treated as such and given the same protections.

      And yes, please, don’t say “transgenders” Randy. It is cringeworthy.

      • Launa Willis

        Thank you! I agree about “Transgenders” it’s like saying Hobbitzes, Mormoned or Girled. It is cringe worthy to the informed and affirming. Improper pronouns usually suggest contempt or ignorance (intentional or otherwise)

    • AxelDC

      I think the bathroom issue is quite silly and easily resolved. I will never understand why single-stalled bathrooms are gendered at all. What difference does it make if you are in there alone?

      In a DC restaurant, they have one bathroom with several sinks. Each stall is a single bathroom with one toilet and a fully closed door. Either gender can use any toilet. It’s a bit disconcerting at first, but it’s far more efficient and requires no controversy.

      The bathroom issue seems just another red herring to point out how inconvenient equality can be.

      • Allison

        Unisex single-stall bathrooms should definitely be part of the solution. They are helpful in particular for non-binary identified folks. That reataurant’s bathroom sounds great.

        I don’t think that gendered multi-stall bathrooms are going away any time soon though, if only for practical reasons like the financial cost of retrofitting existing facilities. Trans people definitely still need access here and now to the proper gendered facilities. It’s simple, people just need to get used to the idea and move on.

  • Brandon

    One thing you missed when discussing the “slippery slope” arguments in the letter to BYU is the school’s impact on visiting fans and especially students who are transgender. What would the school do if an opposing team had a transgender player? Would they allow that player access to the appropriate locker rooms, bathrooms, etc? What about a transgender fan? Would that person get kicked out of the stadium for using the restroom? I think that is a big issue and is much more likely to happen then someone getting kicked out for kissing.

    • Do college football teams routinely include women these days? I’m further out of it than I thought. I imagine that a transgender biological-male-who-identifies-as-female (however the PC way is to say that) who dressed and acted female, even at a progressively modern school, would be treated like all females are treated and not allowed to even try out for the football team. This would occur way, way before the team ever got to playing BYU at home. Your scenario is too remote to even consider, IMO.

      As far as plain old transgender non-football-team people using the restrooms they feel comfortable in, they’ve been doing it for decades, if not centuries. Regardless of gender polarity, they always use a stall, which causes anyone spying on them in the stall to be perceived as a true pervert. It doesn’t happen. Unless an institution implements a policy requiring birth certificate and genital inspection prior to restroom usage, transgender people are going to go unnoticed. Personally I think this is in large part what freaks out the fundamentalists (of all flavors) so bad: They’re objecting vehemently to something they didn’t even notice a couple of years ago or a couple of decades before that. The fact that this supposed abomination went unnoticed forever until now sort of takes all of the apocalyptic fizz right out of it.

      If we’re able to finally find our way out of the restrooms and shower rooms, kissing and holding hands in the stands or on the grounds is only going to be noticed between two people appearing to be the same sex. If BYU kicks out or harasses such people, they’re going to look really, really bad, which will probably doom their program to infamy if not obscurity.

      • Brandon

        You are totally right about men’s football. I was thinking more about women’s sports which does not apply to the topic of Big 12 accepting the Cougar football team only :). It is a non-issue for players, but could potentially be an issue for support staff, coaching staff, cheerleaders, etc. who need access to a locker room that matches their gender identity. But again, more remote of an issue.

        As for the bathroom issue for non-players, it is definitely a concern, just like it is across several states in the nation. You are correct that a lot of transgender people are able to “pass” and it is not an issue. No one ever knows. But, a lot of gender-nonconforming or transgender people do not “pass” or don’t have a typical gender expression. In those cases, they are sometimes harassed or called out in bathroom situations or are sometimes victims of violence. What would BYU do in those cases? But, unfortunately in Utah there isn’t a lot of legal support for people in these situations anyway. So not only is it a BYU issue, it is also a Utah issue.

        The overall point is there are people visiting BYU for football games who will feel concerned for their safety or well-being due to the school’s outright condemnation of LGBT people. If I were transgender or gay, I wouldn’t go to an away game at BYU. I would stay home to avoid harassment and embarrassment.

  • I’m reasonably confident that none of the Infants on this podcast are qualified to talk about BYU football. This idea that BYU would get clobbered if they joined the Big 12? Welcome to data rather than feelings: http://mcubed.net/ncaaf/tvc/byu/big12.shtml (spoiler: BYU is 12-12 against Big 12 teams, Utah is 8-23). BYU wouldn’t dominate the conference, they’d sit right in the middle, just like Utah sits in the mid to mid-top of the Pac 12 year after year. The Big 12 would be a great challenge for BYU football and would improve their recruiting game. Well, that is if BYU can get over its homophobia (won’t happen until their revenue streams start going south, which could easily happen if potentail football recruits refuse to play for BYU).

    BYU consistently breaks into the top 25 almost every year at some point (in recent history). So by simple math, if there are 128 division 1 college football programs, and BYU is pretty much *always* in the top 30 or 40, they’re not as shitty as some of you want to believe. They may not be SEC worthy (nor is Utah) and they will always have a recruiting problem as long as they keep the honor code the way it is, but they are not a team that every other team in the nation doesn’t take seriously.

    I hate BYU as an institution as much as anyone these days, despite the fact that I had a great time attending the school. But you guys really should use data rather than feelings to lay any smack down on BYU. Because I KNOW that BYU football is true. With every fiber of my diet.

    • I dunno–based on BYU’s lack of consistently strong performances, I’m suspicious of taking their record against Big 12 teams over their entire history (FYI, you’re including games from 1957 in this 12-12 stat. Call me crazy, but I’d take the relevance of any game played in leather helmets with a grain of salt.) as an accurate representation of how they’d perform in the conference now, today. BYU certainly has an ability to cobble together some decent games, but they’ve always been good at one-offs. The week after week grind of Big 12 conference play would leave them toward the bottom of the conference at the end of every season. It’s a helluva lot easier to come out strong against Texas in the season opener than it is to square off with OSU in week 7 after a beatdown from TCU in week 6. Conference games aren’t independent trials the way preseason games are–each week affects the next. Statistical apples and oranges. And it’s not like they’ll be getting better over time either; because of the honor code, BYU isn’t going to get a measurable bump in their recruiting from being in a major conference.

      BYU is also consistently overrated in BCS rankings, IMO. They’ve been in weak conferences so they tend to have deceptively good W-L records, but whenever they hit an actual top-tier team, they fall apart. They’re the biggest runt on the playground–they wouldn’t be the worst team in the Big 12, probably, but they certainly wouldn’t be an asset in raising the level of play.

    • AxelDC

      BYU is probably a middle of the pack major conference team, along the lines of Arizona or Georgia Tech. They would be unlikely to win the PAC-12 or BIg 12 very often, but they could easily have winning seasons. That would get them much better bowl selections than their current state. They are certainly better than many teams in major conferences like Iowa State, Vanderbilt, Maryland, Cal, Illinois, Kentucky, etc.

  • Launa Willis

    A key to understanding “transgender” is recognizing the difference between gender and sex.. To keep this brief, theoretically gender identity resides in the brain/heart/consciousness while sex resides in the genitals and physical parts. The debate fuels on whether or not a person can have a gender identity opposite to their sex. Affirming people believe absolutely they can. Non-affirming people believe you cannot and Transgender Women are simply males pretending to be females or Transgender Men are females pretending to be male.

    While transgender women may not be women exactly like your mother or sister, they are still women. The Same for transgender men, while not the necessarily the same as your father or brother, they are still men. For whatever reason there is a mismatch between their sex and gender Identity. Our sense of ‘self’ or ‘identity’ typically outweighs any other characteristic. Gender variation is present in many species. It comes into focus with a person’s willingness to investigate a gender spectrum as old as history itself rather than upholding a traditional gender binary.

    • Brandon

      This is the best representation I have found to explain the differences between biological sex, gender identity, sexual attraction, and gender expression:

      • Kim

        if you like the imagery – and it is a great basic beginning point for discussion on gender and sexuality – a better one to use is the Gender Unicorn, http://www.transstudent.org/gender

        I still have in some of my powerpoints the link you referenced above for the Genderbread model. I am in the process of switching it all out to the Gender Unicorn. The information is basically the same, however a short back story. The concepts behind the Genderbread was originally developed by a group of transwomen. But was re-worked and published by a cisgender white man without any credit to the original thinkers. It’s a bit of a controversy in the sex education world. And although he has done some solid good work in the field, I prefer to support the concepts that are credited where credit is due. The Gender Unicorn was developed by and credited to a group of trans individuals.

  • Orrin Dayne

    The key fact in this matter was discussed in the episode: the NCAA values both equality and religious freedom. As such, the NCAA has not sanctioned BYU.

    If I’m the Big 12 (and assuming I want to add BYU), I’d add BYU and, to any questions about BYU’s policies, I would say that BYU is in good standing with the NCAA and that’s good enough for the Big 12. Basically, I’d triple-dog-dare the NCAA to launch what would be seen (right or wrong) as an attack on religious freedom. The NCAA ain’t gonna jump into that hornet’s nest. And the LGBT groups don’t want that battle either because they know that time is on their side, so why stunt their progress with a perceived culture war against religion?

    Also, I agree with Glenn that BYU policies are bad enough and that sticking to undeniable facts is better than hyperbole. While I further agree with the panelists who noted that Big 12 schools would not see the hyperbole without the LDS perspective, you can bet that BYU will provide that LDS perspective, allowing the Big 12 schools to spot the hyperbole. There is no need to undermine one’s credibility with speculation when the facts (no physical intimacy) is bad enough.

  • AxelDC

    I was skeptical that the gay issue could possibly derail BYU’s candidacy for one of the more conservative conferences in the nation, but OU President David Boren’s comments have changed my mind. He is probably not a gay activist by any definition, but he sees BYU’s homophobia as problematic for the conference. He has asked BYU to make nominal changes to its Honor Code just to give the appearance of becoming more tolerant, and BYU has refused. If a former Republican US Senator from Oklahoma cannot support BYU’s homophobic stance, it seems they are on the fast track to irrelevance.

  • AxelDC

    Just a side note: BYU and Army are the only true independents left. Navy joined the American Athletic Conference, ending 135 years of independence. Notre Dame joined the ACC in everything but football; in football, they play 6 ACC teams a year and participate in the ACC Bowl Alliance. Army is independent to recruit students across the country. UMass got kicked out of the MAC in football and they are desperate for a new conference. I don’t see how BYU stays independent in the long run.

  • Owen Leonard

    I’m a little late to the discussion, but Colorado State also protested BYU in 1970

  • AxelDC

    Looks like the gay issue came back to haunt BYU after all. The Big 12 punted, taking no new schools and opting to try to survive with 10. That leaves BYU out in the cold, with no options but continued Indy, the AAC, or going back to the MWC. Indy is probably unsustainable, especially with ESPN bleeding subscribers. The MWC would look like a step backwards, so I predict BYU joins the AAC in 2 years when their ESPN deal expires.

    It seems almost impossible for BYU to move up to P5 if even the conservative Big 12 won’t touch them. They will either have to change their homophobia, or face a future as a 2nd rate football program.