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Because of Sunday play, the 1958 BYU baseball team rejected a berth to play in the College World Series even though they were the first squad in school history to secure a spot in national championship play.
True, BYU basketball had won the 1951 NIT (National Invitational Tournament) Championship, but therein lies the key word, you had to be invited. Before wildcards, NCAA tournaments had berths that had to be earned and in 1958 BYU earned one of those spots.
Today that team is honored for its sacrifice, standing up for a principle and not being allowed to see how good their record could have been. The 1958 BYU baseball team is here for a reunion at Homecoming.
Some schools may not know how many times their athletic teams have played on Sundays, but in BYU’s case it is never. Other than champions, most teams end their seasons in defeat, except for the 1958 BYU baseball team whose season was ended by a rule.
In 1958 BYU was refused after the NCAA turned down its request to revise the schedule so that the team would not have to play on Sunday. “Team members voted unanimously to uphold the university in its stand against Sunday competition,” according to a 1958 article in the Deseret News.
“Your schedule of games has been arranged so that we would be required to play on Sunday,” wrote BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson to the NCAA. “This is a violation of Christian principles which motivate us as a Christian institution of higher learning.”
Northern Colorado (20-8) which lost to BYU in District Seven play, went in its place to the College World Series. UNC, then known as Colorado State College, beat Lafayette before losing to Missouri on Sunday, June 15 and then to USC, the champion and runner-up of the College World Series at Omaha, Nebraska.
That UNC team from Greeley, Colo., was led by righthanded pitcher Ron Herbel who would go on to a nine-year career in the Majors, primarily with the San Francisco Giants. Herbel had no-hit BYU for seven innings the week before, but the Cougars went on to win, 4-3.
From that champion 1958 Cougar baseball team, Jay Naylor went on to become a BYU professor of physical education; Leon Moyes was an umpire for the Western Athletic Conference; the late Mac Madsen was the men’s golf coach at Weber State University; and Frank Herbert is the father-in-law of BYU Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer.
Sunday play has long been an issue concerning BYU athletics. BYU has never played on a Sunday and never will because of the strict belief found in Exodus 20:8 of the Old Testament: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” And in Genesis 2:1: “And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had crested from all his work which God created and made.”
That belief permeates the BYU campus, where buildings convert into chapels for Church meetings on Sundays. Coach Bronco Mendenhall and his staff have avoided traditional meetings on Sundays, electing to arise earlier on weekdays to accomplish needed work.
As recently as last Spring in women’s softball, the Cougars were playing in the NCAA Tournament, but now a special rule enabled BYU to work around Sunday play. BYU and Campbell University both played in that North Carolina Regional and both are the only two Division One schools in the nation who annually file a petition with the NCAA as a waiver to not play on Sundays.
In 1958 and 1961, BYU’s baseball teams had qualified to advance to the College World Series, but withdrew because of potential Sunday play. In 1979 and 1996, BYU’s baseball teams were participating in the NCAA Regionals at Austin, Texas and Tallahassee, Fla., respectively, and the tournaments were rested for Sunday before the Cougars were eliminated the following Monday.
In 1961 BYU was undefeated in league competition and had a 24-game winning streak. But it was not invited to the regional playoffs, however, because of the school’s stand on Sunday athletics. That Sunday ruling was modified later that year in August when the NCAA Executive Committee voted to establish an executive regulation precluding scheduling of any NCAA meet or tournament on Sunday.
BYU’s women’s basketball team advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2002, which would have required a move of the championship game had it been further involved. In 1977, BYU’s football team said it would not play in the Fiesta Bowl which was contested on Christmas Day, a Sunday. The Cougar football team did win the league title in 1977, but played instead in the Japan Bowl.
College athletics is more frequently playing on Sundays, a fact that adds to scheduling difficulties for BYU teams like baseball, softball and even college basketball.
Aside from the 1958 BYU baseball team, others have chosen to make a statement on Sunday play. In 1995, BYU offensive lineman Eli Herring turned down a pro draft offer to play in the NFL because he refused to play on Sunday. BYU tennis players often play individual tournaments during the college season, but withdraw if they advance to the championship round if it is on Sunday.
In the summer of 2004, Todd Miller, then a BYU golfer, forfeited a chance to play in the Utah Men’s State Amateur finals on a Sunday.
So just like the lyrics of the “Never on Sunday” song popularized by Connie Francis, BYU athletic teams could sing the refrain: “But never ever on a Sunday, a Sunday, A Sunday ‘cause that’s my day of rest. Most any day you can be my guest, Any day you say, but my day of rest, Just name the day that you like the best, Only stay away on my day of rest.”