Jim Rome draws a seven-figure salary each year hosting national, sports-themed radio and television shows. His trademark shtick involves the unleashing of an acerbic, razor-sharp wit to induce laughter from his audience at the expense of prominent sports figures.
But Wednesday morning Rome's trademark sarcasm was noticeably absent, his voice instead characterized by a focused, clinical seriousness at the beginning of the syndicated radio show that reaches over 2 million listeners on more than 250 station affiliates. The first big topic of the day: BYU's suspension of sophomore center Brandon Davies for the rest of the basketball season due to a violation of the school's honor code.
"Credit to (BYU) for not compromising its integrity and selling out for the millions they could've made for a deep run in the NCAA tournament," Rome said. "How many programs would've let a player skate for violating a rule right before the (NCAA) tourney, especially if you're looking at your best season ever? … I respect it. I definitely respect that."
Rome isn't alone in praising BYU's decision to suspend Davies pending a complete investigation. Although many media members and bloggers expressed shock that the No. 3 college basketball team in the country could actually suspend its third-leading scorer and leading rebounder for the rest of the season over a non-criminal Honor Code violation, most coverage of the ordeal has not only been fair but even positive with regard to BYU's commitment to its values. Even if it has been positive, school officials would rather have foregone the attention for the sake of Davies, the team and its fans.
BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins handled the majority of the media inquiries this week regarding the Honor Code. Jenkins, who said she hasn't been this busy fielding phone calls from reporters since Vice President Dick Cheney spoke at a BYU commencement in April 2007, appreciates the professionalism of the journalists she has interacted with over the past several days even though she wishes this imbroglio had never materialized.
"I'm hesitant to categorize this as positive," she said. "This is really not something that we're seeking, but we are grateful that the media is asking for a response from the university and that they are working very hard.
"The majority of the reporters that I have worked with have been very careful to be accurate in their reporting. We do think that many of the pieces reflect the importance of the honor code here at the university, and have expressed that very well."
Former BYU football player Vai Sikahema is a well-known journalist with plum TV and radio gigs in Philadelphia. Not only has he stayed abreast of the media's coverage of Davies' dismissal from the basketball team, but Sikehema has also had the chance to explain the honor code during several interviews across multiple media formats.
"Nearly every commentator/reporter I've seen or read has been overwhelmingly supportive of BYU's decision," Sikahema wrote Friday in a blog post for the Deseret News. "As you might imagine, as a media personality and BYU alum, I have been sought out for reaction. I've done radio interviews in Chicago, New York, Miami and Los Angeles and with a reporter from Time Magazine. My TV station devoted a segment of our afternoon news yesterday to it, asking me to discuss the Honor Code."
The Time interview Sikahema references provided some of the key material for the article "Is BYU's Premarital Sex Controversy Good For College Sports?" In addition to Sikahema, former star Cougars such as Steve Young and Shawn Bradley also chimed in.
"(Davies) will probably be a better man," Sikahema said to Time. "And that's ultimately what BYU is about, building leaders, building men. If that means missing out on a chance at the Final Four, well, that's what happens."
Kevin Baumer, a columnist at Business Insider ardently defended BYU,
"Criticism of the school's policies (is) not necessarily fair to BYU," he wrote. "The school has worked hard to establish its reputation, and its no-tolerance policy for violators is a big part of that. … BYU does deserve commendation for holding true to its principles."
Baumer, less than one year removed from college graduation, continued that he "didn't know one student at school that could have complied with all of the standards listed in BYU's honor code." However, maybe Baumer was wrong — maybe he really did know people who could have complied with the honor code. ESPN's Sports Nation web poll asked the question, "Could you live under the BYU honor code for one year?" Late Friday, the results were 57 percent to 43 percent in favor of "yes."
Writing for Commentary magazine, Peter Wehner praised the traditional values of BYU's honor code at a time when many universities no longer emphasize efforts to instill a moral compass in their students.
"Once upon a time, universities were committed to the formation of character and shaping the inner lives of their students," Wehner said. "This commitment traveled under the name 'in loco parentis.' For most universities today, this is a quaint notion. At BYU, it's alive and well. And even those who don't agree with the honor code itself are willing to praise those who aspire to live their lives a certain way, in accordance with certain principles and core beliefs."
The Davies coverage has appeared in such unexpected places as a piece in the British tabloid Daily Mail about how more than a quarter of young Americans say they are virgins and a Glen Falls (N.Y.) Post-Star article suggesting punitive measures for a politician who isn't keeping his word.
As difficult as it may seem with such a saturation of media coverage for the Brandon Davies saga, this week was really just the first chapter of a larger story. Some important questions won't have answers anytime soon (i.e., will Davies ever suit up again for BYU?), but one pressing issue will now steadily march toward resolution in the days and weeks ahead: how will the Cougars finish the Year of Jimmer without their best big man?
"There are a few … who do not think the Cougars are finished," the New York Times noted Thursday. "But everyone is looking on with a slightly puzzled expression."
Others who have commented:
"Many schools have honor codes, with students mandated to live and learn by certain standards. Still, the one that applies for students at Brigham Young's campuses in Utah, Hawaii and Idaho is more extensive than most, part of a conscious effort to 'provide an education in an atmosphere consistent with the ideals and principles of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.'"
ESPN columnist Pad Forde:
"In my youth I was not sober enough, chaste enough, conformist enough, dogmatic enough or decaffeinated enough to have been a very good student at BYU. But today I am impressed by the school's commitment to its rules, even at a potentially tremendous cost to its basketball team."
Wall Street Journal blog:
"While most universities don't have honor codes as tough as Brigham Young's — which also forbids the consumption of alcohol and coffee — other universities also aren't BYU, and thus don't require their students to abide by the rules of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
ESPN blogger Andy Katz:
"Reaction … has been mixed with alumni applauding the move of upholding the code and other outsiders wondering why Davies couldn't be suspended in six weeks. But as one source said, 'We are who we are, and that's not going to change. We represent the [Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints]."'
Washington Post columnist Tracee Hamilton
Fox Sports columnist Jeff Goodman