The "BYU Rule" Is Back - Y Magazine
Check out the latest podcast episode Listen
On Campus

The “BYU Rule” Is Back

In a series of moves that resembled a complex football play, the NCAA did a double reverse and decided to once again make accommodations for schools with religiously based policies prohibiting athletic competition on Sundays.

“The NCAA has recognized that colleges and universities should not have to sacrifice athletic opportunities in order to maintain their religious tenets,” said BYU president Merrill J. Bateman.

The first reversal came in April 1998, when the NCAA Division I Board of Directors decided to do away with the so-called “BYU Rule.” For 35 years the rule had allowed the NCAA to adjust championship schedules to accommodate schools with policies against Sunday competition.

BYU and Campbell University, who both prohibit Sunday play, spearheaded the opposition and drew enough support to cause the NCAA to reconsider. On Aug. 11 the board then reversed its reversal and created a new policy that accommodates not only Sunday no-play rules but also rules prohibiting competition on other days for religious reasons.

The new policy does, however, leave the door open for committees to petition for a waiver if a school’s no-play policy should “unduly disrupt the orderly conduct of a championship.”

Even with the loophole, the decision is a victory for BYU and other religious universities. “We’re appreciative that the board has made accommodations for schools with religious principles,” said Tom Collins, athletic director of Baptist-aligned Campbell University.

Soon after the April decision, President Bateman defended BYU’s position and rallied support through a guest editorial in The NCAA News. Within the 60-day response period, 99 schools contested the NCAA’s reversal of the BYU Rule. The schools included all Division I schools in Utah as well as schools such as Baylor, Duke, Georgia, Michigan, Nebraska, Stanford, Texas A&M, the University of Southern California, and the Naval and Air Force Academies.

“We heard clearly that the membership is concerned about preserving its principles and beliefs,” said Kenneth Shaw, chancellor of Syracuse University and chair of the Division I Board of Directors.

“We appreciate the tremendous support we have received from institutions across the country,” President Bateman said. “Many of these schools–while they do not share our position on Sunday play–have applauded BYU’s and Campbell University’s efforts to uphold our religious beliefs.”