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BYU barely unable to change Sunday play rule

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To borrow from the parlance of sports, BYU's shot at overturning an NCAA ruling has fallen short at the buzzer.

In the 11th hour, the school suffered a setback in the Sunday-play fight this week. But BYU officials believe they are winning in their quest to reinstate a longstanding policy.Ever since the NCAA Board of Directors decided to abolish the 35-year-old "BYU Rule" in April, opening up the possibility of intercollegiate championship games to be played on Sunday, fellow Division I schools have lent support by formally requesting an override vote.

BYU and Campbell University, the only two institutions that do not compete on Sunday, needed 100 such requests to suspend the ruling for the upcoming season. When the 5 p.m. CDT deadline arrived Monday, the NCAA headquarters in Kansas had received requests from 99 schools. No. 100 came from Boise State University, but because it arrived minutes too late, it will not be officially counted by the NCAA.

NCAA officials met Tuesday morning to discuss whether the Boise State form should be included, but ultimately the decision was made to stand pat at 99. Several other requests had been received by the NCAA after the deadline.

While disappointed to fall a vote shy, BYU president Merrill Bateman added the main goal has been accomplished. BYU and Campbell needed 30 schools to join the appeal within 60 days of the NCAA Board's decision to force a vote of the entire 300-plus Division I NCAA membership in January. Thirty-five schools filed requests by late May, and the number has grown steadily since.

"We were quite excited to learn there were 99," Bateman said.

Prior to the Fourth of July weekend, BYU knew 86 institutions had jumped on the bandwagon. It wasn't until late Monday afternoon, following many unanswered phone calls to the NCAA, that breathless BYU officials discovered they would be unsuccessful in their bid to suspend the ruling.

But the fact it even came so close to happening was unexpected. When the announcement came that the "BYU Rule" was being eliminated, Bateman had doubts about what the future held.

"I was skeptical at first that we'd be able to get enough (requests) to suspend the ruling," he said. "I began to believe in late May we'd have a chance."

Bateman believes the vast number of schools that have backed the override request speaks volumes. "It's indicative of the support that we have," he said. "We feel very good about the support we've received across the United States."

Tom Collins, athletic director at Campbell, a Baptist school in Buies Creek, N.C., agrees. "I think the support we have received shows that a variety of different institutions across the country respect the commitment BYU and Camp-bell have for our principles," he said. "I think it shows that they want to give such universities as Campbell and BYU the freedom of self-determination."

For now, however, the new policy will stand. That means if an athlete from BYU qualifies for NCAA championship play, and if that championship is played on Sunday, that athlete would have to withdraw from competition. At this time, football and men's basketball are not affected by the policy, but minor sports like golf, tennis and track and field at BYU are in jeopardy of being affected this year.

While BYU sprinter Leonard Myles-Mills won the NCAA 100-meters last month, the women's track team finished third in the country. And sophomore golf star Andy Miller is a two-time All-America selection.

Supporters of Sunday play believe that by not limiting the days on which championships can be staged, minor sports will be televised by networks, thus increasing their exposure and revenue.

Still, this issue is a long way from over. BYU officials are optimistic that on Aug. 11, when the 15 NCAA Board of Directors meet in Chicago, that policy will be reviewed and, perhaps, reversed. "We encourage all supporters to call or write the members of the board and ask them to reconsider their position," Bateman said.

The most likely scenario is the board will let the ruling stand until the January vote.

In order to override the legislation, a five-eighths majority vote of representatives from Division I schools attending the meetings is required, which means more than 200 schools would have to side with BYU and Campbell.

Among the schools that filed override requests with the NCAA include heavyweights like Duke, Michigan, Nebraska, Stanford, Southern Cal as well as WAC members Utah, Rice and Texas Christian. Weber State, Utah State and Southern Utah also signed requests in support of BYU.

A new NCAA governance structure was put into place last August, whereby the board, made up of 15 college presidents from a number of athletic conferences, was created. The ideas was to streamline the "one school, one vote" format. The vote in January will mark the first time institutions will have the override a policy set by the board.