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BYU Education Week: BYU AD Tom Holmoe and the Big 12 era

‘It’s an incredible responsibility,’ says school’s athletic director

PROVO, Utah — There was hardly an empty seat in the Varsity Theater at Brigham Young University as Tom Holmoe, director of BYU athletics, began speaking. 

He began by showing a video about BYU’s success. “My heart is beating right now,” Holmoe told the audience Wednesday, Aug. 23, after the video. 

“We have what’s called the Big 12 era.” 

He gave credit for the great work LaVell Edwards, head football coach from 1972 to 2000, did in training athletes and creating a culture at BYU.

And, maybe most importantly, what Edwards did in spreading the message that “BYU is something special.”

“[The Big 12] is an era that was able to come true, and a dream realized, because of many, many others from decades back” who helped make BYU what it is — including the incredible fan base, he added. 

Tom Holmoe, left, athletic director at Brigham Young University, greets former football teammate Royce Bybee before Holmoe’s talk at BYU’s Education Week, in the Wilkinson Center on BYU’s campus in Provo, Utah, on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Attending Holmoe’s class were former BYU quarterbacks Royce Bybee (1980) and Terry McEwan (1977), whom Holmoe had stand and receive applause and cheers.

Holmoe expressed his surprise for how many fans had attended the BYU-Tennessee 2019 game in Tennessee. Holmoe asked who had gone, and quite a few hands raised in response. 

“What was it like?” he asked. The response, “Unbelievable.”

So many BYU fans showed up that it surprised Tennessee locals. At their BYU tailgate party, people would pass and say with surprise — “All these people came from Utah?” The audience laughed in response.

Audience members listen to Tom Holmoe, athletic director at Brigham Young University, speak as part of BYU’s Education Week, in the Wilkinson Center on BYU’s campus in Provo, Utah, on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

‘A visible extension of the Church’

“You’ll love this edition of the Cougars,” said Holmoe. “These student-athletes — the men, the women — they are fighters, they are courageous, they’re strong, they’re very sharp and intelligent, they’re aligned.”

They understand what the covenant path is, he continued. The majority of BYU’s student-athletes are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

A lot of people in the Big 12 — the athletic conference BYU began competing in this month — don’t understand BYU’s affiliation with the Church yet, said Holmoe. “But, in just a short amount of time that I’ve been in Big 12 meetings, people have been asking me questions all the time about the Church.”

Referencing the recent general conference address of Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, former Young Women general president, Holmoe said: “What an opportunity we have. … Never pass up an opportunity to bear your testimony.” Because of the influence BYU will now have being part of the Big 12, “People are going to come to Provo in flocks — way more than before.”

Tom Holmoe, athletic director at Brigham Young University, speaks as part of BYU’s Education Week, in the Wilkinson Center on BYU’s campus in Provo, Utah, on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Holmoe also quoted Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who said, “BYU is the most visible extension of the Church.”

A study was done about the BYU brand to see what people around the world thought about the university; a lot of what people thought about the school was linked to its sports.

“We’re on TV a lot, we’re on social media a lot,” said Holmoe. And because of that exposure, “we have a great responsibility to do it right. It’s an incredible responsibility.”

He mentioned the impact Latter-day Saint missions have on the BYU athletes. When missions are brought up, Holmoe is asked how old the athletes are, and the conversation leads to how missions work. Holmoe then is able to talk to others in the Big 12 about missionary service in the Church.

This year’s football team has 65 returned missionaries who served in 29 countries and spoke 15 languages. The audience applauded as Holmoe asked, “How about that?” 

“You’re going to see this team that has this love [for each other].” And although players come from all over the country, “they’re really close.”

Tom Holmoe, Brigham Young University athletic director, speaks as part of BYU’s Education Week, in the Wilkinson Center on BYU’s campus in Provo, Utah, on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Holmoe told the audience he hopes they will learn to see the people. “This life is about people,” he emphasized. “The student-athletes [are] why we do this.”

During a question-and-answer session, one of the last questions was, “Do you promise to not retire for a long time?” 

The audience applauded, and Holmoe expressed his appreciation.

Bybee stood to add his sentiments about the BYU athletic director. “Tom builds up a lot of people,” Bybee continued. “He builds up the players, the coaches, the assistants, the families — everybody around him. … We’ve got a great guy — not just a good guy — this is a great guy.” 

Holmoe ended class with: “End statement of the day: It’s all about the Cougars.”

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