This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
After the football brawl that broke out between BYU and Memphis, making national news and trending on Twitter around the globe, Cougar receiver Terenn Houk fired off a tweet that read like this: "Bottom line: those are my brothers and I have their back. Time to move on and grind for next season."
If only it were that simple.
Just when it seemed losing to Memphis was about as embarrassing as it could get for BYU football, suddenly things got a whole lot worse at the Miami Beach Bowl. The Cougars were caught up in a postgame fight that featured all kinds of ugliness from both sides, including BYU center Tejan Koroma getting assaulted by four or five Memphis players, including one Chase Johnson who used his helmet like a weapon, clubbing Koroma upside the earhole from behind, and BYU defensive back Kai Nacua round-housing a Memphis player with the worst kind of sucker punch.
There were blows thrown across the field, by many players.
It was sad. It was pathetic.
And it presented a nightmare scenario for BYU and its fans, horrified as they watched, already jumpy about the direction of the school's football program and what that direction means for its future.
The challenges for BYU are great, finding itself outside a power league, outside of any league, hoping somehow to be invited to a party that currently seems crowded and content to include no more newcomers. The limitations of the Cougar program are plain to see, with a combo-pack of confined recruiting because of its tight competitive margins and its honor code which chases away even some LDS athletes who simply do not want to deal with imposed standards, some of them antiquated and downright silly, far beyond standards in place for the rest of the LDS Church's population. If reports out of Wisconsin are true, even Bronco Mendenhall wanted out, wanted a better opportunity elsewhere, having reportedly applied for the Wisconsin coaching vacancy.
Truth is, BYU is too caught up in the presentation of standard-keeping, always needing to put forth a certain image, you see. One of the Cougars' priorities that appears to have had a heavier presence under the rule of coach Bronco Mendenhall is exposure for the Mormon faith by way of its football team, missionary work in helmets and pads brought forth to a football-crazed nation.
Mendenhall has emphasized that proposition from the beginning, using scriptural accounts of ancient warriors standing as public comparisons and examples and inspirations for his players. Walk into the student-athlete center at BYU, where the football players hang out, study and eat, and there are quotes from religious leaders, modern prophets and apostles, posted on walls all around.
And then … BYU gets rolled up in a nasty fight on national television, with lowlights beamed around the world, with reaction about the fight blowing up on social media. Much of it centered on … BYU and Mormons. It's not the kind of exposure for which BYU and its leaders hoped.
It is the kind of exposure that could get BYU football canceled.
Already, that's happened to sports, including football, at other BYU campuses for other reasons. And it could happen in Provo, as well.
Not saying it will. But there's no doubt that LDS Church leaders are embarrassed right now about what took place at the Miami Beach Bowl. You can walk that to the bank. Some already have their reservations about the church's top school putting so much emphasis on football. This helps not one bit.
A leadership that frowns upon long hair and beards, earrings and tattoos, must be doubly, quadruply, disappointed at senseless violence perpetrated by what it wants to consider representatives of the faith on the field, in front of millions and millions of eyeballs.
All of a sudden, the lasting impressions of a vast audience for which that leadership was hoping are transformed into impressions it wishes and prays are quickly forgotten.
There have been statements by players, like Houk, saying they were sticking up for their brothers who they thought were under attack. That's understandable. By many accounts, BYU didn't start the fight. But the brawl was widespread enough to have gone far beyond the notions of honor, spirit, tradition. Imagine if Mendenhall had gotten his way a while back and had those noble characteristics sewn onto the back of his players' jerseys instead of their names. And on Monday, Spirit would have been putting a beatdown on some Memphis linebacker and Honor would have kicked the crap out of some opposing defensive back and Tradition … there would have been hell to pay had anyone crossed Tradition's path.
Yeah. We should all get it. These are flawed, passionate, physical, imperfect human beings playing football here, getting angry during both the game and after, swearing and sweating and looking to beat the snot out of the other guys. But that's all they are. They're not church representatives, they're not messengers from God, they're not better than anyone else.
They're freaking football players, some of whom do stupid things, on and off the field.
The sooner everyone realizes that, the better.
To pretend it's otherwise does not and will never make it so.
Nobody knows exactly where BYU football goes from here. But the place it found itself, with some of its players mixed in the mayhem with some of the Memphis Tigers, on Monday was far past defeat, it was difficult and dreary and dark. A light to the world, it wasn't.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.