BYU doesn’t need a Fermi Telescope, trained on a faraway galaxy, to see the potential dangers ahead. Factors beyond academic and athletic excellence are working to keep the Cougars from joining the Big 12 Conference.
Now comes the possibility that someday they might not even have the blessing of the mothership, the NCAA.
All in the name of sports as a platform.
The latest twist came Monday when the NCAA Board of Governors voted to relocate all championship events from North Carolina for 2016-17 “because of the cumulative actions taken by the state concerning civil rights protections.”
Due to North Carolina law requiring people to use bathrooms matching the gender on their birth certificates, the NCAA is pulling the following championship events from the state: Division I women’s soccer, lacrosse and golf; men’s basketball regionals; Division II baseball; and Division III men’s and women’s soccer and tennis.
“This decision is consistent with the NCAA’s longstanding core values of inclusion, student-athlete well-being and creating a culture of fairness,” said G.P. “Bud” Peterson, the Board of Governors chair.
Utah so far has avoided similar actions because state law allows for single-occupancy and family-style bathrooms. But such controversies rarely go away, they just return wearing a different hat. The NBA previously moved its All-Star game from Charlotte to New Orleans, due to similar concerns.
The North Carolina situation, for now, only peripherally relates to BYU’s athletic future. But already the student government at Iowa State University has advocated BYU not be allowed in the Big 12, due to what it calls discriminatory language in the honor code.
That came after about 20 LGBT advocacy groups contacted the Big 12, urging the conference to reject BYU.
It’s true that BYU has no claim on a spot in the conference, which can pick any schools it wants. But exclusion would appear a bias by the conference, based on the Provo school’s religious beliefs. Yet the way things are headed, there could be even bigger implications for BYU than reaching the Big 12. In light of Monday’s ruling, could the NCAA one day impose other demands, under threat of decertification?
BYU’s honor code forbids “all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.” Could a school be decertified as an NCAA member based on its honor code wording?
In 2005, the NCAA announced schools using mascots deemed racist would be banned from hosting title events. It also encouraged universities not to schedule games with those using offensive mascots. Though the governing body said it was up to the individual institutions to determine whether to make changes, it was clear that it didn’t have to condone the decisions.
While the NCAA can’t force BYU to alter its honor code, theoretically it could deny membership to any school it considers discriminatory. If the NCAA continues to swim in politics, it might be able to mandate that schools without transgender bathrooms, or that ban same-sex displays of affection, are unacceptable.
Which in turn would kill their athletic programs.
No doubt BYU has already been thinking about such scenarios. Would it need to tweak the wording of its honor code in order to appease critics, please the Big 12 and avoid the NCAA’s disapproval? Previously, the NCAA has accommodated BYU on matters such as Sunday play. But the move on North Carolina didn’t seem particularly conciliatory.
North Carolina’s state law and BYU’s honor code are different matters. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t intersect. The NCAA has shown it can set whatever standards it wants on its members.
The Utah legislature, with the support of the LDS Church, enacted anti-discrimination legislation regarding housing and jobs. Meanwhile, BYU has no restrictions on LGBT athletes competing for the school, as long as they adhere to the honor code.
The hitch in these matters is that it’s seldom enough for some. In that light, BYU has more than enough worries to stay up stargazing at night.
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