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Why BYU is going silent on honor code violations

Published March 31, 2014 10:55 am

Sports • School calls it a positive step toward protecting athletes' rights and reputations.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Provo • It was a part of Carri Jenkins' job as the primary spokeswoman for Brigham Young University that she never really felt comfortable doing.

A media inquiry would come into Jenkins' office regarding whether a BYU student — almost always a high-profile athlete — had violated the LDS Church-owned school's honor code, and Jenkins was bound by school policy to offer a confirmation or denial.

Now, thanks to a "decision that was made by the university," Jenkins said, and became effective Jan. 1, neither Jenkins nor any other administrator will acknowledge whether a student has been disciplined by the honor code office unless that student has announced a transgression publicly or if it is a matter of public record, such as an arrest.

"I believe it is [a positive step]," Jenkins said last week, about a month after BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe announced the policy change in a round-table discussion with reporters who cover BYU sports. "We did this out of consideration for our students. … This takes into account our students' [right to privacy] and what is happening with them."

Jenkins said the original policy originated years ago in an effort to be open and more transparent with the news media, but the school discovered through three recent, high-profile cases that the rights and reputations of its student-athletes were possibly being abused.

She said BYU did not receive any complaints from student-athletes or their parents, to her knowledge, about its handling of those recent cases. She said the change came from within, with Holmoe and Duff Tittle, BYU associate athletic director for communications, expressing dissatisfaction with the way things were being done.

"There were several of us … that had concerns," Jenkins said. "We teamed together about these concerns and just looked at how we were responding to media inquiries."

And a new policy was born.

The cases involving football stars Harvey Unga (2010) and Spencer Hadley (2013) and basketball star Brandon Davies (2011) brought nationwide attention to BYU's honor code — which forbids premarital sex, drinking alcohol, using illicit drugs and other actions — and obviously triggered the change, Holmoe acknowledged in February.

We won't discuss honor code violations anymore," said the former BYU and San Francisco 49ers player and California head football coach. "So, don't ask."

In Davies' case in March 2011, BYU issued a news release saying he had violated the honor code and no longer would be allowed to represent the school. The Cougars were coming off a big win over top-10 San Diego State, ranked No. 3 in the country and on the verge of earning a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

In Hadley's case, the school initially called his misdeeds a "violation of team rules" in a news release and said he had been suspended indefinitely. But when contacted by The Salt Lake Tribune and other media outlets, Jenkins issued a statement confirming Hadley had violated the honor code and would be suspended for five games.

That kind of confirmation, she said, will no longer happen.

"We will continue to work with the media," she said. "If they have inquiries, they can call our office. And in some circumstances, if there is not a public record, if the student has not exposed him- or herself, we will respond with a 'no comment.' "

Hadley's ordeal brought more questions as to why BYU would compromise a student-athlete's privacy. Now, it is not a place BYU is willing to go.

When an athlete is suspended or kicked off a team, "it will just be what the coach determines [to say]," Holmoe said. "So a coach could say a violation of team rules or something else. But that's pretty generic, and that's what I would like to see happen."

drew@sltrib.com

Twitter: @drewjay