Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Expectations, Ethics, and College Athletics

I usually don't write about stuff like this. First, it's dealing with religion, second, it's a team I don't care about (Sorry, BYU) and I don't follow college sports as, um, religiously as I do pro sports. Don't get me wrong, if "B" in BYU stood for Boston, I'd probably be a fan....but I digress. This is about sports journalism, and what we expect from our colleges and universities today.

Today, Brandon Davies of the BYU basketball team was dismissed for violating the teams ethics standards, known as the BYU Honor Code, which includes things like:
  • Live a chaste and virtuous life
  • Obey the law and all campus policies
  • Use clean language
  • Respect others
  • Abstain from alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, coffee and substance abuse
Let's start right of the top - this is just a subset of what's required, and clearly, I don't qualify, as I sit here swearing about this article, drinking my Starbucks. But I know, clearly, what the rules are. I can see how I fit in, or not. Expectations and requirements are very clear. 

ESPN covered the dismissal, which I read during lunch (after the Apple iPad2 announcement).  The article started with a good summary of how big a blow this might have been:

"A 27-2 record. A possible No. 1 seed. The best and most entertaining player in the country. A chance at a national title. Yes, BYU fans are in the midst of a dream season. The only problem with dreams? Eventually, you always have to wake up."

We're not talking about Duke or North Carolina - the idea that BYU was ranked as high as #3 in the nation, a likely number-one seed going into the tournament, this is more than a big deal for the sport of college basketball, never mind the BYU campus and state of Utah. In a season when there Utah Jazz have dismissed their long-time coach, traded away key assets, and looks non-competitive in the West for the first time in memory, BYU was the torch bearer for the region.

This had to be an agonizing decision for the school, the student, and the community. Not just because of the team, but because maybe, just maybe, they take their honor code seriously. Having a student fail either academically or socially is not a success for the university on any level. I was hoping for the rest of the article to talk about the lone bright spot in college athletics, where honor and ethics take priority over bowl standings and final-four rankings.

Instead, the article took a direction that shocked me:

"Davies is far too important to BYU's chances at a deep tournament run for this to be anything other than a serious violation, or at least "serious" relative to the Cougars' strict rules regarding student behavior at the school."

Everything that is wrong with college sports became crystallized in one sentence. Since they are good this year, it must have been a big deal. Clearly, this implies that if they were not as good "anything other than a serious violation" may have been overlooked. Further, he states "Davies is far too important to BYU's chances" - again implying that his value to the basketball team outweighs his commitment and promise he made to the University. Finally, putting serious in quotes read like a cheap-shot at the Honor Code of BYU.

I'm not Mormon, or overly religious. You could even argue that sports is my religion,  but the faux-reality of college sports has tired me to no end. These schools are openly and actively expected by sports media (and their fans, I expect) to put the sport above their honor code, their academics, and their beliefs. This is about  BYU, of all schools. The only place I could think of being less surprising for dismissing a player on ethical grounds would be The Citadel. Yet here is the media suggesting that sports could, or should, have influenced the decision.

For the thousands of alumni, and students who don't play sports at BYU, I'm personally thankful they did what they did, putting the University above the individual or the team.

I wish that was the story we were talking about.