The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in a unique position regarding the emerging war for collegiate athletes. Spread among the 203 nations of the earth are nearly 29,000 congregations, 55,000 missionaries, 340 missions and a membership of nearly 15 million.
Comments from recent commits and recruits alike are beginning to permeate the recruiting scene. All of their comments give credence to the fact that 55,000 missionaries do the program no harm. As the missionaries scour the nation and world for converts to the Mormon religion, they also, by shear numbers, stumble into some of the best athletes.
When these young men and their families join the church, they are then inducted into the LDS/BYU culture at their local congregation, where the membership is usually dominated by loyal BYU fans.
Young men begin to hear about BYU for the first time in South Carolina, New York (former home of Jimmer Fredette), Chicago (home of Jabari Parker, who is the No. 1 basketball prospect nationwide and LDS)—all the way to Ghana, China, South Africa and all points in between.
For the first time, these young top talents hear about the culture and mission of the LDS church, which focuses on personal excellence, morality, cleanliness, sobriety, personal health and fitness, family and faith in God.
The church has a health and fitness standard called the "word of wisdom" that includes no smoking, abstinence from alcohol and drugs and exercise and fitness. The Mormons regard their bodies as "temples" God gave them to take care of.
The moral standards appeal to many of these young men beset with the trials and temptations of high school life. Peer pressure is a full-on process of saying no to many of the things that would prevent natural talent from becoming a pathway to a college education through athletic excellence.
These young men and women begin to learn the values of Mormon life, which include, by the way, congregants experiences from their time at BYU.
Will the LDS religion be an advantage in recruiting for BYU or a hinderance?
BYU becomes the standard, and everything else is second best.
In that atmosphere, young men like Jabari Parker are brought up seeing the benefits not only of athletic excellence, but also individual personal pursuit of excellence in every aspect of their lives. This in itself begins to weed out many quality educational institutions because of the environment the young man must face in college life, that he does not have to face at BYU.
If Jabari Parker chooses BYU, along with Nick Emery—both in the top 50 of potential basketball recruits—BYU will have the potential of having one of the best teams in the nation and will move almost immediately into the top rankings of collegiate basketball.
Behind the scenes, much the same thing is happening regarding the football team. BYU doesn't recruit the stars or value-rating agencies like Rivals.com. Instead, it is looking for the whole man—what he brings to an institution and what BYU can bring to him that has been lacking in his athletic endeavors. The mix that creates an offer from BYU is complicated and extensive.
The young man that commits to BYU is not just committing to a football team, he is representing those 15 million members worldwide. He is representing those 29,000 congregations and being the advance man for those 55,000 missionaries. The quality of young man is far more important than his current weight, height, speed or press clippings.
One of the great examples of this is Brandon Davies, who came to BYU and ran afoul not of athletic rules, but of the BYU "code." His actions would not even have been noticed at any other institution in the country, but at BYU, it got him suspended from the team and school. This past year saw him change the inner man—and that man's values—and he returned to the BYU athletic field of play.
To his credit, he did show the metal of the man and what he was worth. Few could have done it.
While Rivals.com may view the number of offers from other schools as part of a young man's worthiness to get two stars, or four, BYU and Bronco Mendenhall have no such illusions of value for a young man. Each young man is evaluated on a different scale than public opinion or coaching decisions from other schools.
At this point in time, one might wonder what the value of an offer for a young man was from Penn State. Would any coach now in hindsight trust the judgement of Joe Paterno or any of his former coaching staff? The opinion of others in the sporting field is not what counts at BYU.
So, how does a young man become acquainted with BYU unless he is high on some cosmetic rating sheet and receiving accolades from the press?
I am glad you asked. Because here is the crux of the article: Remember those 15 million members, 29,000 congregations and 55,000 missionaries? From them come "referrals."
Referrals go directly to the coaching staff by members. Or a young man himself is referred to BYU and told he should contact BYU to see if they are interested in him. Or maybe one of his teammates or friends will recommend or refer him.
Therein lies the greatest recruiting network in the world. As the LDS faithful catch the vision of BYUtv, BYU athletics and its financial benefit to the mission of BYU and the LDS Church, one might expect to see a greater interest in recruiting those unique and peculiar type of athletes that will not only fit in, but excel at BYU.
For the right athlete, no stars are necessary at BYU, as all admitted are stars already by their character. And they are coming from a congregation near you worldwide.
Now that's flexing some muscle.