Debunking the mystery of BYU: School isn't weird or cultish, just into clean living

JAKE TROTTER Modified: August 31, 2009 at 1:44 pm •  Published: August 29, 2009
Next weekend, fans of Oklahoma and Brigham Young will congregate outside Cowboys Stadium for tailgate parties, with one discernible difference.

One side will be imbibing beer by the gallons; the other, sipping orange juice.

Sooner and Cougar fans both share a fervor for their historically successful football teams. But BYU and its football program are worlds apart from any other.

"Obviously BYU’s affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” said Roy Brinkerhoff, BYU’s assistant manager of alumni activities, "that alone creates huge differences.”

BYU, located in pristine Provo, Utah, is the largest private and largest religiously-affiliated school in the country. More than 98 percent of its student body is Mormon, and almost half its students have completed 2-year church missions.

"There’s an honor code,” said Brent Babcock, an Oklahoma City chiropractor who graduated from BYU in 1980. "No alcohol consumption, no tobacco, no premarital sex. Even wild man Jim McMahon honored the code.”

So did Pat Brule. Mostly.

Brule, a tobacco-chewing Southern Baptist from Del City, ended up at BYU via a wrestling scholarship in the early 1980s. Brule followed most of BYU’s rules, though he did dip Copenhagen in the dorm with permission from his roommate.

But early on, Brule gained an appreciation of such a strict honor code.

"I’ll never forget, I lost my wallet in the theater. I had like 20-30 bucks in it; I figured that was that,” Brule recalled. "But the next week, I get a call from the theater saying someone had turned in my wallet.

"That’s when I realized, this is a good place.”

While drinking is not part of the culture, Brule said there are plenty of fun things for BYU students to do.

"They do regular stuff I hope my daughter will do in college,” he said. "They go to the movies. There are places in the mountains to go hiking or go skiing. There are open waterfalls in the winter. People get in these natural hot tubs in the mountains and hang out and talk.

"They know how to have a good time without alcohol.”

But like anything else that’s different from the norm, BYU fights negative stereotypes.

"I hear it all the time, that if you go there, you must be weird, must be part of a cult,” Brule said. "When I tell people I went to BYU, they ask me if I have three wives. That’s been gone for years. It’s a misconception of BYU and the Mormon culture.”

Ken Hunt, chair of the BYU alumni chapter in Tulsa, said his Oklahoma friends are always surprised when he first takes them to visit Provo.

"They go there expecting to see a very small university with students dressed bizarrely, because they think of BYU being ultra-conservative in a Mennonite way,” Hunt said.



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