Dick Harmon: Strict guidelines at Y. are simple, not for everyone

Published: Friday, April 15 2011 7:00 p.m. MDT

PROVO — The honor code at BYU found itself under a lot of scrutiny the past few weeks.

Some outsiders scratch their heads over its meaning and application. Late-night comedians have found it an easy target. Some have praised its existence while others believe it needs an overhaul.

The most recent rung on the honor code examination ladder came this week in an article posted on the Internet site "Deadspin."

The Cliff Notes version is this: Sources you would describe as disgruntled or failed athletes believe the honor code is applied with a brush dipped in racism and religious double-standards.

I won't dissect it, defend it or criticize the "Deadspin" piece on The Code.

Intelligent folks can read the Deadspin story, weigh its theme and decide for themselves how accurate or what meat it brings to or distracts from the discussion.

It isn't the first time BYU's honor code has been examined and it won't be the last. I've been monitoring it — and the reactions to it — for about four decades.

If you keep the study of BYU's strict behavioral guidelines in focus, it's really a simple deal.

A school that demands high standards of its students is a good thing.

BYU is not for everyone. If you get on the bus and don't like the ride, get off.

A school that requires athletes to follow the code might be restricting its talent pool, but that doesn't have to be a huge negative.

Assertions that a football or basketball player can enroll at BYU and not know what they are getting into is like an astronaut taking off his headgear in space and claiming he didn't know oxygen wouldn't float his way.

Recruits who don't believe they can keep BYU's honor code should simply stay away — go somewhere else. It will be better for all concerned.

If athletes run afoul of the honor code, there are remedies for them to learn and grow and overcome and stay. There are some infractions that can be serious enough that both parties should separate and call it a failed experiment.

Serial honor code breakers are a no-brainer for expulsion, regardless of race or religious background.

Can BYU handle things better? Sure.

Some say BYU should just leave honor code issues up to ecclesiastical leaders who endorsed the student or athlete. Do away with the honor code office.

Trouble with that idea is that among those leaders there are different approaches, different judgments and various ways each individual handles cases. Some are extremely strict or letter-of-the-law while others are more wired to work things out or discipline with a softer touch.

BYU, as an institution, demands more uniformity to protect itself and its standards. Thus, it needs an office to review cases, determine accountability and make status decisions.

"All are decided on an individual case by case," we are told.

BYU can tweak its media handling of honor code offenders when it comes to high-profile athletes whose absences in a lineup or at practices due to discipline are noticed.

If it is criminal, it is public record. Honor code issues are not public record.

The current BYU policy is to confirm or deny an "honor code review" when the media asks about a name of an athlete. This is done so BYU doesn't look like its hiding anything. I think that is a mistake. It invades privacy and it hurts lives.

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