BYU Athletes Victims Of School Trimester System

Here’s an excerpt of a press release sent out by the BYU public relations department on Friday:

Keilani Moeaki and Harvey Unga BYU Video

Two BYU student-athletes — football player Harvey Unga and women’s basketball player Keilani Moeaki — announced Friday they have decided to withdraw from school. Both students have made the decision to withdraw as a result of a violation of the BYU honor code.

With Unga the all-time leading rusher at BYU and Moeaki the sister of NFL draft prospect Tony Moeaki, this is a huge story in Utah at the moment.

Though if you follow the print and local television media coverage of the news from Salt Lake, you’ll see absolutely no speculation as to what the honor code violation was.

Though outside of Utah is a different story.

With the (regrettable) decision by BYU to announce the departure of the athletes at the same time in the same release, that outside speculation centers on the school’s policy forbidding premarital sex by enrolled students.

But in talking to two former BYU football players today, I’ve learned that expulsion merely on those grounds for the athletes in question is highly unlikely.

The two former Cougar football players, speaking to me on the condition of anonymity, said that premarital sex is a common occurrence among students at BYU. The former players also told me that even if the couple was somehow caught in the act, a subsequent gesture of repentance to a Mormon bishop would likely be kept secret and not reported to the BYU honor code office.

So if premarital sex wasn’t the specific reason why Unga and Moeaki withdrew, what was?

Both former BYU players told me that they believed Moeaki to be pregnant and because Unga has been dating Moeaki for three years, and was once engaged to her, the two had no choice but to withdraw from school. (The two are currently featured as a couple in a Feb. 2009 video on the official sports site of BYU.)

The absurd twist to the pseudo scandalous story is that both athletes will probably be back at BYU soon. In Unga’s case, he probably won’t miss a snap.

From Cougars football coach Bronco Mendenhall in the BYU press release:

 ”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.”

By referencing “possibility”, Mendenhall is alluding to the fact that both students can be re-admitted after an appeal to a Mormon bishop and the school’s Dean of Student Affairs.

In other words, barring an NFL team showing overwhelming interesting in Unga this summer as a free agent, there’s a decent chance he’ll be back with the Cougars this fall. (He’s not enough of a prospect to be taken in the league’s supplemental draft this summer.)

To most of us, this whole thing is ridiculous, and I’m certainly not here to defend BYU’s school policies. But when Unga and Moeaki enrolled at BYU, they knew the rules. There’s hypocrisy in every widespread organized religion, with Mormonism no exception. But that’s irrelevant in this case. This is about failing to play by a school’s acknowledged policy.

That doesn’t mean I have no sympathy for the embarrassment heaped upon Unga and Moeaki. The decision of the school to put out a press release including them both - and then offer no details - is worthy of criticism. If you’re going to lump them together, tell us what the deal is. If not, separate press releases would’ve been appropriate.

BYU’s excuse for not making plain why the students were forced off campus is that Unga and Moeaki deserve their privacy. But by putting them together in the press release, BYU itself violated their privacy by implying that sex and/or a pregnancy could be involved. Now rumors, some false, are swirling all over the internet and Unga and Moeaki are being inundated themselves with curiosity seekers.

That’s protecting their privacy?