There LaVell Edwards stood, a legend speaking about school spirit and tradition. It should have been inspiring.
It was – to an extent. It was also awkward. That’s what happens when a football prodigy tells football stories at a non-football school. It was the elephant in the room that, frankly, was bigger than the paltry crowd in attendance. This is no knock on Edwards, a class act with an impressive resume. It is fair to question, however, whether his presence was the beacon of athletic hope UVU wanted him to be – or simply a harsh spotlight on what the university doesn’t have.
By recalling the former greats he coached – Steve Young, Ty Detmer and Jim McMahon – Edwards unintentionally made his listeners remember two uncomfortable truths: one, Utah Valley has no football team of its own and two, there’s a wellknown program looming just up the street. Edwards spoke of building up BYU’s football team, of taking it from a middling program to a regional powerhouse.
I kept waiting for someone to pipe up, “Must be nice.” To his credit, Edwards serves on the advisory committee to President Holland. I (half)-jokingly asked him afterwards if he had ever advised Holland to get a football team. His response?
“Yeah, I’ve brought it up a few times,” Edwards said.
By MATT PETERSEN
Good for him. I’d love to know how he brought it up, though I can imagine. Edwards is an honest and humorously blunt guy, which is one of the qualities that made him such a successful coach. Unfortunately for UVU, he doesn’t have the license to bludgeon the best out of the higher-ups like he did with his players.
Problem is, he shouldn’t have to. If the powers that be have Edwards saying “football” in one ear and 27-year athletic director Michael Jacobsen shouting “ditto” in the other, they should absolutely and unequivocally listen. There’s a reason they keep bringing it up, just like there’s a reason every week students ask me some variation of, “Why don’t we have a football team?”
My answer? I have no clue, and my opinion says UVU doesn’t have an excuse. Jacobsen has quoted his bosses’ concern over the “considerable start-up cost” in forming a football program. Fair enough. I get it. They’re trying to be fiscally responsible.
I say “trying” because if they really were, they’d have realized from the start that putting football first – and not dead last – is how a college proves it’s financially aware. There’s a reason all these conference realignments and huge TV deals are happening, and it’s not because of golf, cross country or wrestling. I’m not disparaging those sports, but for better or worse, people think of football or basketball first at UCLA, even though it’s actually their golf program that is tops in the nation.
That’s why whenever somebody throws out the “start-up cost” card, it’s a joke. Instead of swallowing that cost and seeing even marginal ticket sales for home games, the school simply chooses to minimize its potential for income. They pay to send off teams to play almost anywhere and everywhere except at home. Where’s the fiscal responsibility in that? How is paying to send the golf team to Hawaii or the cross country teams to Montana, all 41 athletes, every year less of a financial burden than the immediate cost and eventual, guaranteed returns of a football team?
An even better question: how does all that away-game spending promote school spirit? The whole operation is [expletive]-backwards.
When Edwards began listing the most important points of his speech, Tuesday, the very first was about forming an identity. I thought this was ironic, since UVU’s identity can be summed up as “the non-football school somewhere close to BYU.”
I held out hope that Edwards would say something that would apply to UVU’s identity/priority crisis, to teach a lesson the school’s administration needed more than the students they invited. Then he said it, a message that, for me, took direct aim at the whole side-stepping, maybe-someday approach to a football program that may never be.
“We have to really step outside of ourselves and go deep,” Edwards said. “Go for broke, extend ourselves or expose ourselves and do more than what’s comfortable to us.”
You invited him, UVU. I hope you listened.