BYU and the Honor Code

March 7, 2011

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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Doug Gottlieb shows us how not to make an argument

February 28, 2011

I normally don’t like to make fun of announcers and TV analysts – partly because I think I can do their job (when I really would be awful) and partly because it is too easy. But I was watching College Basketball Final on ESPN yesterday and Doug Gottlieb made a series of preposterous arguments on why Texas should be a #1 seed over BYU. I’m not saying that Texas shouldn’t be a #1 seed over BYU; I’m only saying that Gottlieb wasn’t even in the ballpark of anything close to a rational argument.

Unfortunately, I could not find the original video on ESPN.com. He made a refined version of the same argument today in a panel discussion with Joe Lunardi, which is at this link. I highly recommend watching it. It is marginally better than his original argument, but he makes the same terrible points. For your convenience, I’ve broken down these arguments:

1. The #1 seed is a reward for what you do on the road.

Gottlieb immediately rebuts his own argument, saying that Lunardi will come back with “BYU’s road numbers.” Oh those pesky stats. I hate when they get in the way of a perfectly fine argument. By the way, BYU’s road record is 10-2 and neutral court record is 2-0. Texas’s road record is 7-3 and netural record is 1-1.

2. The #1 seed is a reward for what you do in your non-conference schedule.

I have never heard this argument before. Maybe the #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is in fact a reward for a strong non-conference schedule…but it’s definitely the first time I have ever heard anyone advance this argument.

Let’s just say for the sake of argument that a #1 seed is a reward for a strong non-conference schedule. Texas played five teams in their non-conference schedule that are currently in Lunardi’s field of 68 – Illinois, Pittsburgh, North Carolina, UConn, and Michigan State. They went 3-2 in those games. BYU played four teams currently in Lunardi’s field – Arizona, UCLA, Utah State, and St. Mary’s. They went 3-1 in those games. Apparently that extra loss is worth a reward in Gottlieb’s mind.

Then there is this little tidbit that Lunardi rebuts Gottlieb with: BYU’s non-conference schedule is ranked 14th in the nation; Texas’s non-conference schedule is ranked 73rd. BYU went 14-1 in those 15 games; Texas went 12-3. Oh those pesky numbers again.

3. Even if the numbers don’t work in Texas’s favor, the Longhorns “schedule up” and challenge themselves.

Gottlieb admits that BYU had a decent non-conference schedule, but he isn’t quite done with this point yet. Texas deserves credit for constantly challenging themselves in their non-conference schedule. In order, he cites the following games:

A 2-point loss to Pittsburgh at the Madison Square Garden in November. I’ll grant Gottlieb that playing a team as good as Pittsburgh to a two-point loss at a neutral site is a plus. But Texas didn’t schedule Pitt – they met in the final of the 16-team 2K Sports Classic. I’m guessing they got a pretty good sum of money just for appearing in the tournament. I’m also guessing that BYU would gladly have played in the tournament if they were invited.

A 2-point win over North Carolina in December at a “neutral” site location in Greensboro. Nothing wrong here – that’s a very good win, even if the Tar Heels were only 7-3 at the time.

A 12-point win at Michigan State. Now Gottlieb is stretching because the Spartans kinda suck. He argues that the Spartans were a preseason Top Ten team, which would be fine except that Texas played them on December 22, after the Spartans had already started to fall apart. Since then, Sparty has continued their nosedive and are barely hanging on to a NCAA Tournament spot.

A 17-point loss on the road at USC. Whoa. The Trojans currently sit at 17-12. They are not a good team. I have absolutely no idea how this could in any way be considered a plus on an NCAA Tournament resume. As best as I can tell, Gottlieb’s only argument is that “the same thing would have happened to BYU.” Well then.

4. Texas’s conference schedule is better because they had to go to Lawrence to play Kansas

I am not sure what Gottlieb is going for here. He says that Texas doesn’t get the benefit of having Kansas coming to Austin to play. Instead, the Longhorns had to go to Lawrence and picked up a monster win over Kansas. I agree with the second sentence, but I’m not sure what the first sentence has to do with anything. That’s just the way the Big 12 conference schedule is set up. Next season they will in fact have the “luxury” of having Kansas come to Austin. Will that make Kansas a #1 seed if the Jayhawks win? My head is spinning.

Five other Big 12 teams besides Texas are projected to make the tournament field. The Big 12 schedule gave Texas a home-and-home with Texas A&M and Baylor, sent the Longhorns to Kansas, and sent Missouri and Kansas State to Austin for one game. So this “luxury” that apparently hurts Texas has actually helped them.

In his original appearance, Gottlieb hammered home that Texas’s best win was over Kansas and BYU’s was over San Diego State. His exact words were: “Where is it harder to win? At Kansas or at San Diego State? I arrest my case.” Stunning logic. I like Lunardi’s response: “If it was close, I would absolutely take Texas and their win at Kansas, putting Texas to the top line, but it’s really not close.”

The interesting part is that Gottlieb is almost certainly right: Texas’s conference schedule is more difficult than BYU’s conference schedule. But if we only used the logic that he took to get there, we could actually make a better argument for BYU than Texas.

5. They have a chance to win versus Kansas State and at Baylor.

At first I wasn’t sure that this was an actual point that Gottlieb used to support his case. After watching it a second time, it is clear that he is actually using wins that haven’t happened yet to support his argument. In his words, “I still think Texas is the #1 seed, especially since they have a chance to win at Baylor, Kansas State at home tonight.” How does one even argue with that?

6. Texas has more pure wins than BYU does.

Again, I might argue this, but I have no idea what a pure win is. Either Gottlieb is thinking on another level than the rest of us mere mortals, or he just made up an NCAA tournament qualification on the spot.

7. Texas’s recent 1-2 stretch is okay because of their far more difficult schedule.

Lunardi points out that those that draw up the NCAA Tournament field like the “what have you done for me lately factor.” Texas hasn’t delivered, losing to Nebraska and Colorado and beating last place Iowa State. Gottlieb thinks this is justified because Nebraska and Colorado are on the bubble…never mind that neither team was actually on the bubble until they beat Texas.

For the Cougars’ part, they are 7-0 in their last seven games, with a home win over tournament bound UNLV, a road win over potential #2 seed San Diego State, and a home win over bubble team Colorado State. And Texas’s schedule was better how?

8. Eight of BYU’s ten road wins came over a team with an RPI higher than 100.

Gottlieb is a total failure. BYU has actually beaten four top 100 teams on the road – San Diego State  (#4), UNLV (#26), Colorado State (#47), and Air Force (#96). Then he goes on to dismiss the UNLV and Colorado State WINS because they are bubble teams…never mind that not more than ten seconds previously he justified Texas’s LOSSES over bubble teams Nebraska and Colorado.

Now I am rooting for BYU to get a #1 seed, if for no other reason that we can all laugh at Doug Gottlieb’s shaky logic in a few weeks.