Only relevant question: Was Davies treated like any BYU student?

by | CBSSports.com Columnist
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Let the overreaction to Mormonism begin.

Also, the overreaction to BYU. And to athletes' privileges and responsibilities. And to premarital sex, and honor codes, and caffeine.

Yes, we can see a national debate forming over the Brandon Davies story, and when you have a national debate in this here piece of land, you go off the rails pretty damned quickly.

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Fortunately, there's me. Well, fortunately for me, there's me, anyway.

Let's break this down. The debate is not about Mormonism, or about BYU's honor code, or even about Brandon Davies' willpower, or even the perceived lawlessness of college sports. I mean, it can be if you want it to, but you'll be fighting in taverns a lot.

What it's really about is the answer to this series of questions:

Has the BYU honor code's provision on extramarital consensual sex always been applied just as it was in the Davies matter? Is he being treated better or worse than any other student or faculty member in a similar situation? Is this his first offense, and if so, is there a uniformly applied no-strikes-and-you're-out policy that is never overlooked or ignored?

If BYU can make and prove that claim, then we sort of have hit the end of the trail. Davies signed a document that most of us wouldn't touch with a 45-foot gel pen, he couldn't live up to its strictures, and that's that.

But claims like "We never look away," "Everyone gets treated exactly the same," and "No shoes, no feet on the floor, no service, no exceptions" always seem to have exceptions. This is not unusual; in fact, in America, rank has its leverages in all areas, not just religious colleges.

Why the Davies issue (we'd call it a case, but a case kind of sounds like a crime has been committed here, and even BYU doesn't call this a crime) is hitting so many hot buttons is the fact that college athletics has a long and proud tradition of meeting athlete/lawbreakers with "How many yards per carry does he have?" and "I don't want the prosecutor at the line with two free throws when I'm down one."

People who are tired of the felony-o-rama that they see college sports to be want the bank safe thrown at Davies just to show that someone cares about good-fashioned rulebook craftsmanship.

But we've always made great rules. It's just that we don't like to follow them. We like everyone else to follow them, of course, but we're special, and some rules apply some of the time to our guys.

And that's where we need more information. Is this Davies' first time on the collegiate passion trail? Are there warnings and punishments short of losing one's extracurricular activities that could have been applied that would have been consistent with the treatment of the rest of the student/faculty/administrator body?

In short, is this an honor code with pleats?

Justice only works when it applies equally and universally to all, which is why there's so little of it about. Davies is paying a hideous price in national notoriety and national judgment for an act that most other universities do not concern themselves with to any great extent. We'd just like to know that everyone else at BYU pays the same price.

We've already heard a lot of people savage the code as archaic, and maybe it is by most contemporary standards. But it's also value-neutral. It's a piece of paper with words.

We've also heard that this is a Mormon thing, and maybe it is. Its history with blacks is well-documented for its unpleasantness, but by any definition things have changed considerably for the better. How much better is a matter for individual interpretation; I'm not a Mormon, and I don't interpret other hearts. Above my pay grade.

In any event, everyone gets to choose their own church, and every church gets to choose its own path, so long as it does not violate the laws of the states and nations in which it operates, or traffic in social injustices.

The honor code might be archaic, but it's archaic to you. It works for other folks. You don't like it, go somewhere else.

And so it is Mormonism as well. It might not be your cut of meat, but it doesn't have to be. If you find its capacity for forgiveness to be insufficient for your needs, desires or opinions, then find the church that works for you.

This is about whether BYU stands by its rules and regulations in all cases, without exception, and that Brandon Davies was treated neither harsher nor gentler than anyone else, ever. I'm guessing, without evidence beyond the way all other documents are used, that the honor code has its loopholes like any other document interpreted by people.

And if there are those loopholes, and avenues for mercy that were not afforded to Davies, then BYU will reap that whirlwind, and fairly so. Also, if he was afforded more than any other student, BYU will pay for that, too.

In sum, it's going to stink being BYU for a while. And we didn't even get into the basketball team's problems without Davies. The Cougars already got boat-raced at home by New Mexico, and their days as a putative No. 1 seed are seriously endangered.

No, this is a national story now, and national stories take a frightful beating from start to finish. The wrong lessons will be applied, and prejudices introduced, and it will turn into a real three-ring pie fight.

Just because that's the way it works. Pretty much every single time.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.com.

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