This past Saturday, as I drank in the sugar-free athletic kool-aid that was BYU v EWU (THE MIGHTY EAGLES!!!), I wondered out loud to my friends Spencer and Dan whether, in fact, the Honor Code applies to sports feats performed on the football field. It's an interesting conundrum: should football players be held to a lower standard on the field than off it? Does sports cheating constitute a violation of the Honor Code? Would a holding penalty constitute improper touching and/or a violation of the Academic Honesty Policy?
In order to better illustrate my point, I present a close reading of some of the pertinent clauses of the Honor Code and how they may relate in a football context. (Note: the scope of this analysis is strictly limited to the football field; no off-the-field "action," if you know what I mean).
Student Academic Honesty Policy
From the home of the Honor Code, http://www.honorcode.byu.edu/, I will first look at the Academic Honesty Policy:
1. The Purpose of the Academic Honesty Policy
"The first injunction of the BYU Honor Code is the call to "be honest." Students come to the university not only to improve their minds, gain knowledge, and develop skills that will assist them in their life's work but also to build character. "
a. The first "injunction?" My first reaction to that word was "a legal remedy whereby a judge orders an individual or group to refrain from acting in a certain manner." However, Princeton defines an injunction as "a formal command or admonition." OK, so BYU students are commanded to be, above all other things, honest. I'm alright with that.
b. Let's take a look at that second sentence: "Students come to the university...to improve their minds, gain knowledge, and develop skills that will assist them in their life's work." First, and let's be honest with ourselves, about 95% of football players are convinced that, 1) they have a sure career in football--either pros or coaching, or 2) their sociology degrees will take them far. While both convictions are probably farfetched for 95% of that 95%, let's just keep in mind that, in their minds, the "skills" they learn for football--tackling, throwing, running, catching, etc.--are intended to "assit them in their life's work."
Assuming, then, that in the lives of football players, practicing and playing football is an essential step--taken in a University atmosphere--towards their life's work. It is, essentially, an academic pursuit. With that established, let's look at...
2. BUILD CHARACTER! FULLY INVEST! PERFORM AT A HIGHER LEVEL! BRAINSTORM NEW BUZZWORDS!
Also in the preamble to Academic Honesty, the Honor Code states that "President David O. McKay taught that 'character is the highest aim of education.' (The Aims of a BYU Education, p.6.) It is the purpose of the BYU Academic Honesty Policy to assist in fulfilling that aim."
a. With "character [as] the highest aim of education," we're now ready to really draw the line between the pursuit of sports perfection and the same in academics. See subsection (b).
b. Bronco Mendenhall, head coach of the mighty Cougars, has adopted the philosophy of recruiting, instilling, establishing, and building character in his players. He has instructed those players to "Decide to construct your character through excellent actions and determine to pay the price for a worthy goal."
Both BYU Football and BYU academics set character as a principle goal, one to be achieved and encouraged at all costs. Therefore, whether football and academics are substantively the same or categorically different, their relationship is not one of "apples to oranges" but of "jots and tittles." Even by analogy, where academics is a mental pursuit and football a physical pursuit, because they both seek to develop skills and character essential in the lives of those who participate in them, in a University setting, standards set for one should be consistent with the other.
Thus, the Honor Code, and all its policies and rules, should apply to a football/sports context. (Note: don't even try arguing against that logic).
With that in mind, a series of questions must be answered in order to examine the practical effects of the Honor Code on football, and therefore determine what must be implemented immediately into the Athletics Department to stay consistent with BYU's mission to build character.
3. A Series of Questions:
What are the pragmatic effects of the Academic Honesty Policy on Football?
I. The Rules
BYU Football players, as academians, should "avoid academic dishonesty and misconduct in all its forms." The Honor Code further defines dishonesty and misconduct as "including plagiarism, fabrication or falsification, cheating...."
1. Dishonesty. Ever seen a false start in football or an offsides penalty? Both seek to claim an unfair advantage over the other team. Dishonesty at its core.
2. Misconduct. Roughing the Passer or Personal Fouls of any kind? Misconduct in the extreme.
3. Hybrids. Holding and Pass Interference? BOTH dishonest attempts to gain advantages and misconduct.
4. Fabrication or Falsification. Ever seen an offending player hold up his hands with a look of pure innocence on his face? "Wasn't me, coach!" Well, because of the beauty of instant replay, we know it was that guy! Fabrication and falsification of a story.
5. Cheating. Come on. This one's too easy! Any penalty committed in football is obviously cheating at some level.
OK, that was really the only question I had so far as academic policy goes. But what about respecting others? What about observing dress and grooming standards? (Volleyball anyone?!) And what about the improper touching of another individual? Doesn't that speak to the law of chastity? These are all important questions that, without answers, may spell the ultimate downfall of BYU athletics.
II. Enforcing the Rules
The Honor Code Office (HCO) is ultimately responsible for tracking and establishing the appropriate punishment for offenders of the academic honesty policy. I don't envy their job now that it is about to grow substantially every Saturday in the fall, but I feel it our duty to enforce these rules, even on the football field. Perfection of the players is all we ask. The relevant statutory language of the Honor Code states a three part approach to violations of the Academic Honesty Policy:
1. "The HCO will maintain a record of all violations of the Academic Honesty Policy reported to it by the faculty."
Ouch. This one might take a lot of work, seeing as how the Cougars average approximate 35 penalties per game. I feel bad for the offensive linemen and the defensive secondary, as they're often the so-called "victims" of fouls and penalties. Actually, this brings up another key point--a paradigm shift. We need to stop thinking of penalized teams and players as victims. They are, simply put, the perpetrators of these horrendous actions. That they suffer from these actions is besides the point. Do we consider prisoners victims of the crimes they committed?! NO!
2. "If the occurrence is sufficiently egregious or if a pattern of dishonesty or misconduct is discovered, the HCO may take additional action on behalf of the university based upon the nature of the infraction(s)."
This one begs a couple of questions, the first being: What is "sufficiently egregious?" This one's easy to implement. NCAA Football has already devised a scheme to determine the level of harm and punishment associated with penalties. Five-, ten-, and fifteen-yard penalties all have their associated penalties because, presumably, some are more harmful or prejudicial than others. I'd recommend a full expulsion for fifteen-yard penalties.
What might be more time-consuming is determining whether a "pattern of dishonesty or misconduct" can be established. Thankfully, we have all the games on film and can analyze them after the fact.
3. "The HCO, in consultation with the involved academic personnel, may determine to place a student on probation or to suspend or dismiss a student for academic dishonesty and other forms of academic misconduct."
Wow. This clause seems pretty sharp. Probation, suspension, or dismissal. BYU should simply implement these penalties on perpetrating players in the following manner:
Five-yard penalties: Immediate probation. More than three, suspension. Establish a pattern: dismissal.
Ten-yard penalties: Immediate Suspension. More than three, dismissal.
Fifteen-yard penalties: Dismissal.
III. Policy Arguments For Strict Enforcement
BYU fans, coaches, and administrators alike have expressed their disdain for the inordinate amount of penalties committed by BYU. But just imagine if the students at the school were held to such a low standard for their own penalties committed off the field? Some practical examples:
Jonny is caught cheating on his Biology exam. He has anticipated the beginning of the exam by a full five minutes before the rest of the class may begin, and has time to carefully think out the essay before everyone else.
That kind of behavior wouldn't be tolerated in a classroom. But a similar football penalty, offsides (where the defender comes across the line of scrimmage before the snap of the ball) is met with only a cursory five-yard penalty: hardly the kind of punishment that rises to the level of dishonesty displayed.
Another example. On her way to class, Kim sees one of the top students who's always bragging that he's "the top of the top and will remain at the top of the top." Seizing her opportunity to finally do something for the greater good, Kim runs up behind the top student, trips him and shoves him down a set of stairs. Just to make sure he's down for the count, and for good measure, Kim waits for the top student to stop rolling, and launching herself from the top of the stairs, body slams him.
Not only would Kim's actions earn her at least a dismissal from the school, it would probably result in both civil and criminal penalties in the courts. But every Saturday, quarterbacks are subjected to this kind of treatment by 300 lb giants who aren't even taken out of the game. Often, in fact, they are smacked on the butt with a salutory "good game" or "nice job!"
Therefore, the same standards imposed on traditional "academic" students should be imposed on non-traditional "football" students. Penalize the athletic penalty perpetrator as you would the academically dishonest, for they are one-in-the-same. This approach would simultaneously encourage sportsmanship and character and discourage the shameful behavior that has, for far too long, been accepted as part of the norm. The football status quo cannot be accepted at BYU. We have been, and must coninue to maintain our status above the bar set for other schools. To do less is to settle for what the world accepts--and while we may play football against the world, we are not of the world.
This type of egregious behavior must stop. In order to protect the academic and spiritual integrity of this fine institution, football players must be held accountable for their actions both off and on the field. A double standard can no longer be held between the classroom and the stadium. We must take action immediately. Stand up and demand a more fully invested football team. Require that they raise a bar. Insist that, like the rest of us, football players are accountable for their own character building.
And to those doubters, or to those who may encourage the status quo, or who may ask "What's the big deal? It's just a game." Yeah, well, when you come down to it, isn't life just one big game? It has a beginning, an end, and winners and losers. In my book: Game.
Finally, to those who ask "Why did you write this?" I give you a turn on a John Donne classic--Don't ask for whom the whistle blows. It blows for you.