The sports world is reacting with shock to news of the BYU basketball player suspended for the rest of the season.
On Tuesday, Brigham Young University suspended double-digit scorer and leading rebounder Brandon Davies for violating the BYU honor code – in this case having sex with his girlfriend. Playing the next night without Davies, BYU – which was 27-2 season and had a good chance to be one of the four, regional No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament – lost to New Mexico 82-64.
The punishment stands out not only because of its severity – college athletes in top programs are routinely slapped on the wrist for much worse offenses – but also because it essentially torpedoes what was shaping up to be a historic season for BYU, which is hardly a basketball powerhouse.
Because of that, the school has, a bit surprisingly perhaps, won no small amount of respect from the sports world.
BYU is a private university owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon church. Nearly all of its 34,000 students are church members, most of whom will serve two years as missionaries.
The school has what to the rest of the academic world is a strict and perhaps old-fashioned honor code. Among its tenets: Be honest, live a chaste and virtuous life, use clean language, participate regularly in church services, observe dress and grooming standards (no beards or ear rings for men, no “form-fitting” clothing or more than one ear piercing for women), and abstain from alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, coffee, and substance abuse.
In order to remain “chaste and virtuous,” one must not engage in premarital sex. Students have to sign the honor code every year.
While most sports commentators say they can’t imagine themselves (or most people, especially athletes) operating under such rules of behavior, BYU’s swift action in the face of an admitted violation has caused many to reexamine general sports behavior by comparison.
ESPN.com senior writer Pat Forde put it this way:
What makes this such a powerful testament is the fact that so many schools have cravenly abandoned their standards at such a time as this, embracing athletic expediency over institutional principle. It happens so often that we don't even raise an eyebrow at it anymore.
Player arrests or other antisocial behaviors are minimized as youthful mistakes, with strenuous institutional effort put into counterspinning any negative publicity. Academic underachievement is dismissed as merely the price of being competitive in big-time athletics. "Indefinite" suspensions often last only as long as they're convenient – timed to coincide with exhibition games or low-stress games against overmatched opponents.
FOXSports.com senior college basketball writer Jeff Goodman notes that “in an era in which big-time college athletics has run amok, BYU has maintained its core values and refused to sell out.”
Not surprisingly, Jay Evensen, editorial page editor at the Deseret News (which is owned by the Mormon church) used a biblical analogy in his signed column Thursday:
Mr. Evensen and other sports writers point to an investigative piece published this week in Sports Illustrated and headlined “College Football and Crime.”
SI’s six-month investigation found that 7 percent of the players in the preseason Top 25 teams (204 individuals) had been charged with or cited for a crime, nearly 40 percent of those involving serious offenses such as assault and battery, domestic violence, and robbery.
Such incidents are very rare among BYU athletes.
“I probably couldn't make a day following BYU's code. I need my coffee. Also, I curse sometimes,” writes sports columnist John Canzano at The Oregonian newspaper in Portland, Ore. “But at a moment like this, watching BYU wave off a guy who started 26 games, it's evident that their success is not accidental.... Just maybe … the notion that good values and a willingness to think long term has some worth. Because the alternative has left the rest of college athletics feeling like a slimy and dark underworld.”
Meanwhile, the Salt Lake Tribune reports that Davies’s apology to his teammates this week was “extremely remorseful, heartbroken.”
His teammates are standing with sophomore Davies, who may be able to rejoin the team next year.
“He told us everything. He told us he was sorry and that he let us down,” said BYU senior guard Jimmer Fredette, who scored 33 points in Wednesday night’s loss to New Mexico and is likely headed to the National Basketball Association next year. “We just held our heads high and told him it was OK, that it is life, and you make mistakes, and you just got to play through it.”