BYU and the Honor Code

I’m a little late to the party, but I couldn’t resist writing about the dismissal of forward Brandon Davies from the BYU basketball team. At first, I was a little annoyed by the dismissal, mostly because I just took Doug Gottlieb to task for not respecting BYU the day prior. But mostly I didn’t really care. BYU is a private, religious university and they can do whatever they want.

Then the media started talking.

Literally every single sports writer took the same stance. I’m sure every single one of them thought they were being profound. I can some up analysts’ reaction with one long sentence (picture me talking like Jim Rome, if that helps):

“BYU has a strict moral code that I could never follow, but the university leaders deserve to be applauded because they stuck to their principles even though they essentially destroyed their Final Four chances; although it seems unfair to young Davies, he knew what he was getting into because he signed the honor code.”

Why can’t we just be neutral on anything? Why do writers insist on writing lazy articles like that? That is such an easy angle to take. It’s ironic that sports writers of all people continuously pump out opinions where they downplay the importance of the very thing they are paid to cover. Not that I don’t agree with that sentiment, it’s just that it’s not an all or nothing proposition. You can simultaneously say religious principles are more important and say that BYU was wrong. I’m about to do that very thing.

Again I don’t really care about BYU’s decision. They are a private, religious university and can do whatever they want. I have no opinions on moral codes. In fact, I’m kinda knocking on the door of the BYU moral code myself. I’m now married, I’m honest, I shave daily and dress nicely, and I have been away from warehouse labor long enough to not curse. If I could give up beer and coffee, I’m there. So no, I don’t think it’s an issue of the honor code itself. Yes, the code is strict, especially for college students, but it’s not that strict.

BYU officials obviously thought the same way. They found a violation of the honor code and acted in the manner they deemed correct. End of story, right? Of course not – that would be way too short of a blog post. Instead the talking heads have to force an opinion where one doesn’t belong, I get annoyed, and you get to read the result. I have problems with two of the media’s statements:

1. That Brandon Davies knew what he was signing up for, so the punishment is okay; and
2. That BYU deserves to be applauded for giving up athletic success to stand by their principles.

Let’s start with Davies. Since when is signing a code/contract a black or white issue? If that’s the case, these writers have just put an awful lot of attorneys out of business. I couldn’t find how old Davies was when he signed with the Cougars, but I would guess that he was younger than 18. If the honor code was a contract, it wouldn’t even be valid because it was signed by a minor. Common law protects minors from business contracts because they are assumed not to have the mind to make difficult financial decisions…and yet somehow Davies “knew what he signed up for” when he agreed to a life of no sex or alcohol as a high school senior? Please.

Yet even if we assume that Davies was a fully informed adult who made a rational decision to sign the moral code, we still can’t say he knew what he signed up for. Check out these comments from an anonymous BYU basketball player. The player makes the point that BYU students certainly make a better effort than other college students to live a virtuous life, but they still occasionally have sex, drink, and smoke marijuana. I obviously have no personal experience with BYU’s campus, so I don’t know if that is true. As a former college student, I assume there is some grain of truth to it. On top of that, Jim McMahon went to the university. I don’t think any of us non-BYU athletes are in any position to claim that a young kid can fully appreciate the code with those statements floating out there.

I looked up the BYU honor code. It says everything that it is supposed to say, but potential punishments are unclear, to say the least. The only statement in the honor code is that punishment can go up to expulsion from the university. That fits in with the anonymous player’s statement that the honor code hangs over every BYU student’s head, no one knows where the honor code office is, and punishments are all over the place depending on the violation. The player also writes that the investigation process takes upwards of a month. Again, that fits in with the lengthy appeal process described on the BYU website.

All this also fits in with the fact that Davies self-reported the incident. Are we really to believe that Davies would have self-reported his premarital sex if it would a) get him kicked off his team the very next day; and b) turn him from a decent college basketball center into a nationally known name for reasons that he wants nothing to do with? I doubt it. Really, his actions show that he didn’t know what he signed up for, rather than the opposite. He knew he wasn’t supposed to have premarital sex and felt bad about it…but there is no way he understood the ramifications from the university.

Then there’s the second refrain – that BYU deserves to be applauded for forsaking athletic accomplishments for their own values. This drives me crazy. We aren’t talking Nebraska football, Duke basketball, or even Notre Dame anything. This is BYU. It is a national university in which religion comes first and athletics second.

This is a university that walked away from the Mountain West Conference because it wanted to show more of its sports on BYUtv, the university’s own nationally televised network. Here’s a quote directly from the network’s website: “Through acquiring, creating and producing new values-based content, BYUtv has become a powerful tool for sharing enriching and educational entertainment rooted in values and faith.” The university uses athletics on BYUtv to push its faith-based message. It isn’t the other way around. Perhaps more than any Division I university other than perhaps the military academies, athletics takes a back seat.

Still, that didn’t stop journalists from piping up. Jim Rome went so far as to say, “[c]redit to (BYU) for not compromising its integrity and selling out for the millions they could’ve made for a deep run in the NCAA tournament….” Come on Jim. BYU is no Butler. I couldn’t find a legitimate source that has BYU’s endowment; the closest I found was this post that put the number at $589 million. It came from a Cougar message board and wasn’t rebutted, so I’ll assume that’s something close to the truth. That is a pretty good chunk of money for a potential “Cinderella” like BYU. For comparison, Butler, last year’s NCAA runner-up, has a $113 million endowment. Sure, the supposed extra millions would be nice, but I think BYU is going to pull through this one, at least financially.

Money aside, here’s my real problem with that statement: BYU stands to gain far more from this episode than they would with a Final Four run. They are receiving coverage that they would never receive if they made a deep NCAA Tournament run for doing the so-called noble thing. And lest we forget that BYU is still a pretty good basketball team. Although they are now Final Four longshots, they are a safe bet to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. That means a solid week of coverage or Jimmer-mania and more of the proverbial “doing things the right way” talk.

BYU has no parallels in Division I athletics. The closest would be Notre Dame, but even that really isn’t a good comparison. 98% of BYU’s 32,955 students are Mormons. At least 95% of BYU’s faculty are Mormons. The university has earned the nickname “America’s Favorite School” because its graduates rank it higher than the graduates of any other university. 78% of accepted students attend the university – even more than Harvard. By contrast, only 80% of the 11,700 Notre Dame students and 52% of faculty are Catholics. So it’s not like BYU is really hurting their reputation here. Very, very few potential BYU students will not attend the university after this situation. Fans of their basketball team will be upset, but they won’t go anywhere. If anything, the university is pandering to their own base and are getting even more press about their values and faith than they ever would with a deep NCAA Tournament run.

Maybe I am being too cynical. That wouldn’t be the first time that happened. On one hand, in a vacuum, it certainly is laudable that an administration put their mission above athletics. But I have a hard time applauding a university who actually benefited from doing the laudable thing. They are the only Division I team that makes no secret of the fact that athletics aren’t anywhere close to the top of their priority list. Their mission received all kinds of news coverage at almost no cost, financial or otherwise. So how can we really applaud their actions? If the administration did the right thing and it hurt them, go ahead and give them a round of applause. But in this case, they did the right thing and stand to benefit in the long run. I’m just not all that impressed by that.

It seems to me if they really cared about the kid, they would have worked with him through this issue instead of publicly embarrassing him in front of a national audience just one day after he came to the administrators to self-report his violation. I keep hearing all this stuff about this helping him learn his lesson. I call BS. He isn’t good enough to be an NBA player, so for the rest of his life he will be that kid who got kicked off the BYU team for having sex. What lesson are they trying to teach him? Maybe I’m way off base, but with all that I just wrote, it certainly seems like the BYU administration is not all that concerned with the honor code per se. It seems much more like a bunch of opportunists at the expense of one basketball player who messed up and tried work with the administrators to right his wrongs.

See sports writers? You can make an argument against the BYU administration without getting into religious beliefs. Not that I necessarily disagree with BYU’s decision, all things considered…but what a concept!

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7 Responses to BYU and the Honor Code

  1. Andrew Nesbitt says:

    You took the thoughts out of my head and made sense of them. It just didn’t stack up that this was in anyone’s best interests other than in the free publicity gained by BYU.

    • sethbeccard says:

      Glad you enjoyed it. I just don’t understand how sports writers can be pretty much universally behind the university. There’s gotta be someone out there pointing out how much the university benefits from this. You’d think at least one loudmouth reporter on a sports channel would play devil’s advocate.

  2. John Reed says:

    Disagree with you. If you want to bo buy Kiwanis club rules, dont join the Lions Club. If you want to go buy (Insert just about any University/College of your choice here) rules, dont go to BYU. Simple as that. Leave them alone. No, I am not a Mormon, nor do I agree with most of their beliefs.

    • sethbeccard says:

      Thanks for reading and the response! I think we’re actually on the same page, at least insofar as your general opinion seems to be “leave them alone.” I agree – it was a non-issue for me until I started reading lazy sportswriter arguments. My argument isn’t so much that they shouldn’t have dismissed the kid, as much as we shouldn’t be applauding BYU nor can we assume that the rules were that cut and dried. My response was directed at the writers who did those very things, rather than the university itself.

  3. We see a smiliar situation in the military all the time re: adultery laws (and, until recently, the don’t ask don’t tell rules which are still on the books, but are almost impossible to enforce now). If you commit adultery (or sodomy) in the military, you’ve violated a law which you subjected yourself to by joining said military.

    Often, the penalty for breaking these laws is dismissal from your job, yet people man up and admit (confess) that they’ve violated one of these articles.

    Davies is a man for accepting resposibility. The universty is right for dismissing him.

    • sethbeccard says:

      Figures you’d bring that up…I remember hearing the story about the broomstick and the time you almost got dismissed from the military.

      In all seriousness, Andrew took my response below me. I think the big difference between the two is the national coverage this whole thing has gotten. I agree that Davies did the right thing by accepting responsibility, but I can’t help but think he wouldn’t have if he would have known what the story would blow up into. Just like I can’t imagine many members of the military confessing to adultery if they would be paraded in front of national TV. It certainly feels like BYU took advantage of his willingness to take responsibility.

      Of course the counter to that is how do you go about dismissing the third-best scorer and top rebounder from the #3 ranked team in the country. Tough call. I’m not sure what the answer is there.

  4. Andrew Nesbitt says:

    I think the very fact that Davies self-reported his “lapse” shows that he was sorry about it and looking for help. I don’t think there’s anything in the reported actions of BYU that have done anything to help the kid.

    It’s one thing to stand up for values but there are ways and means of doing so. I’m not saying the kid shouldn’t have lost his spot on the team, but the public humiliation could really have been avoided. It seems enormously self-serving.

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