There is a certain kind of irony that flourishes during BYU football games at LaVell Edwards Stadium. While the Cougars are trying to beat down their opponent, there is another BYU group working to lift them up.

“What’s gonna happen on the field is gonna happen on the field,” said Michael Johanson, director of alumni relations. “But what happens in the stands is something that will last a little longer.”

It’s part of a two-pronged effort by BYU to win both the game and the day and it starts long before kickoff.

“I think it has a lot to do with part of the mission of the church and university,” said David Almodova, assistant athletic director over marketing and promotions. “We want to treat people nice. We want teams to feel welcome when they come to Provo.”

The welcome

There is a certain look a young football player has when he steps off the team bus and into enemy territory at Edwards Stadium, only to be accosted with “Hi there! Welcome to BYU!” or “We are so happy you have come to play!” or even “We wish you the best of luck out there today!”

It can be as disarming as it is alarming — both for the unsuspecting players and the fans. But at BYU, surviving the smiling faces is just the beginning. The welcome mat continues in the locker room as each player is presented with a travel bag, including razors, shaving cream, lotion and a toothbrush.

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Out on the field, during pregame festivities, the Cougar Marching Band stops on a whistle and turns to face the northwest corner of the stadium. A second whistle triggers the playing of the opponent’s fight song for the visiting fans to sing along with.

“We have seen the response on social media. Last year with Baylor, and Mississippi State a few years before that, the visiting fans are just stunned and shocked,” said Almodova. “It’s part of who we are as a culture. I think in the grand scheme of it all we want them to feel is welcome.”

The greetings, the gift bags and the fight song all lead up to the crème de la crème — free ice cream.

Ice cream diplomacy

“There is some shock and awe to it. The shock that it’s free and that we actually do it,” said Johanson of what the alumni like to call ‘Ice cream diplomacy.’ At the end of every first quarter, an army of alums distribute free ice cream to the visitors section. “They think it is just someone in the stands coming to sell them something. It’s a lot of fun!”

Each opposing fan is given a cup of the best the BYU Creamery has to offer — typically it’s “Cookies-n-Cream” or “Graham Canyon.” They also get another dose of “it’s nice to have you here!” The volunteers will distribute 1,000 cups of ice cream in five minutes.

“I feel like it’s part of the overall experience of coming to Provo. There are signs all over town that say, ‘Welcome home’ and that doesn’t just mean the people that live here,” Johanson said. “It applies to anyone who comes into our home, into our stadium.”

Cougars fans who love free ice cream themselves, watch the distribution with pride — and maybe a little envy.

“Without exception, someone has come to our team and said ‘this makes me a better BYU fan. I‘m so proud to be a BYU fan to see this happen in our stadium,’” Johanson said. “I like that because it builds up our own fan base.”

A Kedon Slovis testimonial

“Our efforts of spreading goodwill have even helped recruit football players by handing out free ice cream to the opposing team’s fans at our home football games,” said Hillary Nielsen, president of the BYU Alumni Association during last month’s commencement address at the Marriott Center. “Perhaps our second motto should be ‘never underestimate the power of free ice cream.’”

BYU and USC, who battled to overtime in 2019, will meet on Nov. 27, 2021, in the final regular season game for both teams.
BYU lines up against USC in Provo on Sept. 14, 2019. BYU won the game in overtime — and a future recruit named Kedon Slovis, USC’s quarterback that day, whose parents were in the stands. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Max and Lisa Slovis had no idea they were biting into the alumni association’s first motto — “Connected for good” — when they accepted the frozen treat during BYU’s 2019 game against USC. With each spoonful, they became connected in a way that wouldn’t reveal itself until last December.

Their son, Kedon Slovis, was USC’s starting quarterback. After three years with the Trojans and last season at Pittsburgh, he transferred to BYU. Not only was Slovis impressed by Aaron Roderick’s offense, but he and his family also remembered their one and only visit to Provo.

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“My dad was talking about how ‘That’s the cleanest stadium I’ve ever been in, and they bring ice cream to the opposing fans!’ He fell in love with the place,” he told “BYU Sports Nation” and the Deseret News in December. “That was the thing I took away from playing against BYU was how nice the fans were and how great of an environment it is to play in Provo.”

Slovis will lead BYU into the Big 12 this fall and his parents will be back at Edwards Stadium to watch him play. Only this time, they will be cheering for the home team — and paying for their ice cream.

“That’s OK,” Max Slovis said during a visit to spring practice last month. “I’m happy to buy my own next time.”

Bigger and better

BYU is gearing up to make a good first impression on the Big 12 when Cincinnati comes to Provo on Sept. 29.

Almodova and his team are in meetings this week working to bring “more fireworks, more fire dancers and more flyovers” to the stadium experience.

As for the ice cream — “There will be more. A lot more,” said Johanson, whose alumni group is also deep into the planning stages for fall. “We expect there will be more fans in the stands from the other teams and we want to make sure we cover them.”

What to do for the Oklahoma fans remains in question. Ice cream may be “out of season” on Nov. 18 in Provo. Just in case, those time-tested mint brownies have been put on standby.

Today when money seems to drive everything from television contracts to tickets to concessions, BYU still believes free ice cream and a smile can go a long way to forging friendships in their new conference.

“When visiting fans leave Provo, we want them to know that we have a great football program. That our players play hard, and that we are very respectful, and we have a fan base that respects our opponents,” said Almodova. “We hope when they go back to where they came from, they will talk about the great experience they had at BYU.”

Cosmo the Cougar, BYU’s mascot, performs between quarters during a football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. | Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.