Monday, September 13, 2010

Coming Around to Marriage and Courtship

Photo by K. Crookston, BYU Photo
If you haven't been able to tell by now (and the title of this blog), I'm a Mormon. But there have been a few common beliefs among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with which I struggle. Marriage is one of them.

It's not that I'm "anti-" marriage; it's just that I've been discouraged at my chances of finding a suitable soulmate after a quarter century of searching. If you know many Mormons, you would know that (usually) by the time they are my age, it's common to be married with at least two kids, a minivan, an oversized mortgage and too many student loans.
I don't have any of those: the wife, the kids, the mortgage or the loan payments. That can be good, and bad. With regards to the marriage part, it makes me fairly normal for my ward (congregation) of Young Single Adults in the Las Vegas valley.

On Sunday, Sept. 12, a church Apostle, a Prophet of God, started to nudge me away from that.
Elder Richard G. Scott, who was ordained an Apostle in 1988, spoke at a Church Educational System fireside broadcast to millions of young adults, both single and married, around the world. His address began to center on marriage and the family, which he called "vital pillars of in God's plan of happiness." Normally, this is where I tune out. This time, however, I didn't.
Elder Scott's wife died in 1995, leaving a gaping hole in the heart of a man called to help lead a church that places significant emphasis on the family. I can barely imagine the pain he's borne through the past 15 years — well, maybe a little now, as he shared some of the experiences with us. The Spirit was so strong, that even a Single Mormon in Las Vegas could feel its shockwaves more than 400 miles away.

Elder Scott also provided plenty of LOL moments, such as when he referred to going to the movies on a date as "stupid." "If you're a young man, and trying to get to know a young woman, don't take her to the movies."

Of course, he gave wise counsel to married couples, such as "Happiness in marriage comes when both spouses are equal partners" and "Always respect her feelings" when dealing with extremely emotional situations.
But he wasn't afraid to address the crowd of singles boldly. He told us that we should be constantly striving and preparing for marriage, even admonishing the men to, first and foremost, serve an honorable full-time mission, and then dedicate yourself to finding an eternal companion. I must admit that — while I did complete the first requirement admirably, even serving in two separate missions — I have been less-than-diligent in striving toward the second task.
"Marriage enables you to find out who you really are," Elder Scott pointed out. How much of myself do I not know, because I haven't had the opportunity to grow while being connected to another living being? How much is my eternal progression stunted because I can't get over the hurdle of constant dating and courtship? How much more could I learn about myself through continuously striving to find a suitable partner?
However, while marriage and family are vital pillars in life, the lack of them shouldn't define us. Despite the current status of our Facebook page, we are all children of a loving Heavenly Father, and he wants us to be happy. And true happiness comes from keeping the His commandments.

"Whether you are single or married, the best way to live life is to seek to know the will of the Lord," Elder Scott said. As we strive to keep his commandments, study the scriptures and cultivate a relationship with God, He helps us overcome our weaknesses and trials, whether they be in marriage, dating, educational outlook, employment concerns or any of the other thousands of mental, physical, emotional and spiritual pressures that might afflict our souls.
Our job is the easy one. 
"All things are possible to the Lord, and He keeps the promises He inspires His prophets to declare. .... With certainty, you will receive every promised blessing for which you are worthy."

Prophets and Apostles live today. They speak, we listen, and by following their counsel, we are blessed. No matter how many times I disagree with conventionally Mormon thought, I can't deny those basic tenants. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Three quick thoughts on AFA 35, BYU 14

Assoc. Press file photo

Recently, a Florida pastor was in hot water for considering a plan to Burn the Qu'ran on 9/11. I won't get into the dastardly thought of this sophomoric middle-ager, but I will present a better idea:

Burn your BYU diplomas on 9/11. 

I'll admit it: I was ashamed at the way the Cougars played on Sept. 11 against the Air Force Academy. I know it's nice to show some respect on Patriot Day, but the way the Falcons ran the ball and scored at will in a 35-14 home win was too easy.

Lest we forget, this is the same AFA squad that currently ranks third in the nation in rushing. And with ground powers Georgia Tech and Army struggling a bit, the Falcons could have the most potent triple-option offense in the NCAA.

Still, that's no excuse. BYU was outprepared, outmanaged and outplayed in its final trip to Colorado Springs, Colo. before making the run for Division I football independence next year. If they play more games like this, ESPN will yank its exclusive contract with the Cougars faster than the NCAA vacates John Calipari's Final Four appearances.

Here are three quick thoughts on the game, if you can call it that:

1. HOPEFULLY THIS DISPELS THE "TWO-HEADED QUARTERBACK" MYTH. A few fans and media have spoken out against it, but there was too much support for BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall's plan to rotate quarterbacks Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps all season. After the Cougars' narrow home win over Washington, many fans started to think that "maybe this can work."

News flash: it can't. Two starting quarterbacks = no starting quarterbacks. And with the BYU offense unable to find a suitable rhythm, fans can expect more of this week's box score. The Cougars managed two touchdowns on the ground, even looking fairly comfortable on the opening drive, but when the leading receiver only has 37 yards on three receptions — while playing from behind for more than 50 percent of the game — you've got to find a true signal caller.

2. JAKE HEAPS NEEDS TO HUMBLE HIMSELF WITH A BACK-UP YEAR. I know many fans are going to blame this loss on Nelson, especially since the junior option-like quarterback took over in the second half as the BYU defense gave up. Still, the loss shouldn't rest on his shoulders — nor on BYU's running game (although that goal-line fumble by J.J. DiLuigi was dastardly). 

Nelson and DiLuigi accounted for BYU's only offensive punch, with each rushing for a touchdown. Also, duo ran for 95 and 103 yards, respectively; not a bad day's work. And while Nelson was only 8 of 19 for 73 yards in the air, he kept the ball cleanly thrown and away from defenders. Heaps, despite his intentions, seemed lost on the sidelines after his final play — an interception to AFA cornerback Reggie Rembert. He didn't seem to overcome the pick well, which is understandable for it being his first college turnover. But it's those kinds of maturity issues that can be overcome with a solid year of being the No. 2 guy.

Besides, plenty of great BYU quarterbacks have spent a year on the scout team, including Cougar/San Francisco 49ers legend Steve Young, and BYU career wins leader/Arizona Cardinals backup Max Hall. 

3. ROBERT ANAE SHOULD BE FIRED. I failed to mention it last week, because I didn't want to spoil a BYU win over yet-another-Pac-What school, but the Cougars' offensive coordinator appears to be in over his head. He fails to respond to defensive pressure, and appears so intent on running his offense and his schemes that I wonder if he even sees what's going on from his press box vantage point. It seemed like most of Nelson's "what now?" moments came because the offense had no idea what they were supposed to do, which assignments to pick up, and how to maneuver around Air Force's defensive system. 

Please, Bronco, do the right thing; let Anae go so that we can get a true play caller. Loyalty aside, it's about time. He's had a mediocre run, so why are we embarrassing him any further?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Three quick thoughts on BYU 23, Washington 17

via the SL Trib

It didn't go how I thought it would, but the season-opening win over Washington on Sept. 4 should be enjoyed by BYU and its fans for a while. Although the schedule gets far from light from here (including road games at Air Force and Florida State in back-to-back weeks), the Cougars solved a few enigmas of the post-Max Hall/Harvey Unga era —and on the day Hall was bumped to Backup No. 1 in Arizona.

The game was far from conclusive as to how BYU's season will turn out; after all, they were slight favorites in the books before kickoff. And the best quarterback on the field was probably UW's Jake Locker, even though his only stat that mattered was the 0-for-3 he put up in the Huskies' potential late game-winners.

Here are three quick thoughts on Saturday's performance:

In the battle of "St. Jake vs. Elder Nelson," bout 1 should go to the junior quarterback from Logan, Utah. While Heaps had magnificent arm strength, with more zip on the ball than I've seen out of a freshman quarterback from BYU, he had numerous gaffes that shouldn't be overlooked when Bronco and Co. review the tape tonight.

Both quarterbacks passed for 131 yards, with Heaps completing 13 of 23 passes to Nelson's 11 of 17 (which could also mean that Nelson knows when to keep the ball in his pocket after effectively reading a defense). But the similarities seem to stop there.

Nelson threw both BYU touchdowns, the first to freshman Josh Quezada for his first — and only — reception of his career, and the second to J.J. DiLuigi, who did a fabulous impersonation of Andrew George's prance into the end zone in last year's epic overtime win against Utah. Nelson was also the team's second-leading rusher, running downfield eight times for 45 yards and setting up both of his TD passes.

Last year's backup to Hall also seemed to have better chemistry with his teammates, especially No. 1 wide receiver McKay Jacobsen. The wideouts didn't seem to trust Heaps as much as they did Nelson, with many of his passes sailing high, low or out of reach of his receivers. It's as if the Skyline High wonderboy from Sammamish, Wash., expected everyone to work their way into his passes; not becoming of a team's No. 1 signal caller.

Okay, so maybe Harvey Unga's abrupt dismissal from the school on Honor Code violations and subsequent selection by the Chicago Bears in the NFL Supplemental Draft will impact BYU's ground game a little bit this year, but junior J.J. DiLuigi seems like he can handle stepping into the Cougars' main role.

Last year's sparingly used backup from Canyon Country, Calif., had 69 yards on 13 carries in the first week, and also found himself on the receiving end of Nelson's scamper-pass to win the game. He may not be as tough as the school's all-time leading rusher, but DiLuigi should be an apt replacement, especially when he can count on Brian Kariya and Nelson to shovel a few of the carries, as well.

I bring this up here, only because BYU, Utah and TCU all put up very strong performances in CAH-LEDGE's opening week. Utah edged Pitt in overtime Thursday night, despite Kyle Whittingham's epic fail at double-icing the kicker on the game-tying PAT. TCU quarterback Andy Dalton proved he could use his legs as well as his arm, overcoming two interceptions against Oregon State in Dallas by rushing for two touchdowns to lead the Horned Frogs past the Beavers.

Overall, the MWC picked up six wins this week — with Air Force, Wyoming and San Diego State also earning wins (though, admittedly, not against top-notch competition like the Big East or Pac-10).

The conference still appears destined to crumble next year — despite Boise State's best efforts — with flight of Utah to the Pac-10 and BYU to irrelevancy (errr, independence). But for one more weekend, and hopefully one more year, the MWC should be attracting the country's attention and causing every member of the BCS Selection Committee to chew through his fingernails.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Go West, Young Man, Go West

It's official. It finally happened.

BYU has entered the realm of the Football Bowl Subdivision independents, joining Notre Dame, Army and Navy as the only independents in major college football in the country. With it, the Cougars have been guaranteed an eight-year deal with ESPN for broadcasting, and a six-game series with the Fightin' Irish that will commence sometime after 2012.

The Cougars also placed their other sports under the umbrella of the West Coast Conference, a collection of faith-based (namely Catholic) institutions that reside entirely in California, Oregon and Washington (or, as BYU basketball coach Dave Rose might refer to the expanse of Pacific coast towns "recruiting country"). BYU will begin play in the 2011-12 academic year, and will play all of its sports in the WCC, save the aforementioned football; swimming and diving, track and field, gymnastics and softball — for which the WCC has no programs; and men's soccer, where the Cougars field a mildly competitive Premier Development League semiprofessional franchise.

Scheduling should be less of an issue than many independents, especially with Notre Dame apparently lending its full support to BYU. Remember, the Cougars don't have to fill out a schedule entirely comprised of Top 25 teams — 3-5 each year should suffice, even. So BYU will play four WAC teams, a token Pac-10 school, whichever MWC teams decide to invite them to a home-and-home (Boise State is certainly a possibility), and then could fill out a schedule with fellow indies Army and Navy, as well as Big East schools that are always clamoring for extra games due to their smaller round-robin schedule. More importantly, BYU will no longer operate under the Mtn. television network, and the chance to appear on ESPN should entice more than a few Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC schools to try their hand against the Cougars each year.

Access to the BCS would be tricky, as BYU is likely guaranteed nothing more than an Army-Navy treatment by Bill Hancock and Co.: a guaranteed spot only by finishing in the Top 2 of the BCS poll each year. Still, if BYU goes undefeated, it will be hard to leave them out of the bowl system entirely, which is similar access they currently experience in the Mountain West Conference. It's a lateral move, but does not damage the Cougars' standing, which is positive.

More importantly, what does this do to BYU's other sports? That's the main purpose of this blog post, as most of the other details have been reported and worked out. But there are a few tidbits regarding the WCC and BYU's "left out sports" that may be of interest to the handful of readers who check this blog.

BYU will no longer play teams like UNLV, San Diego State or New Mexico, but they can swap them out with current contenders Gonzaga and St. Mary's, as well as rising program Portland.

Historically, the WCC has also been home to some of the country's toughest programs. Steve Nash led Santa Clara to one of the great "one shining moments" in NCAA tournament history, and the conference has also produced hall of famers Bill Russell, John Stockton and others.

Here, BYU swaps out a mid-major on the rise with another mid-major on the rise. Both conferences also play their conference tournaments in Las Vegas, but the WCC doesn't pretend to play "neutral site games" on the home court of a conference opponent (UNLV). And the WCC has already set to work to re-schedule the end-of-season tourney so as to accomodate BYU's no-Sunday-play policy (the previous tourney's semifinals were played Sunday).

With the concessions the West Coast Conference is willing to make, there seems little difference in exchanging UNLV for Gonzaga and New Mexico for St. Mary's. Plus, BYU will continue to play big-money games against in-state rivals Utah and Utah State, so ticket sales in "glorified high school gyms" like those at San Diego and San Francisco should have little affect on the Cougars' overall athletic revenue.

Tourney bids should also be a wash, as we saw this year that Gonzaga was still able to get into the field despite losing in the WCC tourney final to St. Mary's. The NCAA has been increasingly aware of the small conference, and has given it proper respect over the past decade.

As a soccer fan, I naturally drifted to the ways this move affects the BYU women's soccer team. And after countless minutes of research, namely looking at the most recent NSCAA poll, I find that the WCC is a much better conference than the MWC.

League schools have won nine national championships through the years, or roughly the same number of years the MWC has been in existence. Currently, the WCC also has three ranked teams (No. 4 Portland, No. 8 Santa Clara and No. 14 San Diego); the MWC, on the other hand, has one — No. 13 BYU. Jen Rockwood must be smiling at this new level of competition her Cougars will face every year.

BYU was recently on the women's professional league map with Katie Larkin performing well with the Los Angeles Sol and Atlanta Beat of the WPS. Similarly, WCC schools have produced some of the USWNT's finest stars , including Brandi Chastain (Santa Clara), Tiffeny Millbrett (Portland) and Aly Wagner (Portland).

Although BYU men's soccer team plays in the semiprofessional Premier Development League, the fourth tier of the U.S. soccer pyramid, the Cougars would be hard-pressed to find a better collegiate environment should they return to the ranks of the NCAA than the WCC. West Coast Conference schools have produced soccer talent such as Connor Casey (Colorado Rapids via Portland), Steve Cherundolo (USMNT via Portland), Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo via Gonzaga) and world renowned goalkeeper Kasey Keller (Seattle Sounders et al. via Portland). San Francisco was also a soccer powerhouse during the 60's and 70's, and has been thought to make a resurgence in recent years.

BYU's baseball team has rarely driven the bus for the school, but the WCC also offers a unique blend of college-driven teams as well as future MLB talent. San Diego, Portland and Santa Clara have consistently represented themselves well at this level of play, and Vance Law's crew should be fine in making the adjustment.

Conference affiliation matters little to cross country teams, and BYU's race back into the national spotlight will depend more on garnering athletes who can spruce up their times at regional qualifying meets than against whom the race on a given Saturday.

The tennis teams should be greatly upgraded, now playing against programs that have produced five individual national champions and regularly compete at the highest level of the NCAA.

I bring this up only because it is AN issue, but not a major issue in BYU's move to the West Coast. This move was based primarily on the Cougars' independence in football, and establishing a good home in men's basketball; I've shown that those moves were solid. But since the WCC has no league setup for track and field, swimming and diving, and softball, a solution must be found.

Track and field, as well as swimming and diving, are judged primarily off of "qualifying marks" for postseason participation. Thus, rather than compete in head-to-head duals for ultimate supremacy, track athletes and swimmers more often attend large meets in which they test themselves to post the fastest time, longest throw or highest jump to garner future postseason success. BYU may still do that, and WCC programs like Gonzaga, Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine regularly field quality athletes who compete in the NCAA in this way. In fact, the schools in the WCC that fund men's track and field teams are the Zags, the Lions, the Waves, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Clara; almost the entire conference. So BYU would not be alone if they went this route.

Fewer schools field a full women's softball team, however. But with BYU's recent success, such as entrance to its first NCAA Super Regional in 2009-10, Gordon Eakin's club has been receiving notice from high-profile conferences. While Paige Affleck isn't quite Arizona's Kenzie Fowler or Washington's Danielle Lawrie, the Cougars have done enough to merit consideration as a Pac-10 affiliate. And athletic director Tom Holmoe told reporters at Tuesday's announcement that BYU has received offers from "multiple conferences" to house its softball program.

If that doesn't pan out, however, BYU can find solace in the unofficial home of the West Coast Conference softball teams: the Pacific Coast Softball Conference, which includes fellow members Loyola Marymount, San Diego, St. Mary's and Santa Clara. The Cougars also regularly play other teams in the conference, mostly for geographic purposes and regional rivalries; Utah Valley, Weber State and Idaho State also belong to the PCSC.

BYU has plenty of options in choosing this new opportunity to establish its network, BYUtv, as a viable sports broadcaster and claim its own footing as a football independent. But the other possibilities available through the West Coast Conference and its partner institutions should not be trivialized. In some ways, the WCC is a lateral move to the MWC. In others, however, it represents new possibilities and new growth in fields BYU fans haven't yet pondered. Far from being "Plan B," the WCC-plan should prove to be a much better alternative than BYU's original WAC-focus.