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Facing reality: College football has to focus on players going forward, according to BYU head coach Kalani Sitake

By Jared Lloyd - | Jun 21, 2024
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BYU head coach Kalani Sitake watches the action during the Big 12 game against Kansas at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kansas, on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023.
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BYU head coach Kalani Sitake talks to his team during the scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023.
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BYU head coach Kalani Sitake talks to reporters after practice in Provo on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023.
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BYU head coach Kalani Sitake runs onto the field after the 2OT win over Baylor at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.

College football has gone through seismic changes in the last decade, including realignment of conference affiliations, changes in compensation, adjustments to transfer protocols and evolutions in the postseason formats.

Given all of those shifts with impacts that are still just beginning to be understood, it’s an interesting exercise to consider what someone would do if they had total control and could make whatever changes they wanted to the sport.

Some might consider undoing modern legislation or court decisions, while others might talk about changing the way money is allocated or methods to increase competition.

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake, however, chose to focus on the fundamentals of the sport he loves so much.

“I start by thinking about why we do this,” Sitake said in an exclusive interview with the Daily Herald earlier this month. “What is so attractive about the game of football? It’s still the most popular sport in our country, between the NFL and college football as well as high school and the other levels. Everyone still loves the game.”

He scoffs at the doomsday prophecies that the changes that have already happened will somehow ruin the sport.

“Nothing is going to ruin the game,” Sitake said. “The game is strong. At every level it’s really strong.”

Sitake sees football as a game that is always changing, both on the field and off of it, even at BYU.

“There was a time where scholarships weren’t even available at BYU,” Sitake said. “They had to make an adjustment and say that they would start giving scholarships. I think that came with a lot of resistance but eventually everyone got used to it.”

He sees the recent course changes involving name, image and likeness (NIL) opportunities and the transfer portal as falling in the category of things that have happened that made many people uncomfortable but will find their place.

“The toothpaste is out of the tube,” Sitake said. “If I was in charge, part of me thinks about going back but you can’t do that. But the game is strong now.”

His focus instead would be on making sure college football found and filled its role in the football spectrum.

“You have to think about what the purpose of it is at this level and why people are so attracted to it,” Sitake said. “We have the NFL as the professional league. College football combines being an amateur sport with the pride and excitement of being at a university.”

He doesn’t want to lose those elements because he loves the passion and community that are part of being at a college campus, which means he still sees a lot of value in players being student-athletes.

If he was in command, he said providing what the athletes really need is where all of his efforts would be directed.

He isn’t satisfied with the concept that many advocate that paying athletes more money is what is needed.

“I think we often feel like money that’s best for them, but is it only money?” Sitake said. “Our responsibility is to really help them. How can we educate them in how to use their finances? How can you educate them with a degree? You have to educate them about the world. This time is truly a transition from being a young man to being an adult and we need to help them make that transition.”

He feels like more could be done to help young men grow if there wasn’t so much transience.

“I know there’s a transfer portal for a reason, but it needs to have structure where we can keep young men from bouncing all over the place,” Sitake said. “Getting a degree matters too and that’s hard to do that when you’re transferring from school to school. There’s got to be some kind of structure and reasons behind it.”

He believes that college football would be at its best if it keeps doing what is right for the players overall.

“I think we start with that first and do what’s best for them,” Sitake said. “I don’t know the answers other than if we keep the focus on them, then I think we’ll get to the right place.”

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