With the Baylor Bears still immersed in the ongoing scandal in Waco, the Big 12 Conference has an important decision to make about the school that was commonly considered the frontrunner to join the league if it decides to expand by two or four institutions — the BYU Cougars.
From several standpoints, including athletics (especially football), market size, and overall fan base, BYU is extremely appealing to a conference that doesn’t have many strong options and includes several schools with less appealing profiles than the Cougars.
However, in light of the scandal at Baylor that at least partly stems from the school’s student conduct code, similar issues in Provo are seriously impacting BYU’s candidacy.
On Monday, 25 groups representing LGBT issues asked the Big 12 not to admit BYU, one of which claimed that the school’s honor code "provides no protections for LGBT students ... Given BYU's homophobic, biphobic and transphobic policies and practices, BYU should not be rewarded with Big 12 membership.”
The school’s athletic director responded:
LGBT players, coaches and fans are always welcome to the BYU campus. Everyone should be treated with respect, dignity and love. Tom— Tom Holmoe (@TomHolmoe) August 9, 2016
However, since “homosexual behavior” is expressly outlawed by the school, several openly gay former Big 12 athletes have said they would decline to participate in athletic competition against BYU, feelings that stand in sharp contrast to the supposed inclusiveness for which Holmoe is supposedly advocating.
"It is a serious issue," an industry source familiar with Big 12 expansion told the Dallas Morning News. "Whether it keeps them out or not, it is a serious issue."
In fact, the Big 12 has a bylaw that expressly forbids the discrimination enacted at BYU by the Honor Code:
“It is the obligation of each Member Institution to refrain from discrimination prohibited by federal and state law, and to demonstrate a commitment to fair and equitable treatment of all student-athletes and athletics department personnel,” reads a section from the Big 12 Handbook.
The potential issue for the conference isn’t necessarily just BYU’s affiliation with the Mormon church, it’s fact that the Mormon church plays such a large role in institutionalizing policies that discriminate against LGBT students and victims of sexual assault, which makes the issues all the more difficult to fix because they run more deeply than merely with the school itself.
Check out his awful story of a student who alleged that she had been raped at BYU, but was then suspended from the school for drug use and a prior sexual encounter with that student. All because she violated the school’s Honor Code.
If that treatment of alleged sexual assault victims sounds similar to what has been happening at Baylor, that’s because it is.
Earlier this week, the potential Title IX issues stemming from the Honor Code and BYU’s enforcement of it prompted the Office of Civil Rights to launch an investigation that could result in the removal of federal financial aid and other funding.
Just like at Baylor, some people around the program just don’t get it. Like this Salt Lake City Tribune columnist, for instance:
Hell, student-athletes can't even wear a beard at BYU. Are beard-wearers discriminated against, then? Can a school have any kind of behavioral code, anymore, without claims being brought against it?
The answer is that, yes, in fact, beard-wearers are being discriminated against and while that type of discrimination may seem benign, it’s not, because it’s only one small example of larger and much more dangerous discrimination happening at BYU.
So the larger answer is that, yes, a school can have whatever type of behavioral code it wants, as long as it doesn’t discriminate against students, especially students in communities that already suffer from an incredible amount of discrimination from other elements of society.
And if the behavioral code serves as a reporting barrier for sexual assaults, then it is not acceptable and needs to change to follow federal guidelines. That’s not an opinion, that’s the law.
Is that really so hard to understand?
Because of the systemic cultural issues that result in such egregious discrimination and neglect in Provo, the Big 12 should avoid the potential for future scandals and decline to invite BYU into the league until such a point at which the school can reform the Honor Code to be inclusive of LGBT students and properly follow Title IX guidelines in dealing with victims of sexual assault.
An amnesty clause for students who have been sexually assaulted while under the influence of drugs or alcohol or after having engaged in consensual sex with the person who assaulted them is the necessary first step.
The next step would be to stop the institutionalized discrimination against LBGT students.
Expansion may be an absolute money grab for the conference, but that doesn’t mean that the Big 12 can afford to set aside the values espoused in its handbook and accept an institution with blatantly discriminatory policies.
Some things matter more than sports.