Sunday, April 18, 2010

Did Football Player Harvey Unga And Basketball Player Keilani Moeaki Withdraw From Brigham Young University Because Of Pre-Marital Sex?

On April 16th, 2010, a press release issued by the Brigham Young University Athletic Department revealed that two BYU student-athletes, football player Harvey Unga and women's basketball player Keilani Moeaki, decided to withdraw from school as a result of a violation of the BYU honor code.

Both individuals decided to withdraw simultaneously; both were announced on the same press release. In addition, Moeaki and Unga broke off an engagement and prospective marriage, but Moeaki told the Deseret News two weeks ago the two had been dating once again. So although the specific honor code violation has not been publicly revealed, these facts have led The Sporting News to speculate as follows: "If you need help to put two on two together: Unga and Moeaki, who have been dating for about three years and were briefly engaged, likely had premarital sex, which violates the 'live a chaste and virtuous life' tenet of the BYU honor code".

Regardless of whether the two actually had "premarital sex", this story illustrates that BYU has one of the toughest honor codes in the nation. The code can be reviewed HERE, and is the foundation for restrictions against drinking, wearing of beards without a medical waiver, sleeveless clothing, and both homosexual behavior and/or advocacy. The influence of the honor code is so powerful that the BYU Women's Cougar Rugby Club will forfeit their April 18th game against Penn State rather than play on the Sabbath. Even though the club is not actually sponsored by the school, which is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the club members say they will follow BYU's long standing tradition of not playing on Sunday. All club members are members of the LDS Church, and they voluntarily made a unanimous choice not to play on Sunday. And seniors are cut no slack either; Chad Hardy was denied his diploma in 2008 even though he had been allowed to walk commencement; shortly after commencement, Hardy was excommunicated from the LDS Church, and BYU authorities presumed he had violated the honor code in order to get excommunicated.

There is good reason for this honor code. LDS students pay a lower tuition rate than other students, so the LDS Church considers it only fair to expect that those benefiting from its subsidy play by its rules. All students understand and pledge to abide by the honor code as a condition of admission, so none are "blindsided". The Church cannot be expected to subsidize the education of "MINOs" (Mormons In Name Only) at a school it owns. The honor code also applies to all universities within the BYU system, not just the Provo campus.

Both coaches involved handled the issue with class. BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall said "I fully support Harvey and his decision regarding his personal situation...The possibility of not having Harvey on the field in the fall would certainly have an impact on our team, but my main concern right now is in supporting Harvey." And concerning Moeaki, BYU women's basketball coach Jeff Judkins said "Keilani has been a valuable contributor to our team the past three years...She has my support while she takes time to address some important personal matters."

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Unga has three options available to him now:

-- He could transfer to an NCAA Division II school (as BYU linebacker Matt Ah You did last year, landing at Central Washington), or even a D-III school or NAIA school, and play immediately.

-- He could put his name into the NFL supplementary draft and turn pro. That mid-July draft is for players who missed filing for this NFL Draft or whose eligibility status has changed.

-- He could try to get reinstated into BYU, perhaps even in time for the Cougars' opener on September 4th against Washington. School spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said Friday that if Unga and/or his girlfriend Keilani Moeaki seek readmission, the decision will be made by dean of students Vern Heperi.

The latter option is quite promising. In past situations dealing with honor code issues, some BYU students, including athletes, in connection with counsel from an LDS Bishop, have withdrawn from school before the university's honor code office officially deals with their case and makes a determination on their standing as a student. In this regard, if that person receives a required ecclesiastical endorsement after one or two semesters, they can return to school without a university ruling on a non-academic issue. BYU operates on a three-semester system. Missing spring and summer sessions is equal to a full fall or winter semester. So Unga and Moeaki both could be back by September, providing both satisfy their respective bishops of their worthiness.

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