Thou Shalt Not …

A March Madness update and a look at the ethics and morals that “rule” college basketball

For updated Catholic Bracketology -- men's and women's -- go to
March Madness continues and I can hear brackets busting all over the country. I doubt that very few people predicted the outcomes of last Friday’s games. As of right now my bracket is fine, but I have already lost two of my final four teams and will therefore struggle mightily as the tourney continues. As you already know there are several religious institutions in the men’s and women’s tournaments this year, and some of them are doing quite well. Three such schools have made it into the Sweet 16 — Baylor, Marquette, and Xavier. Unfortunately, this number is guaranteed to shrink due to the fact that Baylor and Xavier will play for the right to enter the Elite Eight, while Marquette will battle Florida for an opportunity to join one of them. Several other schools competed well including Brigham Young University, Gonzaga, Vanderbilt, St. Louis, Georgetown, and Creighton who all won their first games of the tournament. And don’t think I forgot about the women’s tournament, which looks to be inching closer to a Baylor and Notre Dame final.

Code of conduct

If you take a look at all of the schools in this year’s tournament, you’ll find moral and ethical codes of conduct that govern players’ behavior on and off the court. Mostly, the strict rules at religious schools revolve around the central beliefs of the schools’ religious backgrounds. They deal with drugs, alcohol, sex outside of marriage, and other behavioral and moral norms within each particular faith. Brigham Young University (BYU), a Mormon university, forbids students from having premarital sex while enrolled at the university. BYU’s code also forbids alcohol, tobacco, tea, coffee, and interestingly, beards. These may seem absurd rules to some, but as BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said in an interview with ESPN, “We live this. This is who we are.” It is obvious that BYU does not ignore the fact that its values are an integral part of its identity and that even athletic teams are expected to honor the code of ethics at the school. BYU is not alone. However, I would doubt that there are many public colleges and universities that forbid their students to grow a beard or drink coffee.

Another important aspect of religious colleges and universities is the actual practice of faith, specifically on a designated Sabbath. Many religions forbid excessive activity on the Sabbath, causing a bit of a predicament for school athletic teams.

My alma mater, Notre Dame, (who once again choked away another first round game, this time to Xavier) forbids sex outside of marriage as well as possession of alcohol on campus exceeding 14 percent alcohol by volume. Liberty University, in Virginia (whose women’s team lost to Notre Dame in the first round of their tournament) forbids displays of affection beyond hand-holding, including “giving backrubs or massages, kissing, reclining or lying together in an intimate fashion, sitting on each other’s laps.” Georgetown University (who defeated Belmont in their first game but lost to upset-minded North Carolina State in the next round) forbids overnight opposite sex visitors in its dorms.

Several religious institutions have been forced to put their values first and punish players, and in essence entire sports teams, for breaking the rules set forth in their particular code of ethics. For instance, BYU’s men’s basketball team was thrust into the spotlight entering the 2011 National Championship tournament after suspending forward Brandon Davies, the squad’s leading rebounder and third-leading scorer, indefinitely for having consensual sex with his girlfriend. Although the team was just about to enter the NCAA tournament with a great chance to win, BYU suspended Davies. Notre Dame was also forced to suspend a prominent player during the 2007 season when starting guard Kyle McAlarney was arrested for marijuana possession. At the time of the suspension, Notre Dame had won 11 straight games and was ranked number 19 in the AP rankings poll. Both teams lost in their second round games of their respective NCAA tournaments. It would have been much easier, and most likely more profitable, for both BYU and Notre Dame to overlook these situations and allow their athletes to continue to play. However, these schools did the right thing and made sure that every student, prominent athlete or not, was held to the same high standard no matter the consequences.

Team practice (of faith)

Another important aspect of religious colleges and universities is the actual practice of faith, specifically on a designated Sabbath. Many religions forbid excessive activity on the Sabbath, causing a bit of a predicament for school athletic teams. All of BYU’s athletic teams choose not to play on Sundays and will forfeit any contest that cannot be rescheduled. In the past BYU basketball teams have rescheduled Sunday contests, the women’s Rugby team forfeited a game in the championship tournament and walked away from the trophy, the men’s tennis team was allowed to move the championship game of a Midwest Regional tournament from Sunday to Tuesday and from Las Vegas to Provo, Utah, in order to observe the Sabbath, and the co-ed ultimate Frisbee team was forced to forfeit before the championship game of a tournament due to the organizers’ unwillingness to move the game.

It is important to note that many of the non-religious institutions in the NCAA are beginning to raise their own standards and hold their students and athletes to these standards as well. Syracuse’s suspension of Fab Melo, their best player, for undisclosed reasons just days before this year’s NCAA tournament began, and Kansas State’s suspension of Jamar Samuels for accepting benefits (a violation of NCAA standards) literally minutes before its game against Syracuse are both examples of the changes happening in college sports. The enforcement of codes of conduct is benefiting athletic departments at schools all across the country and giving us players that fans and other young athletes can look up to.

Here’s a link to the updated Busted Halo version of the NCAA Tournament Men’s and Women’s brackets. Check them out for some Catholic Bracketology.