Mormons, Sports, and Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently referred to as the Mormon Church by the media and others) revere the Sabbath day (Sunday) as a day of worship, family time, and rest from the labors of the week. The Sabbath day allows for a respite – a period of rejuvenation – and a time of reflection.

The Sanctity of the Sabbath Day

The keeping of the Sabbath day is in harmony with the scriptures which are replete with teachings pertaining to the observance of the day.  In the Old Testament Book of Exodus, for example, the Children of Israel were commanded:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it (Exodus 20:8-11).

Mormon Church WorshipThe Savior Himself taught, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath” (Mark 2:27, 28). Even He observed the Sabbath day as a day of worship. Scriptures record that when He “came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read” (Luke 4:16).

Contained within the prophetic words of Isaiah is also found the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy:

If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it (Isaiah 58:13,14).

“There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:9-10).

The World View of the Sabbath Day

Whereas Christendom reveres the Sabbath day as sacred and holy, the world sees the day as another productive business day, an opportunity to increase their revenue, or as another day to partake of the things of the world in general. As a result, some who would otherwise not labor on the Sabbath day are called upon to do so in order to sustain their livelihood.

Those same types of pressures exist in the sports realm, as the biggest sports day appears to occur on the Sabbath. This leaves athletes who are Christians, such as those who are devout members of The Church of Jesus Christ, faced with the quandary of whether or not to participate in sports on the Sabbath day, and what consequences they may face for choosing not to do so.

Brigham Young University and the Big 12 Conference

In a Deseret News article dated 21 February 2013, Ryan Teeples addressed the Big 12 Conference collective, a ten-school collegiate athletic conference headquartered in Irving, Texas, with member schools located in Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia, and the concerns that some of the member schools have in accepting schools such as Brigham Young University (BYU) as part of its membership. The issue presented with the possibility of adding BYU as a member school is that the school takes a strong stance on not playing a game on Sunday, and “they won’t join a conference that doesn’t accommodate observance of Sunday as a day of worship.” [1]

Sunday may not be an issue to the Big 12 Conference as a collective. But it could be to some of the member schools who see BYU’s firm stance as an inconvenience not worth the cost of acquisition.

More importantly, it could be an issue to TV partners who would whisper such concerns in the ears of member institutions. Sure, ESPN loves BYU, but that doesn’t mean that Fox, Comcast or whoever might be at the Big 12 TV negotiating table wouldn’t want a contract that offers Sabbath programming that’s not a devotional talk from the Marriott Center. [1]

Another issue of concern that arises is the fact that the Big 12 Conference, as stated in a press release, has signed “an agreement with Walt Disney Company’s ESPN and New Corporation’s Fox Sports Media Group to televise its football and basketball games through the 2024-2025 season.” [2] The payout for this agreement equals $2.6 billion, which amounts to approximately $20 million for each presently constituted member school per year. Adding another school to the Big 12 Conference would mean further division of a rather large pot of money that the present 10 member schools now have in their coffers.

Sure, the Big 12 could go back to TV partners and try to renegotiate should it choose to add another school. But that school would have to deliver tens of millions of dollars in value annually through the TV market and a potential conference title game in football in order to make up the cost of sharing that proverbial crusted dessert. That’s a lot of filling to make up. [1]

BYUtv and Its Effect on the Big 12 Television Contracts

Another issue concerning TV contracts is what is known as tier – 3 rights. Big 12 Associate Commissioner Bob Burda explained the differences between each tier:

“Tier three rights consist of rights to television content or rights to sporting event content that has been passed over by our television partners,” Burda said. “Tier one is over-the-air broadcast rights. Tier two is considered cable television rights and tier three is member retained rights.”

“Our television partners, ABC, ESPN and FOX depending on the sport and season have rights to our content,” Burda said. “Once they make their selections, any games that are not selected by broadcast by the Conference’s television partner revert back to the host institution for exploitation in their local television markets.”

How an institution chooses to utilize its tier three rights is entirely up to the respective school. For example, The University of Texas created the Longhorn Network.

“Member schools can put together their own network where they can either sell those rights to local affiliates for broadcast, or in the case of the Longhorn Network, have their own network to air those contests,” Burda stated. [3]

Most conferences contract their tier-3 rights in order that the revenue obtained can be evenly divided amongst the member schools. Some conferences, like the Big Ten, has its own network, and is able to rapidly expand its conference into new television markets by continuously allowing new members to join its conference.  More networks equal more funds that are made readily available for each member school’s athletic department.

BYU is already monetizing its own tier-3 rights which should logically make it a perfect fit for the Big 12 conference, but it appears that for some of the member schools, particularly those who do not possess the financial means to build such networks, it presents yet another roadblock. The schools that don’t have their own tier-3 programming networks have brainstormed the idea of a collective effort to build one, but to do so, they would need lots of good programming to help supplement the already available sporting events. The goal is to at all cost avoid having to show re-runs as they do not generate as much revenue.

So some Big 12 schools look at BYU as a partner that’s another Texas (or Oklahoma) which won’t contribute to helping line their wallets with tier-3 TV programming and revenue, and they certainly won’t help provide Sunday content unless people in backwoods Big 12 outposts like Morgantown want to watch Music and the Spoken Word, which they might. [4]

Personal Dislikes of BYU and Religious Bigotry

It only takes a vote of “no” from three of the member schools of the Big 12 conference to keep BYU from joining its ranks. Besides the issues of dollars and cents and tier-3 television rights, there are just some who do not like BYU or what it stands for. There are some who for whatever reason view the school as some sort of threat against the other schools because of its assets and high standards. There are also those who do not like BYU because of the religious beliefs and practices that it upholds. All of these factors could weigh heavily in the deciding factor as to whether BYU will be allowed to become a member of the Big 12 conference or not.

Regardless of the final outcome, one fact will always ring true, and that is BYU will never compromise its stance on moral and spiritual principles and values, and it will never become a part of a conference that does not observe Sunday as a day of worship. It comes down to a matter of choosing the right, and letting the consequences follow.

Additional Resources:

What Mormons Believe

Come Visit and Worship with a Local LDS Congregation

Brigham Young University

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