NCAA drops `BYU rule' to allow Sunday play, but BYU keeps the rule

Although the NCAA will now allow national championships to be played on Sunday in any sport, BYU will not change its policy on Sabbath Day observance.

On April 22, the NCAA Division I board eliminated what has been known as the "BYU Rule" that banned Sunday play in most postseason tournaments.While disappointed in the decision, BYU Pres. Merrill J. Bateman, who is also a member of the Seventy, reaffirmed the school's stand on the matter:

"We have a very strong belief in keeping the Sabbath Day holy. As a Church institution, it would be inappropriate for us to encourage our young people to play on the Sabbath."

He also said of the ruling: "The discouraging aspect of this is that BYU will have teams that will qualify for postseason competition and may not be able to play. It's unfortunate the NCAA is not willing to continue with a program that has worked well the last 35 years."

President Bateman said he hopes the NCAA will consider continuing to allow accommodations to be made on those few occasions when a schedule needs to be adjusted.

He believes the NCAA should recognize that athletes should not have to sacrifice religious feelings for athletic opportunities. "We strongly believe that our student athletes who earn their way into a championship should have a right to compete."

BYU athletic director Rondo Fehlberg added in a statement: "While we expect this ruling to have little immediate impact on football and men's basketball, we are worried that a number of our Olympic sports could be immediately affected. This decision, although disappointing, will have no effect on BYU's policies against Sunday competition."

While BYU and Campbell University, a Baptist school in North Carolina, are the only two that forbid Sunday competition on religious grounds, Fehlberg wonders if other schools may discover non-religious reasons. For example, he said, schools have traditionally used Sunday as a day to return from a trip and prepare for the school week. Sunday play will turn Monday into a travel day and cut into the school week. Also, he said, for many coaches, Sunday is the only day they have to spend time with their families.

While it could have a negative impact on BYU recruiting, the ruling may have a silver lining for BYU, Fehlberg said. "LDS athletes will know more now than ever that Sunday is treated as a sacred day at BYU," he pointed out. "If they want the right to not participate on Sunday, BYU is a place where they will not be put into the difficult position of having to violate deeply held personal beliefs or violate a sense of loyalty to their teammates."

He concluded, "I'm not willing to assume, at least not yet, that the sky is falling."

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