Bad Referees, Dirty Recruiting, Commercialization of College Football, and No One Wanting to Play the University of Utah: from the Diaries of Ernest L. Wilkinson

By February 9, 2016

I’ve started a new project that requires me to read the diaries of longtime BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson. I thought these four excerpts were interesting and funny. Wilkinson worried a lot about keeping up with the University of Utah–keep that in mind.


February 11, 1955

“In the evening attended the basketball game between the U. of U. and the B.Y.U. The paper had all predicted the U. of U. would have a comparatively easy time of it. Stan Watts, however, had devised some special strategy for the game. When the first half ended, the B.Y.U. was 10 points ahead. Near the middle of the second quarter the B.Y.U. was 15 points ahead, and then one of those unusual changes occurred, with the result that, with just four second left to go, the U. of U. made a field goal which tied the score. In the five minutes’ overtime, however, the B.Y.U. scored four points, and the U. of U. two, ending the game with a score of 76 for B.Y.U. and 74 for U. of U. It was a great upset. All admit that the B.Y.U. outplayed the U. We almost lost this game, however, through very poor foul pitching. The B.Y.U. made 56 points of field goals as compared with 44 for the U. of U.”

President [Ray A.] Olpin [the President of the University of Utah] cordially congratulated me after the game, but it was reported from many that he was vigorously complaining about the poor officiating of the officials. Ray does this so often that very few pay attention to him. His own guest at the game whispered to me that “B.Y.U. won fairly notwithstanding what Ray has to say.”

BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson

May 4, 1955

“Attended a football game in the early evening between the Whites and the Blues. Learned while I was there that in the afternoon a group of Jordan High athletes had come to the campus. They were indignant that the U. of U. had run their pictures in the newspaper last Thursday as being signed up for the U. of U. They said they were all coming to the U. This is typical, however, of the social pressures put on athletes throughout the State by the U. of U.”

November 22, 1955

[In process of finding a football coach to replace “Chick” Atkinson]

“This athletic situation has given me no end of worry. I know that intercollegiate athletics are not a necessary part of college life, especially football. I know that in many schools they are very demoralizing. My Board of Trustees as a whole, on the other hand, are in favor of our having a great football team at the B.Y.U. The Athletic Council of the school has also recommended that we pay athletes room and board. This, of course, has been approved by the N.C.A.A. and by many of the conferences of the country. To me it represents commercialization, and yet I know it is less of an evil than to give athletes jobs on which they do little work for which they receive pay. College football in most of the universities of the country is no longer an amateur sport. All of the newspapers of the State will spend columns urging a greater football team, but very few of them ever become really interested in educational issues.”

Locals call the BYU/Utah Football game the "Holy War"

January 19, 1956

[Spends afternoon with the Executive Committee and Board of Trustees of BYU]

“I reported also to the Board that we could not very well cooperate with the University of Utah in arranging basketball games with well known schools over the weekend whereby they play at the B.Y.U. one night and at the U.of U. another night, because the other schools did not want to play with any team coached by [University of Utah Coach] Jack Gardner. Brother [Lowell] Bennion immediately bristled. It is very obvious that his primary allegiance to the University of Utah, where he taught for many years and of which he is a member of the Board of Regents, does not quite permit him to look at these matters objectively. I am more and more convinced that it is wrong to have a member of our Board of Trustees with a dual allegiance.”

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Wilkinson’s diaries are pretty great, aren’t they …

    Comment by Gary Bergera — February 9, 2016 @ 8:18 am

  2. Gary: they certainly are! I love your work on Wilkinson and BYU–are you working on anything with either subject right now?

    Comment by J Stuart — February 9, 2016 @ 8:43 am

  3. This is really interesting, Joey. I think a cultural history of the BYU-Utah rivalry would make for a really fascinating project.

    Comment by Christopher — February 9, 2016 @ 9:00 am

  4. Great fun. Being a fly on the wall in BoT meetings the last few decades would be awesome.

    Comment by WVS — February 9, 2016 @ 9:17 am

  5. I wonder how much the rivalry is a manifestation of deep ambivalences within Mormon culture. Cougar fans tend to identify strongly with a persecuting environment they personify as the Ute-fan adversary; Ute fans tend to identify strongly with an authenticity denied them by “holier-than-thou” Cougar fans. (At least, if comment threads on SL Trib, CougarBoard, ESPN, etc., are any indication.) There’s more going on here than mere jockeying for cachet. It’d be fascinating for something thorough and historical (less partisan).

    Comment by Dave — February 9, 2016 @ 9:32 am

  6. I would definitely go out and buy a cultural history of Utes vs Cougars. Someone get on that, please.

    Comment by Saskia — February 9, 2016 @ 10:27 am

  7. Wilkinson was a very savvy diarist. One of the things I like is when he says something like: the decisions reached during the Board of Trustees meeting will be found in the official minutes, but let me tell you some of the things that won’t be found in the minutes.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — February 9, 2016 @ 11:29 am

  8. You know someone is ancient when they call it “the BYU.” (Fun post!)

    Comment by Kevin Barney — February 9, 2016 @ 11:40 am

  9. I’m in favor of getting rid of the sports program at BYU. It’s gotten too worldly and something that LDS worship as a god. It’s a golden idol. That’s the real truth.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — February 9, 2016 @ 1:05 pm

  10. Thanks, Joey. Fun stuff.

    Comment by David G. — February 9, 2016 @ 4:25 pm

  11. Wilkinson was concerned with the great university president concerns of his era: sex for students, parking for faculty, and football for alumni. Only the addition of parking for students has been changed in the interim.

    Comment by Paul — February 10, 2016 @ 11:21 am

  12. So, Gary. I not only echo, but magnify J. Stuart’s comments and question (which you didn’t quite respond to). I’m sure whatever you’re working on will be worth reading.

    Comment by Terry H — February 17, 2016 @ 4:52 pm

  13. So, Gary, I not only echo, but magnify J. Stuart’s comments and question (which you didn’t quite respond to). I’m sure whatever you’re working on will be worth reading.

    Comment by Terry H — February 17, 2016 @ 4:52 pm

  14. Thanks, Joseph and Terry. The manuscript for the one-volume Wilkinson’s diaries project is done and, from what I understand, is in line at Signature. I think they’d like to get out Harvard Heath’s one-volume edition of David O. McKay’s office journals first. Fingers crossed.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — February 17, 2016 @ 7:42 pm

  15. Gary. While I appreciate the documentary volumes, I’ve said for years that your work on Wilkinson cries out for a narrative biographical treatment. Heck, I’d pay money for it. 🙂

    Comment by Terry H — February 17, 2016 @ 9:27 pm

  16. Thanks, Terry. Just out of curiosity … how much? … 🙂

    Comment by Gary Bergera — February 19, 2016 @ 11:08 am


Recent Comments

J. Stapley on A note on the: “A bit of an addendum, now that I have had a chance to research some more. The 1976 General Handbook included a quote from…”

J. Stapley on A note on the: “Thanks for that pointer, Clark. If I've done my math and sleuthing correctly, that would put that story in the late 1960s or early…”

The Other Clark on A note on the: “Great post. I look forward to the contributions of others to the conversation. My two cents: 1) One memorable school blessing story "on the…”

Left Field on Book Review: Jake Johnson,: “I wish the dramatic aspects of the endowment were more widely appreciated. We do more than just "witness" the sacred drama. We *enact*…”

Steve Fleming on Book Review: Jake Johnson,: “So what would you have said if you did have the time and space to unpack, "“The musical Saturday’s Warrior might well be the most…”

Ben P on 30-50 feral hogs or: “brb, trying to stop the presses so I can fit it in...”