SALT LAKE CITY — Just as the buildup for the BYU-Utah game reached, well, biblical proportions this week, news came that starting Cougar linebacker Spencer Hadley was out.
The Connell, Wash., native had been suspended five games for violating the school’s honor code. That’s a serious suspension, especially considering he’s a senior, so it wiped out half his remaining career.
Although BYU doesn’t announce specific violations, the list of no-no’s is fairly short: “Students must abstain from the use of alcohol, tobacco and illegal substances, and from the intentional misuse or abuse of any substance. Sexual misconduct; obscene or indecent conduct or expressions; disorderly or disruptive conduct; participation in gambling activities; involvement with pornographic, erotic, indecent or offensive material; and any other conduct or action inconsistent with the principles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Honor Code is not permitted.”
So Hadley fell short on one or more of those, and now must pay the price, beginning with Saturday’s absence. The move reignited debate as to whether the school should specifically announce that suspensions are honor code-related. Why not just say he was suspended for breaking team rules?
Because BYU would have missed out on reiterating its message.
Isn’t that what coach Bronco Mendenhall has always said? It’s about the football, but it’s also about the message BYU espouses. He says he expects his players to be not only good players but exemplary people. Hadley didn’t simply show up late for practice. He probably didn’t punch out a teammate, disrespect a coach or skip a team meeting, either. Those are violations of team rules. He violated the honor code, which can be a different thing.
Some say that by announcing the violation, the school is unnecessarily embarrassing Hadley. Not so. It didn’t reveal the nature of the infraction, though heaven knows there’s plenty of Internet speculation. It merely reiterated a point that athletes (and students) seem to overlook with some regularity: BYU really does have an honor code and requires its student-athletes to live it. And it wants everyone to know that.
BYU is in a tough spot. If it suspended a player without a word, critics would complain it was being unnecessarily secretive, as well as unfair with the public. But if it announces it’s an honor code violation, people lapse into the where’s-the-compassion argument.
Hadley is being allowed to continue as a student, but not represent the school on the football team. Allowing him to work toward a college degree is compassionate in its own right.
BYU usually hits the right note on these matters. It acknowledges why players are suspended but doesn’t reveal specific details. It’s not out to humiliate the athlete, but rather to let the public know why he isn’t playing — something the ticket buyer deserves.
It would be hard to find an institution that has a more clearly understood mission and expectation than BYU. Even distant observers can confirm that drugs, extramarital sex, smoking, alcohol or aberrant behavior can get a person suspended or expelled. Yet some athletes still think they’re exempt. Or maybe they just think they’re clever enough not to get caught.
The honor code has received widespread attention in recent years, thanks to high-profile athletes such as basketball player Brandon Davies and football players Reno Mahe and Harvey Unga. In those cases details got out in the media, though not through the BYU honor code office. Allegations of “Scarlet Letter” treatment arose then, too. But if the objective were humiliation, why not announce specific details of the violations?
In most cases, first-time offenders are eventually allowed to return to classes.
By announcing Hadley’s honor code violation, BYU made him accountable. Beyond that, it sent a message that still apparently needs to be delivered: The university expects its students to live by the commitment they sign.
Even when they’re star athletes and even on rivalry week.
There couldn’t be a more effective message than that.
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