BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY has an honor code that follows strict Mormon principles -- no drinking, smoking, premarital sex, suggestive clothes, or other behavior forbidden by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints (LDS).
Students caught violating the code any time during the year are placed on probation, suspended or expelled -- and many have been.
The Provo, Utah, campus has long debated whether football and basketball players -- major revenue producers -- have to worry about the code as much as other athletes and students.
Matthew MacLean, a 26-year-old BYU senior, investigated that issue after several minor-sports athletes said they were disciplined for honor code infractions that higher profile players had gotten away with.
MacLean's investigation, published March 16 in the Student Review, an independent, nonprofit, near bankrupt weekly student newspaper, was titled "Athletes and Alcohol: A Coverup Conspiracy?"
MacLean, writing in an advocacy style, said:
"Why don't we hear of football or basketball players being suspended for honor code violations? Are these athletes more clean than the rest?" And more pointedly: "Are the athletes, in effect, above the law at BYU?"
But the main thrust of MacLean's story focused on the BYU football players and their alleged ability to escape honor code penalties unless their transgressions became public knowledge.
"If what they do is leaked to the press or somehow gets out, then something is done," MacLean said in an interview.
Shortage of cash
The editorial staffers had to dip into their own pockets for the $800 they needed to pay the printing costs.
"They still owe me $300," said MacLean.
And the reaction the young journalists received before the issue even came out convinced them they couldn't wait for their accounts receivable to provide them with printing capital.
"Three or four sources called me up and asked to have their names taken off the story because they were afraid of what was going to happen to them," MacLean said. "I had to refer to them as sources. If I had finished the story a couple of weeks earlier, I probably would have been able to use their names."
The Student Review story got statewide media attention after half of the 1,500-press run disappeared from the free-distribution racks.
"It had never happened to us before," said Russell Fox, who was the student publisher of the eight-year-old publication when the story appeared.
Nick Zukin, the current publisher, said the newspaper office's answering machine also filled up with menacing telephone calls.
"We got one death threat," he said. "And people kept calling us afterwards. But no one ever accused us of being wrong."
The Student Review investigation alleged, among other things, that a group of BYU players were involved in a brawl after a drinking bout at the Port of Call, a Salt Lake City bar and restaurant.
MacLean, citing anonymous sources, said John Walsh, the team's star, non-Mormon quarterback, had been involved in the skirmish.
"I was told by athletes who were at the bar with him that Walsh was intoxicated and had to be protected from the University of Utah players," MacLean said.
An E&P investigation has confirmed that there was an angry face-off between a small group of BYU players and a much larger contingent of University of Utah players.
But none of the Port of Call employees who were at the early evening confrontation last November would confirm or deny wether Walsh was involved or at the bar that night.
Vale Hale, assistant to the athletic director for public and media relations, said Walsh denied vehemently that he has ever been to the Salt Lake City establishment.
"I don't know what those guys are talking about," Hale quoted Walsh as saying.
Hale also said that BYU football coach LaVell Edwards was unaware of any drinking or brawling by his players, conduct that would normally provoke an honor code inquiry.
"Coach Edwards told me that he doesn't know anything except what was reported in the Student Review, and he discounted that," Hale reported. "He doesn't have any other comment."
Had the university called the Port of Call or sent anyone there to check on the story?
"No one has been here," Hale replied. "But I'm sure that someone will check it out when your story appears."
Vale also rejected any suggestion that BYU football players received special honor code treatment.
"That is a myth," he said. "There is no double standard here. Athletes are disciplined all the time, although some things are not made public because of the federal privacy laws. So sometimes people believe that nothing has happened when it does.
"If a student is caught drinking, whether he is an athlete or not, he can be expelled."
But Shauna Parsons, a reporter for KSTU-TV, the Fox outlet in Salt Lake City, reported April 15 that the football team often dodged honor code prosecutions.
"It's not uncommon for coaches, among other things, to turn a blind eye to blatant violations of the honor code," Parsons reported after interviewing several players.
Parsons said in an interview that the players asked not to be identified.
"They said they couldn't talk to the press without permission," she explained.
The KSTU report was broadcast shortly after a front-page article in the Salt Lake Tribune by Joan O'Brien was published, detailing the tale of the missing Student Review newspapers.
O'Brien's story also related the Student Review's contention that BYU coaches were protecting "hard drinking athletes" from Honor Code investigations.
Port of Call confrontation
The bouncers at the Port of Call say the BYU football players started the skirmish with the University of Utah players.
"I probably shouldn't say this, but the BYU kids came here looking for trouble," said one of the bouncers.
The Port of Call is about three miles from the Utah campus and a 45-minute drive from BYU.
The dispute began at about eight in the evening in the basement of the bar when some BYU players began taunting a larger group of Utah players, according to the bouncers.
But the bouncers said they could not identify the players involved in the fracas.
"I have to tell you, I couldn't confirm or deny who was here," said Kenny, a bouncer who helped keep the two groups apart.
Kenny, who spoke on the condition that his last name not be used, said the bar's security detail saved the BYU players from a bad beating.
"There were just four or five BYU guys," Kenny recalled. "And about 20 Utah guys. The BYU players were razzing the Utah group pretty good. BYU had a good team last year and Utah was going nowhere."
Kenny said the BYU players were quickly ushered up the stairs and out of the bar when the Utah squad started to close in on them.
"The Utah players would have gone after the BYU kids if we hadn't stopped it," Kenny said.
Kevin Monte, the manager of the Port of Call, said his bouncers didn't believe the incident merited any special written report or a call to the police.
"We handled whatever happened that night without any problem," Monte said.
He noted that the Port of Call is a hangout of the University of Utah players, but disclosed that BYU players also drop in at the bar on occasion.
How does he know that his customers were BYU football players?
"I recognize them because they're on TV all the time," he replied.
Monte said, however, that he could not recall which players were in his establishment during the BYU-Utah face-off.
Mike McCoy, the quarterback for the University of Utah, said in a telephone interview that he was in the bar the night of the confrontation.
"I came in early that night and heard that something happened, but I can't tell you much more than that," he said. "I don't know whether John or anyone else was there. I really can't give you any accurate information."
Living with the code
Ty Bronicel, sports editor of the Daily Utah Chronicle at the University of Utah, said it is extremely difficult for BYU players to function in their restrictive environment.
"They're mainly teen-agers," Bronicel said.
"It's hard. They are under a microscope. Our guys go down to the Port of Call all the time. But a BYU player might be suspended if he is seen drinking down there.
"It's especially hard on non-Mormon players like John Walsh," Bronicel continued. "He came here a couple of summers ago with some friends of mine from BYU. We all went to a concert at the fairgrounds, and after it was over, we sat around drinking beer. We were all introduced and that's how I met him.
"Our guys do that all the time. But Walsh could get into trouble just for having a couple of beers."
Hale, the BYU spokesman, said Walsh denies he ever went to the fairgrounds for a concert and had any beer afterwards.
"He told me he wasn't there," Hale reported.
The Student Review article was originally rejected by the Daily Universe, a university-funded campus newspaper that is attached to the BYU journalism division.
"We were concerned because Matt MacLean didn't have any on-the-record sources," said Patrick Poyfair, the current news editor, who was in charge of sports coverage last spring.
But the Daily Universe ran a letter to the editor from a part-time history professor, complaining about the disappearance of the Student Review papers containing the sports investigation.
"They're under a lot of control, but they're good journalists," said MacLean admiringly.
The Student Review reprinted its entire story last August, without much reaction.
"No one paid any attention to it this time," said student publisher Zukin. "I guess they figured that if the school didn't say anything, no one would notice."
Zukin says he is considering a follow-up investigation.
"One of our writers worked part-time at the State Liquor Store in the Provo area," he said. "He said he sold a lot of liquor to athletes. He used to ask them for proof and they would show him temple [Latter Day Saints church] identification cards."
Zukin said, however, that Utah state law made it illegal to identify its customers.
"Our writer didn't want to get into trouble," he said.
Legacy of Jim McMahon
The BYU enforcement of its code has become a media preoccupation since Jim McMahon, its former star quarterback, blew the whistle on his alma mater in an autobiography called McMahon.
"I was caught drinking beer on the golf course during the summer and put on probation," McMahon wrote in his book.
"Caught chewing tobacco, put on probation; caught with beer in my room, put on probation. You get the idea. If I hadn't played football, I wouldn't have lasted, I don't think."
McMahon, who starred for BYU in 1980 and 1981, was disciplined for honor code violations after he used up his college football eligibility.
"After football was done, they just happened to discover that I'd been seen drinking and chewing tobacco on campus," he said.
And McMahon said he was never allowed to earn his degree.…