Brad Rock: BYU isn’t the only school that could ask if religion is the obstacle

Rod Aydelotte, AP

Liberty quarterback Stephen Calvert, left, smiles after his touchdown run with wide receiver DJ Stubbs, right, in the first second half of an NCAA college football gameagainst Baylor, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Waco, Texas. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald, via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY — Liberty University has a functioning honor code, a conservative student body, sparkling facilities, dreams of playing in a power conference, and a large problem.

It can’t get in its preferred conference.

Sound familiar?

When he founded Liberty in 1971, the late pastor Jerry Falwell Sr. declared Liberty’s ambition was to “compete at the highest level” of college athletics.

“That’s what we’re aiming at,” said LU athletics director Ian McCaw in a phone interview this week. “But there are a lot of steps between that and where we are.”

On opening week, the Flames collected their first-ever win over a Power 5 school, beating Baylor 48-45. In celebration, the school canceled classes the following Monday. But just like BYU, Liberty has been wait-listed, or possibly denied permission to board. The Lynchburg, Virginia, university is operating as a football independent, same as BYU.

McCaw, who came from Baylor in 2016, said he wasn’t at LU when the process began, “but I don’t think we were provided clear reasons” why neither the Sun Belt nor Conference USA would admit the Flames.

How’s this for a reason? Conferences are nervous about adding Christian universities. Schools with religious origins that were already in the mix like Baylor, Boston College and Notre Dame are OK where they are. But adding new ones is trickier.

For now, BYU and Liberty athletic officials are taking the “patience of Job” approach.

“There’s a perception that Liberty’s Christian mission has been an impediment to securing conference…

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