It seems Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt is laying the groundwork for his post-game press conference should his Rebels fall in their opener to the BYU Cougars this coming weekend. Nutt hinted in his press conference on Monday that BYU has an unfair advantage by having returned LDS missionaries on their roster.
"I wish I had a few more 25 or 26-year-old guys. There is a difference when a guy is able to grow up and learn from life experiences with a commitment like they make. That's a great feeling as a coach to have that kind of maturity. We don't have that luxury. Some of these freshmen probably should be in a redshirt, but they have to play now. They are going to have to grow. The good thing is that they are athletic and I am glad they are here with us. It is what it is. BYU has a good thing going where they are able to do that.”
This argument has grown staler than the pizza that has worked its way to the back of the fridge. National columnists have attacked BYU for having an unfair advantage (see Rick Reilly's 2001 SI article regarding BYU football) and frankly it holds no merit. What advantage is gained from not playing ball or keeping in athletic shape while you pick up a tape worm in a third-world country?
Every college football program in the country has the same opportunity to recruit the athletes BYU brings in to participate in their athletic program. It seems when push comes to shove, some coaches outside of the state of Utah are simply not willing to hold a scholarship for a player who will be taking a two-year break from the program.
That is fine, coaches are under more pressure than ever to win and win now in college football. If they feel that they don't want to take a gamble on a player who will be leaving on an LDS mission, they are entitled to that opinion.
Other programs such as Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, UNLV, Colorado State and a variety of others have taken the time and invested in LDS players who have chosen to serve missions. Does having these players on the rosters of the aforementioned schools give a superior advantage on the gridiron? It's difficult to say, but one thing is for sure, these programs understand that they have just as much right to an LDS athlete who is planning on serving a mission as BYU.
If BYU loses, you never hear them complain that their roster is filled with players who have taken a two-year break, so a memo to all media, opposing coaches and fan bases:
Please don't whine when BYU (whose roster includes 69 players who have served missions) plays well and beats your team by one point or by 40. It is lame and shows a lack of class.
All that said, it will be interesting to see how BYU's senior citizen laden football team stacks up against the wet-behind-the-ears Rebel squad (as Coach Nutt would have you believe) this weekend. Hopefully for BYU fans, the Cougars won't fall and not be able to get back up in Oxford.