Mike Lopresti: At BYU, winning isn't the only measure of honor
Just in time for spring college football practice: Sports Illustrated and CBS allege more than 200 players on the top 25-ranked teams last preseason had past criminal charges.
We interrupt this latest embarrassment for college athletics to discuss honor.
Everyone understands how the game is too often played. Winning is an intoxicant. The glowing headlines and good feelings — did someone also mention the money? — create their own self-destructive urges. So you gaze across the college landscape and see shadows, where corners are cut, rationalizations are made, alibis are offered.
It's almost like a Charlie Sheen interview.
Which brings us to Brigham Young University.
What the school demands from students with its honor code is not everyone's cup of tea. Matter of fact, BYU students shouldn't have cups of tea. Nor, further up the food chain of transgressions, premarital sex. And that, according to a Salt Lake City newspaper, is the reason the leading rebounder and third-leading scorer was just booted off the basketball team.
Is this 1911? No, This is BYU.
What the university asks is pretty clear, all there in black and white, for any recruit to read; and if of a mind, run away from like it was radioactive. There are plenty of other schools out there who talk a good game, but are willing to look the other way when the going gets tough. Plenty of places where what happened this week in Provo is not only unlikely, but unimaginable.
"A lot of people try to judge if this is right or wrong, but it's a commitment they make," BYU coach Dave Rose told reporters Wednesday night about his school's honor code, and depleted lineup. "It's not about right or wrong, it's about commitment."
So one of the nation's best teams must try to move forward into March without one of its best players. It's not the first time a contender has lost a key face on the eve of the tournament, but more often the cause is an ACL, not confessed hanky-panky. This, in March Madness lore, is a new one.
And our reaction should be ...?
First, compassion for Brandon Davies, the violator who came clean, and what an awkward conversation that must have been with the BYU honor police.
Next, sympathy for the Cougars left behind, who have been building a case as possible NCAA Tournament darlings.
The first post-Davies effort was not promising. The Cougars were pounded by New Mexico 82-64 Wednesday night, in BYU's worst home loss in more than six years. Among the causes was a 45-29 wipeout in rebounding.
And last, there should be respect for a school that stands by its values, apparently without any athletic department member saying, "Yeah, but what will this do to our RPI?"
We are not here to champion what is actually in BYU's honor code, or debate whether it is necessary that men not be allowed beards, and women permitted only one earring piercing per ear. What constitutes honor is up to each individual taste.
The admiration is for a school in the seductive environment of big-time college sport to live by its word, no matter the pain. How many other places have taken the easy way out?
The record books and trophy cases are full of 'em, as the NCAA investigators keep busy. It can be the land of nods and winks; an unfortunate mirror of a society where personal accountability has become no match for the quick fix.
The Cougars will pay a price for their honor code. They have a 27-3 record that fewer outsiders will believe in now. They will likely be docked in their tournament seeding. Their horizons were just seemingly narrowed.
To be sure, longevity this month is still possible, and I hope they get it. They still have Jimmer Fredette popping jump shots. It will just be a lot harder.
But that didn't matter when push came to shove on the honor code. There's an example that should not be missed here, no matter what happens to the Cougars in the tournament, delivered not in a metropolitan media center but at the foot of the Wasatch mountain range.
So here's a toast to BYU. With caffeine-free soda, of course.
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