SALT LAKE CITY — During the NBA playoffs last April, a colleague from Colorado asked me about Harvey Unga — BYU's all-time leading rusher — who had recently been suspended from the football team.
The writer said he had attended a religion-based college in the Southwest.
"People don't think they mean it when they have an honor code," he said. "But they really do."
You don't have to tell Brandon Davies. The BYU basketball starter was dismissed from the team Tuesday due to honor code violations. Now the No. 3-ranked Cougars are without their top rebounder and third-leading scorer.
As with Unga, this involved a player doing something that wouldn't raise an eyebrow at most schools. Yet both the Unga and Davies situations are proof BYU is willing to put its money where its honor code is.
There is honor in that.
The decision will generate a lot of predictable eye-rolling across the nation. Covering the NBA playoffs years ago, I was talking with a newspaper writer from a West Coast city. He asked about another BYU football player who had been dismissed for honor code violations.
"What did he do?" the writer said.
"I don't know," I said, "probably sleeping with his girlfriend."
"WHAT?" he said. "You have to be kidding me! They would kick someone out for THAT?"
Indeed they would.
"That's one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard!" he said.
He somehow missed the point of what an honor code is and that nobody made the player sign it.
BYU has been an object of derision and occasionally suspicion for similar decisions over the years. Athletes are sometimes allowed to return after meeting certain conditions. That brings howls from opposing fans. It's tricky business. Circumstances vary and not each case is identical, but the school isn't about to divulge the details.
But BYU has shown in both the Unga and Davies cases that it is willing to do the right thing for both the players — even star players — and the school. No one who signs an honor code is better for having been allowed to slide. He only learns that commitments aren't worth keeping.
Decisions like this take courage on the university's part. It's not as though school officials are clapping with glee. Everyone involved knew beforehand there would be embarrassment for both the university and Davies, and almost certain disappointment on the court. Chances of BYU advancing far in the NCAA Tournament aren't nearly as good. Yet the decision confirmed something BYU espouses: Be what you promised.
Cougar athletics exist because of BYU, not the other way around.
Occasionally teams prosper even without key players. Utah didn't lose a player midstream, but it did get to the NCAA championship game in 1998, a year after All-America Keith Van Horn left. Cincinnati won national championships in 1961 and 1962, the two years following the departure of Oscar Robertson.
Sometimes monumental losses aren't as big as they thought.
But don't plan on that happening in this case. It was too abrupt and costly.
It would have been better timing for the university and Davies to wait until the season was over. The decision could cost the school hundreds of thousands of dollars in NCAA Tournament money. But it would also have been less honest.
Instead, the university treated a basketball star the same as it would any other student. It wasn't so much a message of intolerance as a message of principle: Come to BYU, it's a fine place to compete.
Just be sure to bring your commitments with you.
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