Monson: It’s time for BYU to dump its Honor Code

Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune BYU opens the 2017 against Portland State at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo.

BYU has a problem.

It knows it has a problem, but it’s done nothing practical to solve it.

Maybe it doesn’t want to solve it.

But it should.

The school says its aim is to compete at the highest level of college football and basketball. It has set that expectation, an expectation its fans have bought into and, despite its rather modest recent achievements — read: failures — in reaching those goals, continue to buy into, all as the school goes on pursuing and selling that notion.

It wants to be a P5 power.

But it also has restrictive behavioral rules, its infamous honor code, that many top athletes have a most difficult time following.

In some cases, it’s because they are human. In others, it’s because they never intended to follow the code.

That creates an environment few at the school are willing to speak about in open, honest terms, one that stirs hypocrisy, hidden in those noble goals that remain lofty, even as the hypocrisy rages on.

Brace yourselves — horrors! — for the shocking truth: Athletes at BYU are breaking that honor code.

Some of them.

Some of the very talented ones.

Some of the ones who help BYU win whichever games it does.

It’s a dirty little non-secret in Provo, a game that’s played outside the lines.

And yet they play on because they haven’t been caught. Or because they have been caught but it hasn’t gone public. If it goes public, forget about it. Punishment is coming. Get nailed and written up smoking weed in a police report, and … well, those athletes are missing games. Sip a cocktail and have somebody put a pic of it on social media, they’re missing games. Have sex and get somebody pregnant, they’re missing games.

Do any of that in private, without notice or public complaint or evidence for everyone on the outside to see, and they’re missing nothing but tackles and open receivers and shots.

Image is everything at BYU.

I know Cougars players who try hard to follow the code, and they usually do.


I know Cougars players who have girlfriends they sleep with, players who use false names when they party, players who are code breakers who end up being good people, good students and good citizens.

They laugh about the indiscretions because they get away with them.

They do not laugh when they don’t.

As long as the honor code is enforced the way it is, patchy though it may be, BYU will struggle to reach its goals. It will struggle to recruit the kinds of players it needs to win big. Many of those kids, even the LDS ones, don’t want to mess with that extra layer of uneven moral bureaucracy, one that could derail their reputation and their career path.

Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune BYU fans watch during the game at LaVell Edwards Stadium Friday October 16, 2015.

If they screw up in matters of morality and feel self-compelled — voluntarily — to “fix” it, they want to go to their ecclesiastical leader in complete confidentiality, the same way other LDS church members do, not face off with a school administrator who might suspend them.

If they break NCAA rules or laws of the land and get busted, there is no confidentiality.

Observers talk about how BYU has to get in a P5 conference to recruit at a level that will propel it toward consistent success. It needs more than just that. It needs to get rid of the honor code, or change it or alter the way it is enforced.

There simply are not enough clean-living Brandons and Parkers and Tysons out there, cookie-dipping, milkshake-drinking Eagle Scouts with their Duty to God awards who bench press 450 pounds and run 4.3 40s who dream of attending BYU to sustain a Top 20 football program.

The numbers don’t add up.

They would if BYU got all the best LDS talent across the country. But under the circumstances, it doesn’t — and won’t. Not with the great options available at other places.

If the school wants to keep its honor code and enforce it as is, which goes beyond the standards and strictures of the LDS Church, if it wants to attract only those athletes intent on following the code, those who really want to follow it, despite an occasional human mess-up here or there, it must reduce its expectations in football and basketball — and get that message across to its fans.

That would result in more empty seats in its stadiums, less money generated, less emphasis on big-time sports, less exposure — of both a positive and negative nature, less hiding the truth, less hypocrisy.

Football would have to mirror the arrangement BYU has in the West Coast Conference with its basketball team — the church league — and be happy with gutty efforts from perennial underdogs who might, once in a blue moon, surprise everybody.

When you think about the sacrifices other sports at BYU have made for football’s independence and the chasing of something that hasn’t been captured, and that will not be captured without elimination of or adjustments to the code and other attitudes at the school, you have to wonder … what’s out of sync here?

Young athletes can live the way they see fit. God bless ’em. If they want the current BYU environment, they can have it. The school does a lot of good things, creates a place where students can learn and play in a strict interpretation of faith. But taken literally, it cannot win football national championships, can’t even get within shouting distance of it. Not in this college sports world. Not even with some of its athletes sneaking around, breaking the code.

The best way to solve the problem is this: Get rid of the extra layer. Get rid of the honor code. Get rid of the honor code office.

Let students and athletes at the school, whatever their backgrounds, captain their own lives, for better or worse, according to the dictates of their own consciences. Isn’t that what religion is supposed to be? Teach them your version of the truth in required religion classes and let them govern themselves.

It’s 2017, not 1984 — and, word is, that team, the one that so famously achieved competitively what BYU says it wants now, had its share of code breakers on it. Back then, the honor code was more of a self-policed suggestion, a don’t-worry-LaVell-will-handle-it set of guidelines. But the banner honoring the accomplishment at Edwards Stadium hangs there proudly, nonetheless.

Eliminate the hypocrisy. Embrace moral free agency. Recruit better players. Win more games.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.