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Monday, October 8, 2012
Mission rule could transform BYU recruiting

By Eamonn Brennan

On Saturday, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints made a rather momentous announcement: Going forward, the minimum age requirement for church members' missions would be lowered. The new rule will allow men to take their missions at age 18, instead of 19, and allows women to embark at age 19, down from 21.

It didn't take long to measure the impact this wholesale change could have on the recruitment and collegiate careers of LDS athletes at all schools, but particularly schools in Utah, and -- most obviously -- Brigham Young. The football team alone has 38 players serving in 17 different missions around the world. The Deseret News's Dick Harmon did the math:
To say this new decision impacts BYU sports is an understatement. It changed the world for LDS athletes who are now 17 and juniors or seniors in high school.

"We've already received tweets from people on this," said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve. "They can go sooner and return sooner and play four straight years."

Which brings us, not for the first time today, to 2013's No. 1 overall recruit, Jabari Parker. Parker is a devout Mormon who listed BYU on his final list of five schools (alongside Duke, Michigan State, Florida and Stanford); Parker's father told ESPN Chicago's Scott Powers his son isn't merely listing BYU as lip service, but genuinely considering Dave Rose's program alongside the rest.

But the new rule might completely change the nature of Parker's recruitment. As NBC's Rob Dauster notes, because the NBA's age minimum merely requires a player to be older than 19 -- it doesn't require one year of college; a year of college is still merely the path of least resistance -- it is conceivable that Parker could choose to embark on his mission after high school and return to the states able to join the NBA draft without ever having played a game of college hoops.

This seems somewhat unlikely, because it would require Parker to interrupt his hoops career at arguably the most inopportune time. Likewise, Parker has yet to commit to a mission in the first place. His most recent predecessor in the "high-profile Mormon athlete" category, former BYU star Jimmer Fredette, chose not to go on a mission, instead playing an uninterrupted four years at the school before heading to the NBA draft. (There has been debate on this among Mormons, with some arguing that Fredette's talent and popularity inherently serve the purpose of his mission.) Parker could choose a similar path. It's possible the new rule will have no influence on his decision either way.

But from a larger perspective, the rule change is bound to revolutionize the way Mormon athletes -- especially those at BYU and Utah, but theoretically at any university -- treat their recruitment and collegiate sports schedules. For the first time, those athletes can avoid the somewhat awkward (but no doubt rewarding) calculus of arriving at school, playing one season, leaving for two years and returning to finish later than most athletes. It's a big deal.

(Thanks to reader Spencer for the tip.)