Gary Crowton hadn't even been officially hired as BYU's new football coach when he was introduced to the realities of the BYU honor code. Flying on a private jet from Chicago to Provo to be interviewed by BYU officials for the job, Crowton was handed a newspaper by athletic director Val Hale.
"Look at this," said Hale.
A BYU football player, the paper reported, had been arrested for public intoxication. If that wasn't bad enough, two nights later, Crowton was awakened at 4 a.m. by a phone call informing him that another BYU player had been arrested for drunken driving. One of his passengers was a recruit.
"I've been awakened many times in the middle of the night by athletes at every university where I've coached," says Crowton. "They were for deeper problems than these stabbed, going through windows, thrown out of strip bars, alcohol poisoning, hit by a truck."
At BYU, Crowton will have to enforce rules that aren't even rules at the vast majority of schools no drinking, no smoking, no sex, no earrings. . . . No problem, says Crowton. "The honor code is outstanding. It gives us a direction to live our lives. It's there to help us be better people. How many universities do you know that have a code to help you be the best person you can be in all areas?"
Getting players to follow that code is another matter. It has become almost an annual rite: A BYU football player gets kicked out of school for violating the honor code. In the past 10 years, at least 30 players have either broken the law or the school's honor code; most were expelled from school.
BYU makes no apologies for its rules, even if the resolve of some of its fans wilts every time a Junior Mahe or Ronney Jenkins gets the boot. If anything, BYU has gotten more serious about its honor code in recent years.
"The honor code has been more tightly enforced than in the past . . . ," says Hale. "It's a conscious decision by the university. . . . That's why you see more of these (suspensions). If the teams in the '80s would have been held to these same standards, we would have had more athletes kicked out of school. . . . The caliber of kids is as good or better than the kids in the '80s."
Hale continues: "It is important to note that the university is enforcing the honor code more for all students, not just athletes. The athletes are being treated like all other students."
BYU's message is clear: The honor code isn't going to go away, nor is it going to be softened for athletes. Hale says: "I'd rather shut down the athletic department than have a double standard. The honor code is here to stay. The fact that some athletes can't abide by the honor code isn't going to make a bit of difference."
In some ways the honor code might get tougher for athletes. Crowton has discussed with Hale a plan to implement his own consequences for the violation of BYU standards, in addition to what action the school's honor code committee takes.
"Gary is going to do some things differently that may have an impact," says Hale. "They'll involve more team discipline. It may involve running the player. It might result in suspensions from games. It might involve writing a 2,000-page report on the evils of alcohol. You may see what you see at other schools, with players kicked off the team for violation of team rules rather than the honor code. Each case will be handled individually. Some of these young men don't fear the honor code office; they fear the coaches. If they commit a violation, they'll suffer with the honor code committee and with the team. If I were the head coach, I would basically tell my team if you violate standards, you'll be begging to get to the honor code office."
Crowton and Hale agree that we haven't seen the last of honor code problems among BYU athletes there are bound to be more mistakes when you're dealing with youth, they reason. Despite those problems, they say BYU will continue to recruit non-LDS players because they're looking for top athletes and because "diversity is good," says Hale.
"We're such a homogenous people on this campus. It's great to associate with and learn from others. And a lot of times the non-LDS players like the lifestyle so much they eventually embrace it. This is a hard place to come to if you're coming from a different culture. But the ones who do I get phone calls and letters from them telling me they continue to live this lifestyle after they leave here. We are going to recruit the best caliber of people we can, both members (of the LDS Church) and nonmembers."Ultimately, of course, the responsibility for the football team falls to the new guy, Crowton. He is already developing new ways to facilitate the honor code, but he also wants athletes to know that he's on their side. "My purpose is to influence their lives and character in a positive way," he says. "We want to work with the players and help them."