SALT LAKE CITY — The honor code at BYU is a lot like starting a neighborhood restaurant: good idea, but tough to execute.
On the positive side, if a person doesn't drink, smoke, take drugs, cheat in class, break the law or have sex outside marriage, how much trouble can he make? The worst he can do is overeat.
On the down side, not everybody honors the code. That's when things get messy. In a Deseret News story, last week, assistant football coach Joe DuPaix said BYU wants to expand its recruiting pool to include more non-LDS players. The Cougars are looking for all the chaste, non-drinking, non-smoking All-Americans they can find. But it's risky business to widen recruiting just when BYU should be narrowing, or at least keeping things static.
The last thing BYU needs is more honor code publicity.
DuPaix isn't wrong in saying there are top non-LDS athletes who would embrace BYU's standards. There just aren't many of them. But it's not just the honor code, it's the other stuff. How many non-LDS players want to take religion classes as part of their curriculum — especially if it's not their religion?
That's a lot to deal with for an athlete on his own for the first time. There's the strangeness of a new town, being in college, growing up and the additional complication of navigating the honor code.
Non-LDS athletes nowadays discover a few things, upon arriving at BYU. First, the university is serious when it says the honor code will be enforced. Second, the social life for non-Mormons in Provo can be strange. Waiting until the next ward activity doesn't always cut it.
It's enough to make a player want to go to Texas Christian.
BYU has had some fine non-LDS athletes over the years who succeeded in the system. Athletic director Tom Holmoe wasn't LDS when he came to BYU. Neither were All-America quarterbacks Ty Detmer or Robbie Bosco.
Then there was the guy still famous for his non-Mormon-ness, Jim McMahon.
But that was a long time ago. Coaches could sometimes call in players to discuss the honor code and work with them if a problem arose. That option barely exists anymore.
The dismissal of basketball player Brandon Davies last spring was as painful as appendicitis, but the school couldn't keep it a secret. Instead of working things out behind the scenes, BYU now must call press conferences and issues news releases.
There's a '60s song called The Night has a Thousand Eyes."
Now it's closer to a billion, thanks to the social media.
Latter-day Saints break the honor code, too. Davies is LDS, as was Harvey Unga, the football star who left school last year after similar violations. But if BYU thinks it has its hands full now, wait until it gets more players who don't grow up with a clear concept of the honor code. It's bound to produce more problems.
BYU shouldn't exclude non-Mormons. Heaven knows where its athletics would be without Detmer, Bosco and Holmoe. But it also shouldn't get carried away looking for them, as former coach Gary Crowton can attest. Odds of finding more honor code-compliant, non-LDS athletes than it already has aren't great.
With all the publicity the honor code has generated in the last year, BYU can't risk more flareups. It should continue to get every Jake Heaps and Jimmer Fredette it can find — top Mormon athletes who can live the honor code. Then it should do as it always has, by filling in a few spots. But it shouldn't overreach. It should be more worried about getting all the best LDS players than getting those that aren't.
The Cougars have done nicely without many blue chip players. Honor code complications are something else they can do without.