When you agree to go to college you are often making a tacit agreement to follow all sorts of rules that you didn’t realize you were signing up for. Institutions usually call these rules an ‘honor code’ and they can be found in the student hand book that you have never formally signed, but are bound to follow. In general, honor codes are a good idea as they keep students behaving responsibly, but the enforcement of them is what is often worthy of scrutiny. Especially when you look at Brigham Young University in their recent suspension of Brandon Davies.
Drawing near the end of a Cinderella season where the BYU Cougars saw themselves ranked as high as # 3 in the nation, they’ve elected to de-claw themselves right at the tip of NCAA March Madness by suspending Davies for the rest of the season after he admitted to having pre-marital sex with his girlfriend, a violation of the campus honor code.
Although the suspension jeopardizes their shot at the championship, the university has been steadfast in their decision while other famous athletes from BYU including Danny Ainge, Steve Young, and Ty Detmer have come forth to support the school and the decision. Sports journalists have been bending over backwards to praise BYU for ‘sticking’ to principle even though it will likely cost them in the upcoming NCAA tournament.
Let’s not get ahead ourselves here, because both the praise and the suspension are not nearly as simple as what is often being presented in most sports sites. First, BYU is supported by the Latter Day Saints Church, making the primary goal of the school to support and evangelize for the Mormon faith. While basketball is important to the college it’s not like they’re the University of Kentucky or Connecticut, schools that essentially live and die by their ability to stay relevant in sports.
In the minds of many of the administrators at BYU milking this ‘mini-controversy’ is a win-win. Had they swept this under the rug, they would still have their starting center and a shot at the Final Four. But, Davies’ suspension still gets the college free press, a new recruiting video and an opportunity to play the moral smugness card against those ‘other’ colleges that let their athletes (mostly black) run buck wild without any consequence. Beneath the surface though, those morals can also be called into question.
Several former BYU students and even athletes, like former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, have expressed concerns about the investigation and enforcement of the honor code at the university. There are levels to the honor code punishment system with some violations resulting in essays being written and privileges revoked, while others get ignored almost completely and never make it to the honor code office.
While we know Brandon Davies confessed to having sex, who made the initial report? Was it a jealous teammate? A roommate of his girlfriend, or perhaps one of her parents? It seems pretty unlikely, that on the eve of March Madness a star basketball player would sabotage his team with a guilty confession. On top of that, as a black man, in Provo, Utah, there is a good chance Brandon Davies’ girlfriend is white. The likelihood that this played a role in how vigorously the case was investigated and adjudicated upon can’t be ignored given the lack of transparency so far about the story.
College sports is a billion dollar industry with its share of scandals. The press and the public are always desperately searching for a ‘feel good’ story about university sports to fill papers and air time, but let’s not all break our hands slapping BYU on the back yet. They don’t deserve credit for enforcing their own rules when the college would benefit either way and they certainly don’t deserve unfettered praise from the press until we know whether or not the process to reach that decision is as pure and ethical as the standards they claim to be upholding.
This article originally appeared in TheLoop21.com under the title “Just how honorable is BYU’s Honor Code?“