EDITORIAL: Defiant in Defense of Gary Crowton

<b>SportsIllustrated.com</b> columnist <b>Mike Fish</b> today listed BYU head coach <b>Gary Crowton</b> as one of 11 Div. 1 head football coaches "on the hot-seat" for his 9-15 record the last two seasons – with his 12-2 record in 2001 now a distant memory.

Meanwhile, closer to home in Utah, Crowton is taking grievous and unjustified hits from several sports talk show hosts who blame him for the conduct of BYU football players who allegedly raped a 17-year-old girl on Aug. 9, the day before fall practice started.

While Gary Crowton's continuing job security should be evaluated on how well his team performs on the field, in no way should he held responsible for the reckless actions of players who have been warned and reminded repeatedly about the stringent requirements of BYU's Honor Code and the consequences.

Provo police are continuing their investigation and neither they nor BYU officials are saying anything substantive until their separate investigations are concluded.

If true, this is a second group sex related incident regarding Cougar football players this year. The first incident involved consensual sex with a BYU female student who left school. The outcome of the school's Honor Code investigation was that one player was expelled, three were suspended, and two others placed on probation.

This is the last thing Crowton, his assistants, and the team need to think about -- let along dwell on -- exactly two weeks before kick-off in Provo against a determined Notre Dame team looking for gridiron redemption after two disappointing seasons.

While the buck does stop at Crowton's desk as chief administrator of the Cougars high profile football program, it is grossly unfair to blame him for these embarrassing incidents that have cast a negative pall on an otherwise nationally-respected educational institution.

The editors of TotalBlueSports.com have individually interviewed and reported on every 2005 BYU recruit who signed, sometimes on multiple occasions before they arrived in Provo, and are more familiar with their specific BYU recruiting process than any other news media reporter in Utah.

All the non-LDS prospects and parents we interviewed were asked if they are aware of the strictures of BYU's Honor Code and their thoughts about it. Prior to any personal contact with Crowton, almost all noted the BYU recruiting coaches discussed it with them in detail (at least the premarital sex part) and it was one of the most appealing aspects to them or for their son's playing at BYU.

These same recruits confirmed that in their face-to-face encounters with Crowton that he specifically reminded them of the Honor Code detail and stressed the importance of honoring and obeying the code.

Moreover, we have been told by numerous players over the past two years that Crowton pointedly reminds all the players daily during the season after practices to do the right thing and stay away from anything that might get them in trouble.

That's what Crowton is doing right. But what has he done wrong? If proven true, why has a similar incident happened again so soon after the widely publicized group sex encounter with other BYU players in April?

These are good questions that deserve Crowton's immediate and serious review on top of everything else as he prepares for the season.

As long as BYU elects to recruit top non-LDS athletes to compete nationally with other top programs, it is incumbent on the school's athletic administration to make visible and effective changes to eliminate or significantly reduce these related issues as soon as realistically possible.

First, all unmarried BYU football athletes (with exceptions of living with immediate families) should be housed in a closely-monitored campus dorm. That may require new construction, but its well worth the effort and long-term financial commitment. BYU football generates tens of millions of dollars in revenue to support it and other low-income athletic programs.

Second, all non-LDS athletes should have ongoing access to a special BYU adviser who, ideally, should be an LDS ethnic minority; one the players can comfortably and confidently confide in when necessary. This person's primary role should be to ensure newcomers feel welcome and help them make a smooth transition to living and going to school in Provo. It should be noted that off-field player embarrassments this year have included both LDS and non-LDS athletes.

Third, Crowton should look at creating a unique "fellowship" (a familiar LDS term) circles among his players, where newcomers are included in small groups with a trusted team leader. Because of the unusually large number (33 at last count) of married football players, the single athletes are often left to make their transition and adjustment on their own without the benefit or the experience of their wiser, older and usually married teammates. It's not a perfect system, but it's better than nothing.

THE BOTTOM LINE: If Crowton or his immediate athletic department superiors do not act soon or decisively, they will deserve the "heads-should-roll" calls they will almost certainly read, see and hear from collective Utah media outlets in the future.

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