Why does BYU invest in athletics? It’s about spreading light.
It came down to the very end. With just eight seconds remaining in the 2022 New Mexico Bowl, the BYU Cougars clung to a 1-point lead as the SMU Mustangs attempted a 2-point conversion to win the game. Anticipating the play, BYU cornerback Jakob G. Robinson (’24) made a spectacular tackle to stop the SMU quarterback and seal the Cougar victory.
Following the game President Kevin J Worthen (BA ’79, JD ’82) and I walked through the cold December night in search of football head coach Kalani F. Sitake (BA ’00), wanting to congratulate him on the hard-fought win. We eventually found him in the media room, sandwiched between two players, answering reporters’ questions. Near the end of the session, one journalist asked him to discuss BYU’s move to the Big 12. With the season—and BYU’s era of football independence—now over, Coach Sitake felt ready to look forward. He expressed the team’s excitement and noted areas they would address in the offseason to prepare for tougher competition. Then he concluded with something that caught my attention: “More than anything,” he asserted, BYU’s success in the Big 12 depends on keeping “our faith and our belief in what we know is right, . . . [having] faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That’s first and foremost. [If] we work through that, everything else will work out. [Jesus is] the great example that we can follow. [Following Him] . . . works in personal life and in business, and it definitely works in football, especially at BYU.”
As he said that, I turned to President Worthen: “This sounds like we are in a testimony meeting.”
“I think we are,” he replied.
For many, intercollegiate athletics is primarily about wins and losses, rivalry matchups, and bowl games. As a true-blue fan, I understand and appreciate those draws to watching athletic competitions. I love seeing the Cougars on the court, field, pitch, or track; and when BYU wins, I leave the competition with an extra pep in my step. Even so, BYU does not invest time, facilities, and other resources in our athletics programs just to rack up wins or climb the rankings in the Learfield Directors’ Cup as an overall top program.
The reason BYU has and invests in an athletic program is two-fold: First, we seek to develop disciple-scholar-athletes, young people who live and represent the values of Brigham Young University and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. By focusing on their broad development, we believe they will achieve excellence not only in their sport but also in life’s more important arenas.
Second, we hope that when our incredible teams go out into the world in person or over the airwaves, they spread the light and love of Jesus Christ. As fans watch our teams compete, follow coaches and players on social media, and interact with them outside the gym or at a service project or fireside, we hope that fans will see and feel something that draws them to our Savior.
As happy as I was to see our football team hold on for the win, it was hearing our coach freely bear witness of Jesus Christ to national reporters that filled me with pride—in the unique light that emanated from BYU Athletics that wintry day. And as we left the media room, I felt an even greater pep in my step.
Keith Vorkink is the BYU advancement vice president.