In the USA, March means the men’s and women’s college basketball championships are happening. The greatest of “March Madness” surrounds the men’s NCAA tournament.  In March ’11 a key player on a top ranked team found that his university is very serious about it’s Honor Code.

The player is Brandon Davies, a sophomore center on Brigham Young University‘s men’s basketball team. Due to behavior inconsistent with the university’s honor code, Davies was suspended from the team for the rest of the season. His continued participation as a BYU student is being discussed by university officials. Davies apologized to teammates this week for letting the team down.

Reaction in the sports press, blogs, and forums was fast and loud. On one side, opponents of the action berate the university for unrealistic rules and punishment stronger than the behavior demands. On the other side, advocates support the university for not letting the possibility of a Final Four appearance by the team to delay or ignore the breach of the code.

Clear Agreements & Accountability

At issue here is not whether you think BYU’s Honor Code is fair or appropriate. What is at issue is clear agreements and accountability.

The university believes that the campuses of BYU exist to provide an education in an atmosphere consistent with the ideals and principles of their church. The code states, “That atmosphere is created and preserved through commitment to conduct that reflects those ideals and principles.” These expectations apply not only to students but also to faculty and staff, who certainly contribute to the university atmosphere.

The code further states that, “Students must be in good Honor Code standing to be admitted to, continue enrollment at, and graduate from BYU. The term ‘good Honor Code standing’ means that a student’s conduct is consistent with the Honor Code,” at all times, on or off campus.

The university has every right to define what standards of conduct are required by faculty, staff, and students. If a student attends BYU, that student knows very well what the “ground rules” are. If a student doesn’t agree with those conduct standards, they can choose not to attend that university. If a student chooses to attend the university, that student must adhere to those standards of conduct or face the consequences.

Grace & Diligence

University officials are diligent and apply consequences when they learn of a code infraction. A BYU spokeswoman indicated that the Honor Code Office learned of the violation on Monday, February 28. The university announced on Tuesday, March 1, that Davies had been dismissed from the team but was being allowed to stay in school pending further review by the Honor Code Office.

Officials used tact and grace to announce the violation and consequences. They did not go into details of this specific case, they simply referred to an Honor Code violation. They did not judge Davies nor did they attribute blame.

I believe strongly that the university handled this extremely well. The way they handled this situation, with grace, diligence, and respect, further demonstrates the kind of atmosphere they want to create.

How Clear are Conduct Standards in Your Company?

Our proven culture change process places strong emphasis upon creating values and valued behaviors that help leaders and staff understand what a good citizen looks like in their organization. In our experience, without agreement about conduct standards, the work environment breeds contempt, distrust, and fear.

What can you do today to clarify and enforce desired valued behaviors?

S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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Reader Interactions


  1. AvatarDan Rockwell says


    It’s great to bring an illustration from the educational, sports arena into the business environment.

    Your comments made me think about codes of honor regarding our treatment of co-workers and colleagues. I’ve seen people eaten up and spit out by unethical behaviors that are tolerated rather than punished.

    I think one reason despicable behavior is tolerated is their rank in the feeding chain or the amount of money they bring in… Kudos to BYU for having the guts to create a culture where people don’t worship the god of success.

    Thanks for your work,


    • Chris EdmondsChris Edmonds says

      Thanks for your thoughts, Dan! I’m right with you – I’ve seen incredibly poor treatment of others tolerated for far too long by organizational leaders. The code of honor, covenant of values, list of desired behaviors, etc. can be liberating for leaders and staff. Accountability for performance AND values is the best path –



  2. AvatarJesse Stoner says

    Hi Chris,

    You make a great point that “at issue here is not whether you think BYU’s Honor Code is fair or appropriate. What is at issue is clear agreements and accountability.”

    When companies articulate values and create policies to support them but then don’t hold themselves accountable to them, the words become meaningless. No wonder so many people see the process of creating a vision and values as a waste of time.

    It all comes down to the policy that we teach our children – don’t say it if you don’t mean it.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post.


    • Chris EdmondsChris Edmonds says

      Thanks for you insights, Jesse! We’re both in the business of helping companies realize the benefit of clear vision & values WITH accountability. WITHOUT accountability, it’s the old saga of “teaching a pig to sing” – it’s hard, exhausting work and the outcome ain’t pretty.



  3. AvatarThabo Hermanus says

    It is admirable. As you have all observed, we have seen exceptions being made for the “sacred cows” in the organization and it really makes a joke of the entire “what do we stand for” way of thinking. What I particularly like about how this was handled is Davies was not disgraced, as such leaving room for him to learn his ways and be able to rejoin the team next season.

    • Chris EdmondsChris Edmonds says

      You’re so right, Thabo – and I think the way BYU handled this scenario will offer learning opportunities for the entire team. And I do hope forgiveness – in the form of allowing him to remain a student AND a basketball player – is allowed.