Late one night in Provo, after the Brigham Young University basketball team had finished practice, three self-proclaimed “mathletes” and their groupies took the court to film a rap video in honor of placing at the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition.
The video features the three star students in BYU jerseys walking through cheering fans to the court, racing through complex math problems and celebrating a victory. The rap lyrics include this line: “Don't try to keep up once the math race gets going. When you're half-way done, they’ll be already Tebowing.”
A university news release about the six-hour-long math competition and the two-and-a-half-minute-long rap video reads like a sports announcement: “Sam Dittmer, Hiram Golze and Robert Yang have once again put BYU in the Big Dance of mathematics this year. After crushing the University of Utah 159 – 70 in the fall, the three undergraduates notched wins against Duke, Yale and Vanderbilt in a national competition where they placed 3rd in a field of 99 teams.”
The BYU men’s basketball has made it to the NCAA championship tournament several times in the past few years, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2011. Having a powerhouse sports team has been a way for the university, which is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to show the world that it has a lively student culture on campus — even if it is a counter-cultural one mostly lacking caffeine, booze, pot and one-night-stands.
And so it’s no surprise the university is using that athletic reputation to show off its academic accomplishments and recruit future math whizzes.
The end of the rap video shows one of the students, Dittmer, at a mock news conference where he throws baseball caps from MIT and Stanford on the floor and then flips a table. In real life, Dittmer was a major academic recruit for the university, as he was named the 2006 national high school math champion and was recruited by a number of prestigious schools, including MIT and Stanford.
Dittmer competed in math competitions during his freshman year, then went on a church mission to Albania for two years. Even with what the university calls “mission rust,” Dittmer helped take the team to a third place finish.