PROVO, Utah — So you think you know Brigham Young University, which will soon be participating in a Big 12 conference near you?

The BYU Cougarettes have won eight of the last 11 National Dance Alliance Championships in hip-hop.

BYU in 2021 promoted Diljeet Taylor to head coach of the nationally competitive women’s cross country team. Taylor is not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In fact, she was raised in the Sikh religion. She is believed to be the first non-Mormon to serve as BYU’s head coach in at least 50 years.

BYU in June created a new position, vice president of membership, and hired law professor Carl Hernandez III, the son of migrant farm workers from California, for the role. School President Kevin Worthen said the Membership Office will not only serve BYU’s efforts to eradicate racism, but also to combat “biases of any kind, including those based on race, ethnicity, nationality, tribe, gender, age, disability, socio-economic status, religious belief and sexual orientation.

BYU is the flagship university of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons were despised in the 19e century, repeatedly expelled from their region of origin. And in the 21st century, BYU was historically shunned by the Pac-12 as an expansion candidate and hit by protests within the Big 12 during a 2016 expansion study.

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But BYU has finally found a conference home and has two messages for its new partners and the fans at these schools: BYU is not what you think it is, and you are going to love the Cougars in your league.

“We’re trying to have a decoder, to let people know we’re good people,” said Chad Lewis, a former BYU star football player who now leads the athletic department’s fundraising.

Lewis admits that Mormons have been on the defensive for more than a century, having been driven out of geographic areas because of their beliefs and historical roots with polygamy. But BYU’s defense seems muted.

“We want people to know that we love them, that we care about them,” Lewis said. “The billboard for that is athletics. We are the first contact people have with BYU. If football or basketball is to be their first impression of The Church of Jesus Christ…I have great faith in our coaches and players to get it right.

BYU has a strict honor code, including bans on alcohol, caffeine, premarital sex, and profane language. But in 2020, the university adjusted the honor code, removing a section on same-sex behavior. The LDS Church still maintains a stance against same-sex marriages, but that’s not really uncommon in Christianity.

“A lot of the stigma around religion is fading,” said Utah State Senator Kirk Cullimore Jr., an OU law school graduate who practiced law in Norman for a few years. years before returning to his home state. “Having been to Norman, I don’t think LDS culture is an affront to Oklahomans.”

That’s BYU’s message to fans in Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas. The Cougars are much more alike than different from their new conference mates.

“They match the Big 12,” said BYU fan Hal Jaussi from Sandy, Utah. “Culturally, I wouldn’t say the Big 12 is made up of religious schools, but they are religious people.”

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BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe walked the sidelines during the third quarter at Utah State last season.

And it’s soothing to Cougars. For years, BYU has clearly been the most attractive option among universities looking to attend a Power Five conference. And geographically, the Pac-12 made sense.

But in 2010, the Pac-12 added Utah and Colorado, with BYU shunned, even though the Cougars have a highly successful athletic department, a global following due to the Church, and outstanding facilities for a school that doesn’t. ever been blessed with great television. silver.

Most Utahans believe that cultural differences — you can also substitute religious and/or political words — kept BYU from getting into the Pac-12. It seems likely the Cougars weren’t too touchable for Cal-Berkeley and Stanford.

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said he thinks the Cougars are more culturally suited for the Big 12. And he has the prospect of having also coached at Stanford and Cal, the latter as a coach -leader from 1997 to 2001.

“I completely understand the social part, the cultural part,” Holmoe said. “There is common ground in the Midwest and the Big 12, even though we have different beliefs…sport is where you can come together.”

BYU makes no apologies for using sports to spread its spiritual message. Heck, spreading the message is why BYU exists as a university in the first place.

“Athletics is a great way to tell the story of who BYU is,” said Cougar mega-donor Ritch Wood. “Talk about church, not everyone is interested in it. It’s so much easier to do with athletics. You can still tell your story.

“The conference gives us the opportunity to tell our story. We’re not trying to say we’re better than anyone else, we just have a standard that we’re trying to follow.

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In some ways, BYU is like Baylor, the Baptist school, but without the historical stigma. The Cougars played in Waco last season and came away saying they felt a kinship with the Bears.

A big difference, of course. Less than 25% of Baylor students identify as Baptists, while more than 95% of BYU students are LDS members. And many non-Mormon students are athletes.

BYU is famous for not competing on Sundays. The Cougars’ previous conferences – Western Athletic and Mountain West – and the current West Coast conference have accommodated BYU on this issue, and the Big 12 has agreed to the same.

BYU bears a stain from the Mountain West days, when the Cougars were reported to be tough on conference matters.

The play without Sunday was surely part of this belief. And BYU since the late 1970s has been the big dog in every league it’s been a member of, from fan base to facilities to sports budgets. Heck, the West Coast Conference is a collection of small private, mostly Catholic universities that don’t even have on-field football teams, but there is BYU with 60,000 fans at most home games. .

“People asked, how the hell are Mormons going to get along with Catholics?” Holmoe said. “It was 11 years of good relations. We feel we have great partners in the WCC.

Holmoe believes the claim that BYU is difficult to work with dates back to the late 2000s, when BYU became increasingly frustrated with Mountain West television contracts. The Cougars eventually left the conference and went independent in football, signing a deal with ESPN.

Football’s independence will be gone in 2023, when BYU joins the Big 12. The Cougars have always been major players on the field, but a Power Five conference brings even more status. And maybe more temptations.

Is BYU worried that its ideals will be compromised in a sport that seems to have fewer and fewer scruples?

“That’s a really good question,” Holmoe said. “I really believe in being who you are.

“We made mistakes in athletics, that’s for sure. We will try to keep our identity. It’s not like we think it’s a superior brand or identity to anyone else. It just works for us. It’s ours. That’s how we do it.”

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Mascot Cosmo (00) and the BYU Cougars join the Big 12 in 2023.

Holmoe remembers hearing over the years some of his coaches who were looking for relief or changes or whatever. That’s how State U. does it, coaches will tell Holmoe.

Holmoe’s response is quick: “We are not the U State.”

This is the paradox. BYU isn’t State U., but the Cougars seem determined to prove they’re much more similar than different to Oklahoma State and the Kansas and Texas Techs.

“We’re very, very similar,” Holmoe said. “It’s football, it’s basketball, it’s tennis, it’s golf, it’s sports, it’s academic, it’s graduation.

“We try to understand NIL. We are all in the same boat. We are quite close to most schools.

BYU even has a world-class hip-hop dance team, vice president of membership, and Sikh cross-country coach. What else will we learn about the Cougars when they enter the Big 12?

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or [email protected] It can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40 p.m. to 5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.

BYU at the Big 12

Today is part 2 of a three-part series on BYU’s transition to the Big 12 next summer:

Sunday: BYU could give the Big 12 a big jolt of confidence, considering the Cougars are so excited to join the league.

Monday: BYU hopes to educate Big 12 fans about its mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Tuesday: BYU went independent just as arch-rival Utah got the Power Five call. How did the Cougars recover?

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