Honorable Mention for Upholding the Code

Marriott Center at Brigham Young University.

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I know that I am about a week late in jumping on this particular bandwagon, but I have been thinking a lot about what I would say in this particular blog and finally had some time to write it.

Last week news broke about Brandon Davies, a basketball player at BYU, being suspended from the team for having premarital sex. Many people around the country reacted with comments questioning why having premarital sex is so newsworthy among college athletes, and why the player would be suspended for it. Those people don’t understand BYU. Well, without writing a book about BYU and Mormons, let me give a quick summary (I promise it won’t be long…it goes with what I want this blog to be about anyway). After all, I am an alumnus of BYU and I am a Mormon. I think I know what I am talking about.

BYU is a private university. Any school that is private, and those that are public (if they want to), are allowed to create rules that students must live by. BYU has such rules. They are referred to as the Honor Code. What is the difference between the Honor Code and what you might see at other universities? Other universities have codes of conduct that generally relate to public behavior and upholding the law. BYU’s Honor Code is based in religious beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormons) which happens to own the school.

The Honor Code really is a lifestyle that is lived more than rules to be followed. No premarital sex. No coffee, tea, tobacco, drugs, alcohol. No foul language. All of these things that are a part of the church’s doctrine. On top of that, add certain dress and grooming standards and regular church attendance. Most readers by now are thinking that BYU is too extreme and there is no way that you would go there. Right?!

BYU is actually a highly respected school and there are tens of thousands of applicants that are turned away each year. With an enrollment of about 34,000 students, and about a 25% chance of an applicant being accepted, there are plenty of people that are fine with the Honor Code. In fact, it is part of the application and the applicant has to sign in agreement to live according to the code. They know what they are getting into when they apply. Yet many thousands of people still apply. Some of them aren’t Mormon either.

So why do people continue to apply as potential students at the university? For many it is because they want to go to a school that will give them an environment that coincides with their religious beliefs. For others it is because of the academic standards and national rankings within many of the academic programs. For others it is because their parents went there. And then there are the people that just want to go to BYU. It is where they want to study. It is where they want to compete on the sports teams. It is where they want to meet their future spouse. So many reasons. But they do exist and every single student agreed to live the rules.

So here we have Brandon Davies breaking one of the rules, confessing to it, and being suspended from the basketball team. His status as a student has yet to be determined but for now there is no more basketball. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time. At the end of the season as Mountain West Conference and NCAA national tournaments are starting. And the number three scorer and top rebounder on the team can no longer participate, putting the potential achievement in major jeopardy. The fallout comments from around the country were interesting to say the least. Many comments I appreciated. Others I ignored.

Some of the comments that I most appreciated came from the sports media. ESPN probably reported the most on the situation, which is understandable since they are constantly reporting on Davies teammate, Jimmer Fredette. From the panelists on Around the Horn (Toni Reali, Woody Paige, Bill Plaschke, Tim Cowlishaw, and Jackie MacMullan) to Jim Rome, to 1st and 10 panelists Skip Bayless, all gave pretty favorable remarks about BYU standing by their rules and jeopardizing the basketball post-season rather than letting sports take higher priority to the honor code. They could have all been really critical of the decision, and though they didn’t think post-season success was assured due to the suspension, they applauded the action.

What would sports be like if more universities did the same? Since the Davies story broke, Sports Illustrated has written an article about the high amounts of criminal activity with college and pro athletes and the lack of punishment that they have to face due to the institutions desire to win. Even today we learn that Ohio State University football coach Jim Tressel could possibly lose his job because he knew about criminal activity amongst some of his players, even months before it became public knowledge, and didn’t do anything about it because of the ill-effects it would have on the team’s season.

Some people think that having a BYU style honor code is too restrictive. As a student I felt the same way…about some of the restrictions. For example, I hate shaving. I once showed up at the testing center to take a test and had 2 days worth of facial growth. I was turned away and told to go shave before I could take the test. A rule is a rule. I complied. When I pierced my ear, I was in clear violation of the dress and grooming standards and was told to remove the earring or I would be referred to the Honor Code Office. I stopped wearing it on campus or any other time I was representing the university. I knew before I was talked to that I was in violation. Looking back, I am glad that they enforced the rules with even the smallest of infractions.

And that is what they did in this case. Brandon Davies is not above the Honor Code at BYU. He knows that. He made a bad decision and has accepted the consequences. He could have not confessed until all the tournaments were over and helped BYU achieve the most successful season in the school’s history. Head coach Dave Rose could have kept quiet until the season was over. Even the administration could have looked at it lightly and suspended him for one game or even not at all. Heck, many other universities do it. But they didn’t.

Just a year ago the same thing happened with a member of the BYU football team. Harvey Unga committed the same infraction. He was suspended for a year from the team and school. He missed his senior year and the team did not perform as well as it could have. If you go back over the last few years, you will find examples of other athletes that committed the same infraction, took their suspension, and came back to the team. They could have turned their backs on the team and school and transferred. Instead, they returned because that is where they wanted to be. I think Brandon Davies will do the same thing.

So what effect does it have on the rest of us? Do we learn a lesson of honor and integrity? Do we look at it as an opportunity to make fun of an institution and the religion that runs it? Do we learn that certain things are more important than others and hopefully we can recognize the difference? How about learning that if we make a commitment, we stick with the commitment?

If I were to return to BYU as a student today, I know that I wouldn’t try to challenge some of the rules I challenged as an undergrad student. I am older, and more mature (hopefully), but I also see that not only is the university going to defend their rules and their own integrity, I need to defend mine by keeping commitments I make and honoring the signature I put on the application. And you don’t have to be a student at BYU to learn how important honor and integrity are.

Hats off to BYU for upholding their end, to Brandon Davies for willingly confessing and accepting his punishment, and to all those in the world that – no matter how much they DON’T want to live according to the BYU honor code – are willing to defend the university for not turning a blind eye to an unfortunate and untimely situation. The rest of you have some things to learn about the important things in life.

Just another view from a Palmtree.