BYU athletics: Policy of not playing on Sunday could hurt Cougars' chances of changing conferences

Realignment » BYU president reiterates policy will not change.
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The college athletics landscape is on the verge of what could be major change in the next few years, with rumors of conference expansion and realignment dominating headlines this past spring and winter.

Don't expect Brigham Young University's sports teams to change with it in regards to Sunday play, BYU president Cecil Samuelson reiterated recently in email correspondence with The Salt Lake Tribune .

BYU's sports teams never have played or practiced on Sundays. They never will, the eighth-year president said.

That's true even if bigger, more prestigious conferences say an invitation to join hinges on the school owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints changing its long-standing policy.

"We are grateful for the NCAA's accommodation for us and any other institution that chooses not to play sports on Sundays, and we won't change our policy on Sunday play for any reason," Samuelson said.

The two larger, more prestigious conferences that BYU, currently part of the nine-member Mountain West Conference, would love to receive invitations from -- the Big 12 or the Pac-10 -- conduct some athletic competitions on Sundays.

Samuelson declined The Tribune 's request for a formal interview on conference expansion and a few other topical issues, but agreed to answer a few of the 12 questions submitted for his review through the University Communications department.

One of the questions he declined to answer was whether or not BYU is in favor of adding Boise State to the MWC. Samuelson and the eight other presidents of MWC schools will meet June 6-8 in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and conference expansion -- specifically as it relates to Boise State -- is expected to be on the agenda.

Regarding conference expansion rumors overall, Samuelson noted that BYU's athletic success -- it has won nearly 40 percent (130 of 328) of the regular-season and conference tournament championships in the 11-year history of the MWC -- should make it an attractive option for those conferences seeking new members.

"I've been pleased to see teams in our conference earn national respect in recent years," he said. "Although it seems likely that there will be changes in some conferences, so far the rumors have outpaced reality. It's too soon to speculate if or how future movement could affect the Mountain West Conference and BYU.

"Our people in athletics are watching this issue carefully and will keep me updated. Until any concrete changes occur, it's premature to publicly discuss other possibilities."

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe has declined several requests for interviews regarding expansion, saying through athletic department spokespersons that he doesn't have enough facts yet and doesn't want to respond to rumors and speculation.

A spokesperson did confirm that the school has put together a packet of information for conferences that may be interested in what BYU has to offer, athletically, academically and otherwise.

"No matter how things turn out, thanks to our tradition and great fans across the country, I'm sure BYU athletics will be well positioned for continued success," Samuelson said.

The president declined to give his thoughts on a recent spate of negative news involving high-profile BYU athletes. Harvey Unga, the all-time leading rusher in school history, was denied readmission into BYU recently after voluntarily withdrawing from school on April 16 for violating the school's Honor Code.

And rising basketball star Michael Loyd Jr. was kicked off the basketball team at season's end for what coach Dave Rose termed as "accountability" and "responsibility" issues. Coaches and school officials said they were unaware of Loyd's legal issues, including a January, 2009, charge of possession of a controlled substance (marijuana) in South Jordan.

"It's been fun for me [and especially my wife Sharon, the Cougars' biggest fan] to cheer our teams during the consistent success of recent years," Samuelson said. "But most important to me is the way our student-athletes have represented BYU on and off the field, as well as the classroom. I'm particularly grateful to Tom Holmoe and our coaches for the leadership they've shown in emphasizing this aspect of BYU's athletic tradition."


Sundays may hurt Cougars