Los Angeles They are charged with assault on a Tuesday, and play linebacker on a Saturday. They are caught smoking dope in the morning, and practice free throws in the afternoon.
Today’s college playing fields are dotted with athletes bearing fresh mug shots, lingering handcuff marks and not a trace of accountability.
Athletes are often punished only to the degree at which the team will not feel pain. If the game is important, they are suspended only for the first half. If there is even a hint of the word “allegedly,” the school abdicates its moral authority to the legal system and doesn’t suspend them at all.
All of which would classify what happened with the Brigham Young basketball team as one shining moment.
This week, the highly-ranked Cougars probably cost themselves riches, glory and a legitimate chance at their first national basketball championship after suspending one of their best players, Brandon Davies, for the rest of the season for violating the school’s honor code.
The infraction? Davies had premarital sex.
The rule? A section of the honor code that requires BYU students to “live a chaste and virtuous life.”
That might not be your rule. That might be the kind of rule that makes you titter and wince and wonder, how can any school not attached to a seminary demand celibacy of college kids in a world in which seven out of 10 Americans have had sexual intercourse by age 19?
But the point is, it is BYU’s rule, and kudos to the school for publicly enforcing it at the worst possible time with one of the most visible of students while risking damage to the school’s athletic reputation and national stature.
BYU knows this will hurt immediately, Davies’ suspension robbing the team of its leading rebounder and third-leading scorer, probably dashing all chances of ending their NCAA record of tournament futility — 25 appearances and zero Final Fours. BYU knows this will hurt in the future, costing potential athletic and academic recruits who may now be wondering: How can I spend four years at a place that really gives suspensions for sex?
BYU suspended the kid anyway, and if you don’t believe in its code, you have to love its honor.
Before the suspension, the Cougars were the third-ranked team in the country with the No. 1 RPI rating and were 27-2.
In the first game after the suspension Wednesday, they were hammered, 82-64, by unranked New Mexico while being outrebounded, 45-29. The game ended with their star Jimmer Fredette, one of the nation’s best shooters and a potential tournament darling, sitting alone on the bench with his head in his hands.
“I think a lot of people try to judge this, whether this is right or this is wrong ... that’s not the issue,” coach Dave Rose said. “It is a commitment that you make. And everybody makes the commitment.”
The commitment is the signing of an honor code that also includes honesty and clean language, and abstinence from drugs, alcohol, coffee and tea. But nothing is apparently as difficult for hormone-driven college kids as the “chaste and virtuous life” clause, which includes no sexual relationships outside marriage.
Perhaps as amazing as BYU officials enforcing the code now is the fact that they didn’t actually catch Davies breaking it. Either Davies or his girlfriend turned themselves in, and Davies later admitted his transgression not only to school officials, but also to his teammates.
The conviction to enforce the rules on your powerhouse basketball team at the outset of this country’s premier basketball spectacle? That could be the only thing about this March that isn’t madness.