Posts Tagged ‘BYU-Idaho’

We left off the previous discussion on church finance with a discussion on how the church derives investment income from tithing, and then uses that investment income to invest in projects small and large, fat and skinny, the named and nameless.  And, lest the wondering minds of inquiring members get concerned, the church uses this “investment income” and is careful to point out that they are not using “tithing” funds for such projects.  Not tithing funds – just the income earned by investing tithing in largely Babylonian investments over a couple of years.

The Church is The Kingdom

So, now we get to the original reason why I started looking into this stuff in the first place, though it’s a circuitous route and has more than a few twists and turns I didn’t originally anticipate.  Not the most exciting stuff, mind you, but certainly bizarre.  Just what else does the Church ™ invest in?  What other projects do they control with their “investment income”?

One of the top items on the list of strange things a tax-exempt Church ™ owns, just so happens to be a couple of private hunting reserves.  Not your typical run of the mill religious item – after all I’m admittedly not sure how killing animals for sport/pleasure persuades people to believe in Christ – but at least it’s a potentially profitable one.  In Daymon Smith’s book, The Book of Mammon (a good read, mind you)[1], he talks how the church went from providing paid positions to unpaid, volunteer positions masquerading as “missions” within the organization in order to save money and increase profit.  The public perception of these “missions” doesn’t come off that way, but that was, and is, the net result.  Instead of a “money saving” idea, it’s billed as an opportunity to work for God’s Kingdom here on the earth.  After all, what better way to serve God than to volunteer your time building the “Kingdom”?  And, when the “church” and “kingdom” have become conflated to such an extent as to where the two are used simultaneously from pulpits far and wide, why not pimp the idea that you’re working to build the kingdom?  Interestingly, how often do we take note of this conflation and realize that never were the two to be considered twain?

Many talks over the pulpit have increased this propensity to fail to see the differentiation between the church and the Kingdom of God.  Gordon Hinckley did it several times:

“What I say of myself concerning this matter is equally applicable to all who hold office in this the Church and kingdom of God.”[2]

Ezra Taft Benson likewise asserted as much in his famous talk, I Testify:

“The church and kingdom of God was restored in these latter days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints…”[3]

LeGrand Richards likewise helped conflate the issue when he stated:

“When I was president of the Southern States Mission, one of our missionaries preached on that dream of Nebuchadnezzar in one of our meetings where we had some investigators, and I stood at the door to greet them as they went out. A man came up and introduced himself as a minister, and he said, “You don’t mean to tell me that you think that the Mormon Church is that kingdom, do you?”

And I said, “Yes, sir, why not?”

He said, “It couldn’t be.”

I said, “Why couldn’t it?”

He said, “You can’t have a kingdom without a king, and you don’t have a king, so you don’t have a kingdom.”

“Oh,” I said, “my friend, you didn’t read far enough. You just read the seventh chapter of Daniel, where Daniel saw one like the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven, ‘and there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him.’ (Dan. 7:14.)

“Now,” I said, “my friend, tell me how can the kingdom be given to him when he comes in the clouds of heaven if there is no kingdom prepared for him? That is what we Latter-day Saints are doing.”[4]

Now, it should probably be noted that there is a difference between working to establish the Kingdom (as Richards noted in that last sentence) and professing that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints™ is that kingdom.  This belief is perhaps best witnessed by hearkening back the Ronald Poelman’s talk, given in 1984, on the differences between the “Gospel” and the “Church.”[5] In the original talk, Poelman made the following astute observations:

“Of equal importance is understanding the essential relationship between the gospel and the Church.  Failure to distinguish between the two and to comprehend their proper relationship may lead to confusion and misplaced priorities … when we understand the difference between the gospel and the Church and the appropriate function of each in our daily lives, we are much more likely to do the right things for the right reasons … .”

In commenting on Poleman’s talk, and the reasons why it was re-recorded, Denver Snuffer noted the following:

“Right now testimonies within the church recite the mantra “I know the church is true.”  The correlation process has made the church into god.  People’s testimonies of the “church” have supplanted their testimonies of Christ.  Read any Ensign issue of any conference held within ten years after the correlation process, and consider how many talks focus upon the church and the church’s processes and goodness, in contrast with how many of the talks focus upon Jesus Christ and His doctrines.  Christ’s role has been diminished by the emphasis upon the correlated church.”[6]

A peculiar people, indeed.

Volunteer Missions

The Church™ was never intended to be the Kingdom, nor the Kingdom the Church.  Complementary, certainly, but never the same thing.  Now, members reaching retirement age and with sufficient financial reserves to devote a year or three of their lives are encouraged to serve a “mission” for the church.  Some of these very “missions” are served in mission homes, some as service missions and some, yay verily, are working for “for-profit” industries.  And, no matter the call, these missions are viewed as the next best thing since sliced bread.  Generations will be affected, for the better, or so the reasoning goes.  Kim Clark, now president of BYU-Idaho, offers us a glimpse into this mindset.  If you remember, Clark was the president of the Harvard Business School for nearly a decade before leaving to become president of BYU-Idaho in 2005.  Clark received a good amount of flak for his decision to leave from member and non-member alike, and rationalized his decision thusly:

“We believe that that man, Gordon B. Hinckley, is a prophet of God,” Clark told television host Charlie Rose in an interview in July, explaining his decision to leave Harvard. “And Moses says—the man who is acting like Moses says—he would like you to do something. Now, in this case, of course you`d say yes…”[7]

So, the effort becomes threefold:  (a) you label the call to serve wherever in the church a “mission,” (b) you have those missionaries convinced that they need to pay their own way as a way to build up the “kingdom” of God and (c) you belabor the idea that the “Kingdom of God” and the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ™” is that very kingdom and (d) each “mission call” is signed, sealed and delivered with the “Prophet’s” very name and signature on each call.  And, following these four steps you reach a point where virtually any position, in any corporation within the Church can be staffed by “volunteers” more than willing to pay their way to build up the Kingdom, errrr, Church.

Private Hunting Preserves

Take, for example, Clair Huff, and his wife.  Huff spent his entire career as a wildlife biologist, including working as the Director of Operations for the Division of Wildlife Resources.  As retirement age approached, Huff and his wife began contemplating serving a mission for the Church™.  Huff had an interesting skill set, honed over years of work within the Division of Wildlife Resources.  And, the Church with its varied needs and interests, is quick to match people up with positions that match their skill set.  A mission, as is taught throughout the church system, was the most logical outlet wherein he and his wife could use their talents to “build the kingdom.”

Well Clair Huff and his wife did just that when they worked for a “private hunting preserve” along the “southwest shores of Utah Lake.”[8] Yessiree, full-time “missionaries” employed for the Church ™, working on a “private hunting preserve” that covers approximately 11,000 acres just outside of Elberta, Utah.  That “private hunting preserve” is owned, part and parcel, by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  That “preserve” is a profit making venture, or at least that’s the goal.  And, according to an article written in 2000[9], when hunting permits were running upwards of $1,500 per person, it wasn’t yet churning out a profit, though Huff could see the silver lining on the horizon.

And, lest you think the permit is only a one-time benefit, it seems as though there are lasting benefits many people would do well to acknowledge:

“Only a few pheasant and goose-hunting permits are sold each year, with hunting aficionados paying as much as $1,500 for the opportunity to hunt what is fast becoming an exclusive “club” for “members only.”

Once a hunter ponies up the cash to secure a permit, he’s not only guaranteed a permit for the following year, but his chance to draw the prime target areas on the preserve improve along with his seniority in the exclusive group.

“All of our hunters are from Utah, many of them doctors, dentists and attorneys from Payson north to Ogden, including Park City,” Elder Huff said. The flatlands also provide an additional advantage for the well-heeled hunting crowd — a 2,600-foot landing strip where private aircraft can whisk hunters in and out of the remote preserve, saving them the long and lonely drive. … “Just like the farm derives revenue from harvesting crops, the preserve is designed to produce revenue when hunters harvest the wildlife here,” Elder Huff said. … ”

As these words suggest, it’s a “private hunting preserve” that is geared toward the affluent.  Heck, how many people do you know would fly into a “private hunting preserve” in order to avoid a “long and lonely drive”?

But, this is not all. According to this same Deseret News article, the church owns at least one other preserve in Utah:

“The church owns thousands of acres of farm and ranch land throughout the West, including the Deseret Land and Livestock Co., a private big-game hunting preserve scattered over 200,000 acres in northern Utah. Hunters from around the country vie for a limited number of elk and moose permits there that cost as much as $8,500 each.”

Complete with a formal hunting lodge for housing and meals, the hunts are guided by a local outfitter in search of their “trophy” elk or buck. And while there’s no guarantee that a hunter’s bullet will find its mark, hunting on the preserve is so popular that there’s a six-year waiting list to buy a permit.

“Elder” Huff was optimistic that the operation will turn a profit for the first time in 2000, but I was unable to find any financial information on the reserve, but the track record of the church is fairly good at turning a profit, so I’m assuming that they do. Huff continued, “This is a very viable habitat, and if they continue to invest the profits back in and find an innovative manager to run it, there’s the potential to boost the number of permits we issue up to a maximum of about 250 someday.”

And as the habitat, and consequently, the number and variety of wildlife improves, the price of the permits would logically go up as well, he said.

“Imagine if we got to the point that we could boost the price (of each permit) to $2,000 or $2,500. Times that by 250, and it doesn’t take a lot to understand that this could be a very profitable operation.” (emphasis is mine.)

Count that among the things I likely will never experience in my life, what with permits ranging from $2,000 to $8,500 (and likely more, today), with their own private hunting lodges and airstrips.  Seems like the good ole boys’ club has come to roost in Utah.

The Deseret Land and Livestock, located in northern Utah, states,

“The LDS Church ownership era has been marked by conscientious business practices including strategic planning, cost control, increased production, and accountability. Emphasis on holistic management has brought a uniqueness to the ranch that is attractive to visitors from many walks of life.”  At the ranch, “hunting is a key means of generating ranch revenue.”[10] (emphasis is mine.)

So, one “preserve” just south of Utah Lake leaves us with a statement that it could be a “very profitable” venture, while another preserve up north states that hunting is a “key means of generating ranch revenue.”  Is there any real question that the church – the owner of both preserves – is operating these preserves with little other interest other than to turn a buck (pun intended)?

Not only can you hunt on these lands, but one can also experience guided fly-fishing tours.  One guide, linked to the official website of the reserve, offers one-on-one tours for “Trophy Elk” on Deseret Land and Livestock land for an insignificant sum of $17,500.[11] Or, should that be slightly out of reach of your discretionary income budget, you could just stick to hunting antelope for only $4,250 (that’s the lowest priced permit offered through this outfitter).  It’s no wonder that Huff mentioned that these preserves cater to a very specific, very affluent crowd.

As of 2005, the church owned Deseret Ranch, a different cattle ranch in central Florida, was the largest working cattle ranch in the United States.  That ranch, valued at an estimated $500 million when purchased back in the 1950s, covers approximately 300,000 acres of Florida swamp and pasture land.  It includes 1,000 miles of canals, 250 miles of roads and 1,400 miles of fencing.  The ranch employs approximately 75 full-time employees (and their families), most of which live in houses across the ranch.  On-site amenities for the employees that stay on the ranch include a swimming hole, campgrounds and a rodeo arena.  As of 2005, the ranch maintained a herd of 44,000 heifers and purebred cows.  One article estimated annual income to be in the neighborhood of at least $16 million just from the calves they sell each year at cattle auctions.[12]

Cynthia Barnett, in an article entitled, The Church’s Ranch, discussed what she called “ecclesiastical entrepreneurism” and the church and wrote:

“While the church is committed to stewardship of the land, it is just as committed to squeezing profits out of its private companies. …

And eventually, those two missions; are sure to clash on this prime central Florida property. Real estate sources estimate Deseret’s spread is worth some $900 million, though the assessed agricultural value is far lower than that. For decades, the family cattle ranches that once made up Osceola and outlying Orange counties have been gobbled up by housing developments – a pattern that’s repeating itself throughout Florida and the nation. But because the church is so rich, it has not yet buckled to pressure to sell any of its Florida land to developers. Ten years ago, the church backed off a plan to develop 7,000 acres near the Bee Line Expressway under sharp criticism from environmentalists.

Often at odds in other parts of the country over issues such as animal waste and grazing, the tree-huggers and the cowpokes in central Florida have for now become allies. For example, environmentalists helped Deseret fight a huge landfill Brevard County wanted to put adjacent to the ranch. That area is also home to one of the largest bird rookeries in the state.

Squires says the church’s long-term plans for the majority of Deseret Ranch are to keep it agricultural. But he acknowledges the business-savvy church will develop the fringes – particularly its property outside Orlando – as the land becomes more valuable. “The pressure is here,” Squires says. “But we want to be responsible and be good neighbors.” It’s in his church’s ecclesiastical and entrepreneurial missions to do so, he says.”[13]

Interesting, I wasn’t aware of an “entrepreneurial” mission to the church.  At least not an official one, but it should be noted that while outsiders view the church as “business-savvy” and striving to “squeeze” as much profit out of whatever private business their running these days, members are largely clueless as to the holdings the church has on its books.

As part of the Deseret Wildlife plan, some 45 hunt clubs lease portions of the ranch to hunt (the favored politically correct term of these articles seems to be “harvest.”  It sounds much more humane when you say we’re “harvesting” animals versus “hunting”) animals.  The ranch also harvests timber and leases TV and radio towers as a way to increase revenue.[14]

Sunstone Magazine[15] posed a thoughtful question on the matter, as well as an interesting mp3 listen, of these for-profit “hunting preserves” sometime back:

“To what degree should the principle of ‘respect for life” be extended to bird and animal creations? What do the scriptures, Joseph Smith, and other early Church leaders teach about the grand design and purposes of God’s non-human creations? Does having “dominion” over the kingdom of creatures mean we are their predators and exploiters or does it suggest a “stewardship” relationship in which we become their caretakers in order to help them “fulfill the full measure of their creation?”

If the scriptures teach, “woe be unto man that sheddeth blood or wasteth flesh and have no need,” and “the blood of every beast will I require at your hands,” what rationale could be used to explain Church-owned, revenue-generating enterprises such as Deseret Land and Livestock and the Westlake Hunting Preserve? Do these operations constitute sacrificing principle for profit?”

Aside:  The mp3 (see footnote below) has an interesting discussion on some Mormon leader (a Regional Representative) who went on several safari’s while on a church trip to visit some congregations in Africa.  While on this trip, the regional representative later related  killing both a lion and a “rare Roman antelope,” and yet had the moral strength to turn down an alcoholic beverage at a dinner that same evening.  “What peculiar priorities,” indeed.

Mormon Matters[16] and The Faithful Dissident[17] both discussed these preserves sometime ago, and in good depth.  Both touched on the aspects of hunting, or canned hunting[18] as happens at these LDS preserves, as it relates to a gospel principle and what part hunting for sport has amongst the church.  This particular article has nothing to do with the hunting aspect, but rather is to focus and touch on the financial aspect owning such enterprises – as in, why the hell is the church investing in a for-profit “hunting preserve” or “cattle ranch” or whatever the investment du jour is?  But, even with that said, one would do well to consider the ramifications of canned hunting.  Even some of the more correlated church curriculum manuals state,

“We may also eat the flesh of animals and of fowls of the air and use the skin of animals for clothing (see D&C 89:12–13; 49:18–19); however, we are not to kill animals for mere sport or pleasure and waste the meat (see D&C 49:21).”

But, with that being said, I fully admit I’m not sure just how these animals spend their dead hours.  Do all the canned hunters save the meat to eat, do some, do none?  I think, generally, your average run-of-the-mill hunter is as conscientious about what they are doing, but I wonder whether the more affluent of the bunch – those who have access to the church owned preserves through their expensive permits – have the same conscientiousness.

My guess is that it may be lacking in some areas.  For example, on the “referral” page of some of “approved” outfitters one can read the following accounts:

Whether you want a trophy deer or elk, or just want to catch some large trout, these guys can take you to the right spot. I’m already looking forward to next season. Thanks for the wall hangers!!” – Robert H. (emphasis is mine.)

“I can honestly say that they have One of the best hunting experiences you can imagine. They have a very knowledgable guides , great packers and great food. Their quantity and Quality of game can’t be matched. You will see more Elk , deer, moose in one day than you will see on most places in a season. I tell my friends that It is the Disneyland of Elk hunting because you can”t believe the quality experience that you will have.” – Matt T. (emphasis is mine.)

“We looked at close to a hundred bulls, maybe more. He never pressured me to shoot any of them, and I’m sure many hunters would have been happy to take several of them. I would recommend you to anyone that wanted a first class elk hunt. I took a heavy bull that I am very happy with. I know several people were involved in putting me on that bull.” – Ed G.

“I’ve never had an opportunity that paralleled what we were able to experience.  Fishing water that I suspect never has been fished in recorded history, not seeing a boot track, another human being, or any sign of human habitation for two days, and I personally having caught probably over 500 fish.  What an experience!!” – Lynn W.

Take those accounts for what they’re worth.  Regaling over catching a couple hundred fish, smarting about the most recent piece to the collection hanging on your wall or visiting the most beautiful of “God’s creations” while “harvesting” some of His other creations.  Canned hunting or not, in spite of it all, we’re shown time-and-again that the very “missions” the church claims as being a means to establish the “kingdom” of God have very little to do with anything resembling Christ, but rather with making money.  Profiting from animals, the land and virtually everything on this God-given earth.  No wonder the church plucked Clark from HBS to serve as the new president of BYU-Idaho in 2005: one attends HBS to make “shedloads of money,” which somehow attests that those who make the most money, are the “most morally good.”[19]

Peculiar, indeed.

***To be continued …***

[2] Hinckley, Gordon B.  “God is at the Helm.”  April 1994.

[3] Benson, Ezra Taft.  “I Testify.”  October 1988.

[4] Richards, LeGrand.  “Prophets and Prophecy.”  October 1975.

[6] Snuffer, Denver.  “The Traditions of Men, Pt. 3”  Retrieved 10/10/2010.

[7] Hemel, Daniel J.  “Summers Visits Idaho Mormon College,” The Crimson.  October 12, 2005.  Retrieved 10/10/2010.

[8]Couple Serve Wildlife Mission in Utah.”  Church in the News.  July 8, 2000.

[9]Tending the Flock,” Deseret News, July 10, 2000.  Retrieved Oct 3, 2010.

[10] See for more details.  Retrieved 10/4/2010.

[11] See for the entire fee schedule.

[12] Barnett, Cynthia.  “The Church’s Ranch,”  Dec. 1, 2001.  Retrieved 10/4/2010.

[13] Ibid.

[14] See “Discovering the Deseret Ranch” news article for more information.  May 23, 2005.  Retrieved 10/4/2010.

[15] Madson, Mac and Watts, Prestwich.  “Sacrificing Principle for Profit:  Church Wildlife Enterprises and Hunting Preserves,” Sunstone Magazine.  08/10/2001.  Retrieved 10/4/2010.

[18] Per Wikipedia:  “A canned hunt is essentially a trophy hunt in which the animal is kept in a more confined area, such as in a fenced-in area, increasing the likelihood of the hunter obtaining a kill. According to the dictionary definition a canned hunt is a “hunt for animals that have been raised on game ranches until they are mature enough to be killed for trophy collections.”

Whether you want a trophy deer or elk, or just want to catch some large trout, these guys can take you to the right spot. I’m already looking forward to next season. Thanks for the wall hangers!!

This article was started several weeks ago and only now did I decide to finish it and add a little more information.  Just some random musings I was doing a few weeks back.

A Search for Independence

For those who don’t follow sports (and I’m getting closer and closer to becoming a member of that group), BYU has recently been trying to flex it’s brawn and become an independent school a la Notre Dame, at least independent with regards their football program.  Indeed, within the past couple of days it announced that they were leaving the Mountain West Conference to become a football independent.  So far so good.  But, as an entity owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (TM, yes it’s a trademarked name), why is there this need to go off into independent status and throw their conference affiliation to the wayside?

Not being a huge historical buff on this issue, it made me wonder why the change would be advantageous, but in reading the publicly available reports on the issue, I’m still left scratching my head.

Exposure and Money

Tom Holmoe, the BYU Athletic Director who spurred this decision forward along with Cecil Samuelson, president of BYU, had this to say regarding the why and how of the decision:

“We have some incredible options available to us because of BYU broadcasting and the friends that we have across the country. We’re going to look to make sure that we build on those things and take advantage of those things. We’re trying to put ourselves in position to be the best we can, which is exposure across the country, letting our kids shine in the bright lights.”

The best position, following Holmoe’s logic, is for increased exposure and popularity – shining in the bright lights.  In this same article, Holmoe reportedly stated how frustrated BYU had become with a “lack of television exposure” and how there “goal is exposure.”  The frustration stemmed largely from a poor Mountain West Conference TV payout schedule, as well as the inability to broadcast games on BYU’s own TV network.

One BYU fan put it this way, “You have to make a lot more money to be able to go independent. You’re not guaranteed money if another school makes it to the BCS or something like that, so there’s financial risks.”

Joe Schad, an ESPN reporter stated that (prior to BYU officially electing for independent status), “With BYU considering leaving the MWC, Thompson said he has had “very good dialogue” with BYU president Cecil O. Samuelson since Fresno State and Nevada announced they would join the conference.  Thompson said the MWC has “shown a willingness to work through some TV issues” in an effort to prevent BYU from declaring its independence.  BYU is exploring putting some sporting events on its own television network.”

Based on these statements, the reasoning behind this move was (a) exposure, (b) money and (c) more exposure and more money.  Exposure through increased TV time, under the “bright lights,” and increased revenues through more lucrative TV deals.

A New Contract

Cecil $amuelson, president of BYU, in a press release announcing the move to an independent football school, as well as the signing of an 8-year TV contract with ESPN to televise home football games, explained that:

“We’ve long sought broad, nationwide access to our games for our fans and increased visibility among those who may be less familiar with our university and athletic programs.  We’ve also been looking for ways to take better advantage of our own unique broadcasting resources.”

Again, more exposure, visibility and money is the goal.  Why would one seek to “take better advantage” of their “unique broadcasting resources” (i.e. BYUTv and the households it reaches, which in turn will bring in advertising and syndication dollars) if it was for something other than money?  According to the aforementioned press release, BYUTv is available in 55,000,000 homes through Dish Network and DirectTv, in addition to being carried by more than 500 cable systems.  Thanks to some investments in a “state-of-the-art” production truck, BYUtv will be able to televise games live, and in HD.

In a separate SL Tribune article, Samuelson proffered, “We are convinced we are taking major positive steps forward.”

ESPN, in responding to this contract, declared:

“Once BYU decided to chart an independent course for football, we both recognized it is a good opportunity to build and grow our strong 30-year relationship. With this agreement, college football fans around the country will see the quality and pageantry of BYU as well as the passion and enthusiasm of its supporters.”  Dave Brown, a vice president of programming and acquisition, declared that the announcement of the new TV contract was “tremendous day to be back in business with BYU. We’ve had a great relationship with BYU over the years.”

While the details of the contract seem scant, some estimates suggest that the contract will net BYU between $1.0 and $1.2 million per home game.  With a minimum of 3 home games televised annually by ESPN over the life of the contract, one would rightly assume that BYU is looking at making some $5.0 million (more or less) each year of the 8 year contract.  That would lend a rough guesstimate of a total value of the contract between $40 and $50 million, and that’s assuming that only 3 games are televised annually.  Kurt Kragthorpe of the SL Tribune stated that “ESPN is televising nearly every home game for eight years.”  If that’s the case, then more games = more money.  Samuelson reportedly stated that the “driving force” behind the move was merely to “secure broad and nationwide television access to BYU athletic contests for the school’s fans around the world.”  Uh huh.  Sure.

Nope, still not buying it.  While that might have been a consideration, there’s simply no way BYU would have gone forward with this move if it were costing them $50 million over the next 8 years.  Absolutely no way.  The only real reasons for this move is for exposure and money.  Pure and simple.  Any other explanation is a likely a stinky pile of garbage.

One may even argue, and perhaps this is what Samuelson was getting at in his statement to bring BYU football games into the living room of every breathing Mormon, that the increased exposure will result in more alumni donations and endowments.  That may indeed prove to be the case, but that would then point even more to money being the main goal of this decision.

An Old Business Model

George Ure recently stated, on his blog, that everything essentially boils down to economics and a basic business model.  You can read his discussion on that topic here, but his discussion had to do with recent pontifications by various media personalities.  In response to someone calling him out for failing to mention said personalities or political events, Ure responded:

“As a matter of policy around here (a right I claim as a real piece of shit, as you so eloquently penned it) we don’t spend much time counting the number of people who line up behind one business model, or another.  No point to it.  BUT, now that you brought it up, everything is a business model.  The job you used to have, the business of being a politician, even churches / religions are business models, something I don’t grind your face in because the evidence is that I’m right.  Jesus didn’t make the big bucks on his own religion, it was the marketers who followed who cashed in.  Ditto Buddha and the rest of history’s Enlightened:  Business models that followed were where the dough was – so you see  everything really is a business model. Not bad just is.  Every time the right wing, or the left, or the NRA, or the church, or the local PTA pass around fundraisers, or I pimp my subscriber side,  I’m reminded “Everything’s a Business Model.” Again for clarity: I didn’t say any of this is bad…money makes the world go round. On the other hand, whenever I see a highly touted named personality I run – not walk, mind you – I run the other way as fast as I can.  We live in a society where EBM and the cults of personality are all what?  Repeat after me:  Business models!”

With that in mind, and taking the above quotes by Joe Schad, Cecil $amuelson and Tom Holmoe at face value, we’re essentially left with a move that is based on a business model.  Business models, it should go without saying, are based on profits and revenues.  Money, pure and simple, is the name of the game.  Exposure, the other word used to justify this move by BYU, is another way of attracting both money and fame.  The relationship between exposure and money is mere symbiotics at work.

Kragthorpe, of the SL Tribune, stated back on August 19th that the ultimate benefit of their new found independent status was – you probably guessed it – money.

“The benefit for BYU will be not having to share bowl revenue with conference partners.”

Couple potential bowl revenues (that don’t need to be shared with 10 other teams) with its new TV contract(s) in place, and BYU is merely positioning itself to earn more money down the road and keep a bigger slice of the revenue pie, or rather the entire pie themselves.

So, what does this have to do with the church, or anyone else for that matter, and why should I care?

Well, the answer to that is that I probably shouldn’t care and mostly I don’t care.  Will I watch more games now that BYU is on TV?  Perhaps, but only considering I rarely watch any games at all, on any network.

A Parallel 10 Years in the Making

Nearly a decade ago the Church announced the renaming of Ricks College to BYU-Idaho in concert with a migration to a fully accredited four-year degree granting institution.  This same announcement brought about the ending of the Ricks College athletic program (especially the football program, as football programs are the real money makers of any athletic program).  As it turns out, a few other issues were also at play that have parallels with what BYU is doing today.

Football at Ricks College was more or less doomed the moment the church announced that the school would be converting to a full-fledged 4-year university, complete with accreditation from the Babylonian institutions that regulate such bodies.  Some people champion the route Ricks College took in turning “its back on the ‘arms race’ that some critics say college sports has become and freed itself from the competitive pressures” that face universities with numerous sporting programs, especially in an era dominated by multi-million and billion dollar TV contracts.

What’s interesting about the decision is that Ricks College routinely sported one of the top junior college football programs, and many of its players went on to play division I football at major NCAA programs (like BYU).  What’s even more interesting is that no one challenged the decision.  Indeed, no one dared challenge the decision.  As one article points out:

“But because Mormons view their president as a prophet, guided and inspired by Jesus Christ, no one challenged the decision. When the president speaks “the debate’s over,” Ms. Woodland says. “There’s no arguing.”

Hinckley stated that the changes would “extend the opportunity of secular education within the framework of a Church school, where is taught faith … .”  David Bednar, who was president of Ricks at the time of the announcement, later referred to the decision as “historic.”  One of the reasons for the change, incidentally, was the “expense of intercollegiate athletics.”  As it turns out, BYU-Idaho could have done the same thing that BYU-Provo is doing today – namely migrate conferences and expand its reach and exposure.  Well, they could have but for the fact that no one cared about the exposure of BYU-Idaho’s football program.  In fact, had BYU-Idaho joined Division II of the NCAA (which it would have at the time), it’s athletic budget would have likely tripled.  Instead of absorbing the cost and continuing on in hopes of new revenues down the line, the church made a financial decision based on real-life dynamics.  The athletic programs were then transformed into a 4-tier “activities” program which, according to David Bednar, ran (and presumably still runs) at a “fraction of the cost.”  It was an economic business model decision, and a completely understandable one at that.

What’s even more interesting is that if you follow the rest of that story you will read of an example where Bednar drew a line in the sand, a line which apparently doesn’t work with BYU’s main campus in Provo.  Josh Clawson – one of the student athletic directors a few years back – related a story wherein Bednar supposedly stated:

“The day I see a linebacker rush the lineman, straddle him, point in his face, is the day I go onto the field, take the football, and the game is over.”

That game, coincidentally, was the newfound intramural football league which replaced the regular athletic program.

And yet, down in Provo, such lines are not only not drawn, they’re not even thought about.  Max Hall (and many others) had (or have had) infamous falling outs with the competition.  A few years back, Hall had once such encounter with Utah fans.  If you remember, he merely stated “I don’t like Utah. In fact, I hate them. I hate everything about them. I hate their program, their fans. I hate everything.”

One might rightfully ask where the difference between pointing in someone’s face on the field or launching into a nationally televised diatribe revealing your hatred for some team is?  The real difference, it would seem, why the athletic program at Ricks College was done away with was not so that students could focus on gospel oriented learning, as some suggest, but rather because the costs of continuing the program at the D-II level would have been prohibitive.  Today, though, faced with signing a contract valued somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million over 8 years, BYU and Cecil Samuelson chose to take the most financially “beneficial” route, namely that of independence.

The “business model” with Ricks College athletics simply didn’t make sense.

The Church and BYU

As most know, BYU is a church owned institution.  And this move towards independence had to be approved by the board of trustees made up of the first presidency of the church and some members of the quorum of the twelve.  Today that group (the board of trustees) is made up of Monson, Eyring, Uchtdorf, Nelson, Ballard, Bednar, as well as a few others.

One article discussed the steps taken to reach independence internally by noting:

“BYU President Cecil Samuelson presented several scenarios to the school’s board of trustees, comprised of the LDS Church’s First Presidency, members of the Quorum of the Twelve, and other high-ranking church officials, Thursday and received approval to proceed with whichever route he sees as “most beneficial” to the mission of the church and the school, a source told The Tribune.”

Gain, Popularity and Seeking the Things of the World

So, my question is whether some of the scriptures in the book of mormon might apply here.  If the main goal, at least according to statements from both the Athletic Director and President of the University, of a church run institution participating in an athletic program is to get exposure (fame/popularity) and make more money (gain), then is there something amiss that we should be recognizing?

Principally, this one:

“For the time speedily shall come that all achurches which are built up to get gain, and all those who are built up to get power over the flesh, and those who are built up to become bpopular in the eyes of the world, and those who seek the lusts of the flesh and the things of the world, and to do all manner of iniquity; yea, in fine, all those who belong to the kingdom of the cdevil are they who need fear, and tremble, and dquake; they are those who must be brought low in the dust; they are those who must be econsumed as stubble; and this is according to the words of the prophet.”

I would argue that this move is rather obviously based on (a) getting gain, (b) becoming popular in the eyes of the world – i.e. exposure – and (c) seeking the things of the world, if not more.  If that’s the case, then what are we really doing?  Trading the power of God for acceptance and popularity?  Is that not what we’re doing and, if so, why are we doing it when the scriptures tell us that “pandering for popularity is at the heart of priestcraft“?

Granted, I’m removed from Utah so I’m not entirely sure how this is playing out there in Happy Valley, but it’s likely being well received up and down the Wasatch Front.  Indeed, I did read one comment which said if this move was approved by the “Board of Trustees” then no doubt it was the best decision the university could have made (i.e. the Board of Trustees is made up of the first presidency and members of the quorum of the 12 and, as such, they’re impervious to bad decision making).  And, if so, then is it also true that the general sentiment is that a + b + c (above) are all good things?  That that is what we should be doing and there’s nothing amiss?  Namely, that there’s nothing wrong with seeking for more exposure and more money?

Borrowing from a new blog that I stumbled across today, the following quote provides the clarity we need:

“Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened; yea, verily I say unto you, Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments” (D&C 82:14).  Is Zion’s beauty increasing as we strip-mine the earth and tear down God’s world in pursuit of money? Is Zion increasing in holiness as we study “Gospel Principles” in Priesthood and Relief Society, taking us back to primary concepts that we obviously haven’t learned, unable to, as a community, search deeper into the mysteries of God (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 364)? Are [her] borders enlarging or is Babylon infiltrating our borders (that’s the border security issue with which we ought to be concerned)? Are her stakes strengthening or are we being uprooted and “tossed to and fro, carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:14) (Think political parties and campaigns, military objectives, commercials and advertising, and the like)? Surely all is not well in Zion.”

What say ye?