For the men's basketball program of a U.S. division one school, the success or failure of an entire season is predicated on their performance in March. Inside of the traditionally weak Mountain West Conference, near perfection is needed to rank highly and gain entrance to the NCAA tournament, a single loss could be the difference between a top 10 seed and 20th. However, it would appear as though this same requirement of absolute perfection is applied to the personal lives of student athletes in Provo, Utah.
On Feb. 28, the Brigham Young University men's Cougars were ranked number three in the country and poised for an extended run in the tournament with many analysts pegging the Cougars as a potential number one seed in the West. BYU's NBA prospect-laden roster includes senior Jimmer Fredette, the 2010-2011 NCAA Player of the Year and Mountain West Conference all-time leading scorer, and Jackson Emery, BYU's all-time leader in steals. It would not have been surprising that basketball's national conversation would involve BYU in March, although not in this particular incarnation.
On Feb. 28, the same day the cougars were notified of their number three ranking, starting sophomore forward Brandon Davies, who averaged 11.1 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game, was dismissed for the duration of the season for violating the school's honour code. It is not earth shattering news when a collegiate athlete is punished for a personal misstep and so first guesses were an altercation with a teammate, public drunkenness, accepting bribes from a player agent or some sort of drunken bribe to start an altercation with a teammate -- the usual assortment of hijinx. When the announcement came that the violation was consensual sex with his girlfriend, most people reacted incredulously, unless one happened to be a Mormon or a BYU alumnus.
All student athletes and more importantly every student enrolled at Brigham Young signs the honour code that clearly forbids things like growing a beard, using profanity, drinking alcohol, coffee, or tea and offers more esoteric suggestions like "be respectful," "be honest" and most relevantly "live a chaste and virtuous life." As alumni such as former Mountain West all-time leading scorer Michael Smith have suggested, the honour code at BYU is not the same thing as your high school code of conduct -- something everyone seemingly agrees to despite never reading and often using for scrap paper. The honour code is so deeply entrenched in life at BYU that there is an entire department, complete with website, devoted to maintaining this strict code of conduct within the campus. In other words, there is no way that Davies was unaware of the policies of BYU.
Despite the media firestorm that surrounded the campus in Provo, the Cougars still had to go out and play the rest of the season in preparation for the NCAA tournament. However, in the first game after Davies' dismissal, BYU was stunned by losing 82-64 to New Mexico at home in their third loss of the season and their first home loss since Dec. 18 against UCLA. Despite the fact that New Mexico accounts for two of the three BYU losses this season, it would be naive to imagine that this most recent setback, during the weeks where losing can be so fatal, was outside of the effects of the Davies controversy. This loss hurt BYU, dropped them to number eight in the country and will undoubtedly effect the seeding of BYU in the Western Bracket.
Response to the decision has been largely supportive -- many disagree with the honour code's requirements but all seem to acknowledge that Davies knew what he was getting into when he enrolled at BYU. If he disagreed with its contents, he could have gone to another school. Brigham Young is a private university and therefore has complete jurisdiction over the conduct required of their students no matter how draconian the policies may seem. If one disagrees with the policies of the honour code then one disagrees with the tenants of religious belief and a Pandora's box is opened. Mormon athletes are not excluded from having to fulfill their mission requirements, often at great risk to their athletic careers.
The only recourse against a university is to stop paying tuition. One can simply choose to leave or not to attend in the first place. The entire controversy is most likely not endearing BYU to many 12th graders in America looking for a university as a conduit to the NBA. However, Brigham Young offers an opportunity for students of a particular faith to learn in a faith-based environment and it is important to remember that similar honour code's (though less stringent) exist at other religious universities such as Georgetown and Notre Dame. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints financially supports Brigham Young and at the end of the day, that is where the buck stops. Ninety-eight per cent of those enrolled at BYU are part of the LDS Church so the moral sensibilities of the vast majority of North American youth are of no concern for the administrators of BYU. For BYU, it is too risky to agitate those who keep the institution afloat by forgiving a student athlete no matter what the circumstance, a decision lauded by the most important audience for BYU the Mormon community. An elite high school athlete in America is spoiled by post-secondary opportunity and Brandon Davies was no exception. He had lots of options but chose BYU, honour code included.