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A mostly warm welcome for BYU from Baylor

Baptist school embraces Latter-day Saint university as they prepare to become partners in the Big 12 Conference

Baylor students carry a banner welcoming BYU during the homecoming parade in Waco, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021.
Baylor students carry a banner welcoming BYU to the Big 12 Conference during the homecoming parade in Waco, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021.
Baylor University

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The messages started popping up online before and during the game and proliferated when it was over. BYU leaders and fans enjoyed the warm way Baylor University’s leadership and fans welcomed them to last Saturday’s football game in Waco, Texas.

Of course, the welcome extended to a future together in the Big 12 Conference, of which Baylor is a founding member and which BYU will join in 2023.

Baylor is the world’s largest Baptist university. BYU is the flagship university of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Unfortunately, a smattering of Baylor fans failed in their attempts at religious humor, revisiting either tired tropes about polygamy — discontinued by BYU’s sponsor 131 years ago — or referencing an infamous local tragedy.

One group of men in the student section painted their chests with the words, “7 wives,” according to KWTX.com. The site published a story with an image of a sheet hanging on a Waco house that said, “BYU wishes they had as many wives as David Koresh,” a reference to the leader of the Branch Davidian cult who died with more than 75 other people when their Waco compound was stormed by the FBI in 1993.

Baylor officials responded forcefully in a statement released to KWTX:

“Overall, Baylor has received tremendous positive feedback from BYU about its visit to Waco and McLane Stadium. Our goal is to create and promote a game-day environment that respects our visitors, including this past weekend as the university made concerted efforts to warmly welcome BYU to Baylor, Waco and the Big 12. We shared BYU welcome posters at businesses throughout downtown Waco and invited BYU’s president and director of athletics to ride in the homecoming parade. ... The BYU hospitality continued into the football game with a game ball presentation on the field between Baylor, Big 12 and BYU leadership. Before and during the game, the university also had a very active presence to address any potential concerns, such as signs, that were inconsistent with our values in real time. We apologize that the activities of a few individuals did not uphold the university’s goal and values.”

BYU President Kevin Worthen, left, accepts a game ball from Baylor University President Linda Livingstone on Oct. 16, 2021.
BYU President Kevin Worthen, left, stands next to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby as he accepts a game ball from Baylor University President Linda Livingstone and Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades during the BYU-Baylor game in Waco, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021.
Jaren Wilkey, BYU

College sports fans regularly look for ways to get under opponents’ skin. My impression is that polygamy jokes strike most Latter-day Saints as odd and boring and somewhere on a spectrum between quaint and irrelevant to their experience.

BYU’s current partner, the West Coast Conference, is full of religiously affiliated schools. Gonzaga, a Catholic school, asked its students in 2018 to stop dressing up as Latter-day Saint missionaries during basketball games. The students complied.

When BYU joins the Big 12, only Baylor, BYU and TCU (Texas Christian University) will be religiously affiliated. The other nine will be public institutions.

As the first Big 12 school to host BYU since the announcement it will join the conference in the future, Baylor rolled out a red carpet of acceptance. It was intentional and transparent. They set an example for the rest of BYU’s new partners.

(On Wednesday, Big 12 basketball coaches shared their thoughts about BYU joining the conference.)

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BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe and President Kevin Worthen participate in Baylor’s homecoming parade on Oct. 12, 2021.
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe and President Kevin Worthen greet people during Baylor’s homecoming parade in Waco, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2021.
Robbie Rogers, Baylor Photo