SMITH: A national champion in deed

Brigham Young teaches collegians the value of a principled life

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Brigham Young University’s storied basketball season may have been dealt a significant blow by the University’s decision to suspend their center, Brandon Davies, for a violation of the school’s honor code prohibition against premarital sex, a violation that did not involve any criminal behavior. The university’s decision has been praised and attacked. What is clear is that it could be quite costly, in an economic sense.

Brandon Davies has played a major role in the success of the Cougars’ rise to a No. 3 national ranking in the polls, and his loss could translate into an earlier-than-anticipated departure for BYU from the NCAA national basketball tournament. Early exit from the tournament would result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the university and its athletic program. The university and its coach knew this but they stood firm.

Brandon’s coach, Dave Rose, has proven to be a real teacher-coach. He has indicated that he hopes Brandon can return to the team next season, but he has not defended the actions of his star center. Rather, Mr. Rose stated, “Everybody who comes to BYU, every student if they are an athlete or not an athlete, they make a commitment when they come.” And he added, “A lot of people try to judge if this is right or wrong, but it’s a commitment they make. It’s not about right or wrong. It’s about commitment.”

At a time when too few universities and even fewer coaches seem willing to make hard decisions of this sort, the response of BYU and Mr. Rose was prompt and consistent. In doing so, they teach the importance of commitment and conscience, being true to one’s word, as more important than a win in the next game, however important that game may seem to be.

As a college president, I wish more universities and their leaders would stand firm for such principles, rather than seeking to find ways to skirt the principle to obtain a momentary financial or reputational reward. Wins translate into dollars, especially at this juncture in the season for schools with excellent basketball teams like BYU‘s. Wins also bring attention, students, accolades and even donors to institutions with successful big-time athletic programs. They tempt institutions to relent on their obligations as educators.

In the long run, wins slip into record books, but lessons taught and learned about commitment and honesty, about being true to one’s self and a higher standard can shape a life and are critical to our nation’s future. If the culprits in the Enron scandal or the major players in other economic or political lapses of integrity would have learned the lessons BYU and Mr. Rose are teaching Brandon Davies and others touched by this story, our nation’s future would be more secure.

At Southern Virginia University, where I am privileged to serve, we are committed to a code similar to the one in use at BYU, which includes not playing on our Sabbath. Our women’s soccer team made it to the United States Collegiate Athletic Association national championship game last fall, but they stood by their principles and gave up the opportunity to play for the national championship.

Many found our rule and the commitment of our young women to be silly, just as some have mocked BYU’s firm stance. Our women, like the players at BYU, who want the best for Brandon but understand the importance of their commitments to each other and the team, saw things differently and more clearly. For them, conscience and commitment are more important than momentary rewards.

People of conscience and commitment seldom fall prey to the allure of immediate or even quarterly pleasure, the root cause of crises like the Enron scandal. They provide the bulwark as leaders of our economy and our country.

Thank you, Brigham Young University and Mr. Rose for caring enough about higher principles and what is really important to remind Brandon and all of us of their importance, even when momentary rewards seem to dictate a different course. I am not going to have to wait for the national championship game to declare my champion. You have won that title.

Rodney K. Smith is president of Southern Virginia University, has served as a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division One Infractions Appeals Committee and is a co-author of a leading sports law and policy text.

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