Is Brigham Young University’s Football Team Ethical?

–Richard E. Vatz

Here is the set-up: Brigham Young University’s Cougars, the football team of America’s biggest religious university, won a football game against Tulsa (as described by the Associated Press) by “[hurrying] to the line with a call to spike the ball and stop the clock. Instead, [quarterback Riley] Nelson faked the spike and then threw his third touchdown pass…with 11 seconds left to give the Cougars a 24-21 victory over Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl…”

The coach, Bronco Mendenhall, was proud and “smiling,” saying “that’s the kind of magic of the guys that I get to coach.”

Let’s stipulate some points, and if you don’t agree with these premises, you might not wish to read any further:

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1. This cheap trickery is not analogous to a fake anything. Fake punts, fake passes, and feints and reverses are all part of sports combat wherein your ability to deal with multiple athletic strategies is open and above board.

2. Football combat is a measure of physical prowess and mental alertness on the field, not the ability to make the other team think that play is over.

3. This treacherous play was legal and the responsibility and blame for losing the game is Tulsa’s, who must be aware of the universal sports admonition, “Be on guard at all times.” Praise for winning the game, it says here, does not go to Brigham Young. Certainly not without any qualms.

I have been a tennis athlete all of my life. Somewhat analogous here is the quick serve.

I have never seen it called; maybe it is the same thing.

Wonder if Brigham Young could have won on a last-second play? We’ll never know. They’ll never know. What a great memory — they won by tricking Tulsa into believing there was not a play being played.

I’d be interested in hearing whether readers would be proud of their university if they won a bowl game this way, or if they at least would wonder if this is consistent with the sportsmanship one expects, especially, I would have thought, from Brigham Young University.

Maybe one would expect this from a professional team, but colleges should play to a higher moral level.

Prof. Vatz, professor at Towson University, is author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt, 2012)

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