One topic that’s hot on sports radio today has to do with Brigham Young University’s honor code and its basketball program.
The story goes like this. Yesterday sophomore center Brandon Davies was dismissed from BYU’s basketball team for the rest of the season for violating the university’s honor code — specifically, for violating the prohibition against premarital sex. Davies is not the best player on BYU; guard Jimmer Fredette, the nation’s leading scorer, is. But Davies is a starter, a strong inside presence for BYU, and is considered to have been crucial to the Cougars’ championship hopes.
Without Davies, BYU was defeated by 18 points at home yesterday in its game against New Mexico.
The reason the story is being talked about isn’t so much the impact the suspension will have on BYU’s chances to win the national title; it has more to do with the nature of BYU’s honor code. As the New York Times points out, “Many colleges have honor codes, but they typically focus on protecting academic integrity and discouraging behavior that harms others. … At B.Y.U., owned and operated privately by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the honor code is separate from the academic honesty policy, and is more closely linked to the personal-behavior tenets of the Mormon church.”
Davies, who is Mormon (98 percent of those who attend BYU are), admitted to having sexual relations with his girlfriend. He apologized to his teammates and by all accounts feels remorseful. No matter; Coach Dave Rose decided his transgression merited dismissal.
Needless to say, few if any other Division I schools would dismiss a starter from the team because of Davies’s actions. Now it’s a darn good bet that most talk-show hosts believe a rule prohibiting premarital sex is too strict. But what is striking to me is how much support and respect BYU is getting for its action. Sports commentators are pointing out that Brigham Young athletes know the rules in advance; the fact that BYU would maintain fidelity to its (religious) principles despite the damage the dismissal will have on the team shows an impressive institutional integrity. That is not something in oversupply these days.
In addition, it’s worth noting how Davies himself has acted, with contrition rather than a lawsuit, with an apology rather than making a stand on “rights.”
Once upon a time, universities were committed to the formation of character and shaping the inner lives of their students. This commitment traveled under the name in loco parentis. For most universities today, this is a quaint notion. At BYU, it’s alive and well. And even those who don’t agree with the honor code itself are willing to praise those who aspire to live their lives a certain way, in accordance with certain principles and core beliefs.
In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis wrote: “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”
In this instance, and from what I can tell, most people aren’t laughing at this particular code of honor. They’re extolling it.