A Major Off-the-Field Reality Check for BYU

<B>COMMENTARY</B> <BR> With this week's disciplinary actions of football players unveiled by Dick Harmon in the Deseret Morning News, there are gathering indications that BYU's Honor Code office, its investigation methods and process may come under legal and high-profile public scrutiny in the not-too-distant future.

Every recruit who comes to BYU does so with full disclosure regarding the standards of the University and the Honor Code requirements. Nobody springs this on them after the fact.

Obviously, each student athlete has his free agency; he can choose to abide by their commitment to live the Honor Code or not. However, he cannot always choose the consequences of breaking that commitment. Learning that certain things have very serious consequences is a difficult lesson in life.

The Honor Code has nothing to do with race and accusations of racism toward the office are unfounded. Just because the young men involved in this incident happen to be black does not equate to institutional racism.

It should be pointed out that this is no more Gary Crowton's fault than 9/11 was George Bush's fault. In retrospect, both probably could have done more, but who could have foreseen something so horrific?

No BYU fan really know what happened in early August with that young woman – and none of us likely ever will. Moreover, none of us know what verifiable testimony or evidence the University gathered from their interviews that led them to their conclusions.

Passing judgment on these athletes or the University without a full understanding of the details is not rational and very detrimental to all concerned. We are talking about felony rape allegations of a minor. To be frank, this takes it to a whole new level and either the guilt or innocence of this girl or these athletes should be thoroughly investigated in a timely manner – and the results made public.

The serious nature of these allegations must be considered, but this point seems completely lost on some uninformed fans. We can only hope the folks in charge of this Honor Code investigation fully grasped the stakes here.

For an LDS-sponsored university that cares so much about how it is perceived by the world at large, BYU is demonstrably and pathetically inept at handling public relations and managing public perception.

As an active LDS member and BYU alum, I have been embarrassed more than once by the institutional bungling of delicate situations. I want to believe that my former school abides by the same principles that it professes – honesty, integrity, loyalty, patience, kindness, long suffering, tolerance and unfeigned love. Dare we suggest that the school abide by Christ-like precepts and principles?

There are too many times when, for some odd reason, the school has appeared to toss all moral principle aside in favor of capricious, arbitrary, knee-jerk kinds of actions with precious little regard for the impact on individuals and families.

This point is important because I think I have lost confidence in whether "principle" ever enters in to some of these decisions. If a powerful institution like BYU can callously and abruptly toss aside loyal and committed people like (former athletic directors) Val Hale and Elaine Michaelis, should we be surprised if they mismanage something as delicate as this situation with these players suspended this past week for unspecified Honor Code violations? I don't know, but it makes me wonder. I'll bet I'm not alone, either.

What I want is for the BYU administration to be consistent in doing the right thing, for the right reasons, in the right way. If Val and Elaine needed to go, fine. Do it with class. Do it with finesse. Give them their dignity and allow them to move on.

Don't do it right after the biggest win on the football field in years! What would it have hurt to wait a few weeks until the season was over? I wish BYU didn't do things that made me question their values or their motives. Gosh, I wish they wouldn't do that!

If anyone breaks the Honor Code, then hold them accountable. More importantly, the school authorities should vigorously work to see what they can do to help these individuals succeed and move on in the positive manner the LDS Church uses in his "disciplinary courts" that espouse the principle of "hate the sin, but love the sinner."

Instead, the parents of these suspended and probationary players are so bitter at BYU because of communication snafus that several are considering legal action against the University.

Interestingly, the Honor Code findings and penalties were meted out before the Provo Police Department and the Utah County Attorney's office have announced their official findings from an investigation that inexplicably drags on unresolved after 10 weeks.

I hope the Honor Code office got their facts straight because I fear it will shortly come under serious public and legal scrutiny shortly for its investigation methods and findings. Moreover, I hope that accountability is meted out evenly to Honor Code violators without regard to race, creed, or position on the field.

Similarly, BYU's top officials – President Cecil Samuelson, Fred Skousen and Tom Holmoe -- should publicly support Gary Crowton if he is your coach. Let the world know you are supportive of his efforts and that, as part of a natural process, you will sit down after the season and evaluate the program and see where we go from here.

Don't leave him hanging out to dry while he's still your guy. There is always time enough to find someone after the season is over and when the dust settles. Mid-season firings are generally not good for any program, so why keep playing mind games with your guy? This is lunacy!

Recruiting "high character" athletes is no assurance of 100 percent success in keeping BYU football players off the police roster or away from the Honor Code office radar.

If the LDS Church's Missionary Training Center were as public and high profile as the BYU football team, there would be uncomfortable revelations involving high-potential missionaries who tried to beat the system, but got caught and dismissed from the program. If we can't get 100 percent of our would-be missionaries to abide by the Honor Code, we aren't going to get our athletes to.

We need not beat ourselves up every time it happens because it's going to happen. What we need to do is focus on what we can do to minimize the chances that whatever does happen is as serious as this most recent episode appears to be.

What can BYU do? Here are some suggestions:

* Not allow freshmen athletes to live off campus.
* Require curfews and bed checks by fellow athletes who are upper classmen.
* Create a formal mentoring or buddy system between older and younger athletes to help them assimilate. Senior companions are responsible to know where their junior companion is and how he's doing away from the classroom. Sound familiar?
* Coaches should hold regular ongoing chat sessions with each underclassman and his mentor to assess his progress or status.

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