BYU Athletic Director Talks Cougar Sports at Education Week

Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News contributor

  • 6 September 2017

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe answers a question at the semiannual press conference with the media on January 29, 2016.  Photo by Mark A. Philbrick.

Article Highlights

  • BYU athletes are wanted on pro football teams for their talent and character.
  • BYU is preparing for future athletic opportunities.

“I feel good about the future. We’re making plans for the future.” —Tom Holmoe, BYU athletic director


Tens of thousands of people attended the recent BYU Education Week—including many searching for answers to challenging questions.

On August 23, one participant raised his hand and posed this query: “Is it true that being a Mormon football player at BYU is a liability for an athlete hoping to play in the National Football League?”

“Hogwash,” answered the school’s athletic director and Education Week presenter Tom Holmoe.

History’s proven that BYU athletes are welcome and wanted on pro football teams. Talent and character—not school or religious affiliation—attract NFL teams.

“I coached in the NFL. I played in the NFL. If you are a good player you can go to Bemidji State, BYU, or Alabama—it doesn’t matter.”

Hundreds of education week participants squeezed into a campus auditorium to listen to Holmoe’s annual Q&A session. There were plenty of laughs and optimism as the former BYU star talked Cougar sports.

Beyond talent, pro teams are drawn to BYU’s reputation for graduating high-character, dependable athletes, he added.

Holmoe marveled at the path his own life has followed. He was not a Latter-day Saint when he arrived at BYU to play football. Decades later, the convert is the school’s athletic director—and a BYU Education Week presenter.

A few other highlights from the presentation:

Potential future conference affiliations?

It’s no secret, he said, that BYU wants in on the financial and competitive opportunities afforded P5 schools. The gap between P5 schools and other college athletic programs continues to widen.

“We would like to be able to participate in one of those conferences,” he said. “We’ve pursued that in years past. Right now, I think that is quiet. Every once in a while, something will pop up and some athletic director or commissioner will say something that grabs the attention of the country for a day or two and then it goes away.

“Our ears are always perked up, listening for opportunities. As I’ve said all along, until that time comes, the best thing we can do is to prepare ourselves to be the best [program] we can be to make a good name for ourselves and to represent the university and the Church as best we can.”

The college future of linebacker Francis Bernard?

“He’s a great kid,” said Holmoe. “We love him. He’s one of our guys that have played very well for us. He’s not going to play for us this year. I think he’s still in the process of making that decision” regarding his future.

The future of BYU athletics?

“I feel good about the future. We’re making plans for the future. If you’ve been on campus and looked around at our facilities, [you see] we’re planning for the future.

“If we didn’t think we were going to be here we wouldn’t have spent a lot of money—millions of dollars—on a new baseball field, a new softball field, a new soccer field, a new basketball practice facility, a new pool. … We wouldn’t have done that if we didn’t think we were going full-speed ahead.

“I’m not going to go tip-toeing into the future; … we’re going to go hard.”

Will Notre Dame appear on a future football schedule?

“They owe us a game,” he acknowledged.

There have been early discussions about scheduling a game. “I feel a little better about it than I did last year, and we’ll pursue that.”

Is he concerned about a deep-pocketed program swiping football coach Kalani Sitake away from BYU following, say, a successful 2017 season?

Holmoe said his immediate concern for the coach and his team is in regards to season-opening game against Portland State.

“If we lose that game, you’ll want to fire him,” he said, drawing laughs from the audience.

(BYU won the game 20-6.)

Thoughts on quarterback Tanner Mangum’s choice to publicly discuss his struggles with mild depression and anxiety.

“It was a brave thing. It was an impressive thing.”

People from across the country have reached out to Mangum to thank him for opening up a discussion on mental health issues.

BYU has made it a priority to care for the mental health needs of all its students—including Cougar athletes—as they deal with their day-to-day pressures.

“It is impressive for me to see young, vibrant kids that struggle with issues overcome challenges and become great. They are awesome.”

Preventing and managing concussions?

Holmoe said the school spends millions of dollars caring for their athletes’ health—including concussion care.

An athlete’s decision to return to the playing field, he added, is not made by a team coach. “We have done everything we can to separate the coaches from those decisions.”

BYU’s bowl situation and scenario?

The school continues to work with ESPN on possible bowl sites—the rest is up to the football team and its performance in the fast-approaching season.

“It will depend upon how we do and how we play.”