University of Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins recently published an editorial in The Wall Street Journal concerning the NCAA’s role in moving championship events out of the state of North Carolina in response to the infamous HB2 law. Our sport management program welcomed our first-year class with a discussion on this issue. We reviewed the actual legislation and official NCAA governance documents, including their Purpose and Core Values Statement. Healthy debate ensued and the majority declared the NCAA Board of Governors had not exceeded their authority.
So I disagree with Jenkins’ assertion the NCAA overstepped their bounds. Instead I would ask whether NCAA member institutions should ask for some of that authority back.
Jenkins does not advocate for the legislation. He questions whether universities should delegate the role of educating our respective communities concerning “complex, contentious social issues” to athletic associations. I question whether faith-based universities’ thoughts on such issues are being given full consideration in a charged climate. Only one, Dr. Allan Cureton of the University of Northwestern-St. Paul, of the 20 NCAA Board of Governors represents a faith-based institution.
The Big 12 Conference and its possible expansion is a case study. Brigham Young University is one institution under serious consideration for a myriad of reasons, most notably a successful tradition and national fan base in football. The conference has faced pressure from several organizations and constituents representing its current membership to deny BYU an invitation because of its Church Educational System Honor Code.
Homosexual behavior is identified as a violation of the code. It is a breach of the strict commitment to the law of chastity required of all members of the university community, regardless of their gender attraction. All sexual activity outside a traditional marriage is a code violation. But unlike the North Carolina law, the BYU Honor Code applies only to members of the campus community who have made an informed decision to join. It is not applicable to visitors or those not affiliated with the university. There does not appear to be any discrimination, other than by the anti-BYU faction displaying bigotry toward a value system contradicting their own.
I find HB2, in word and in spirit, to be poor law and an unnecessary attack on a community long marginalized. I am not comfortable with the BYU Honor Code. Yet I am concerned.
I worry about the faith based institutions who are members of athletic associations, which appear to be aligning with the demands of a more secularized society. I do not like how the NCAA Board of Governors’ membership does not proportionally represent faith-based institutions or, as Jenkins describes, that they made a bold (though correct) decision without consulting faith-based schools. I do not like what has happened to BYU to date – a final decision by the Big 12 awaits. Faith-based and all institutions of higher learning must stay committed to ensure intercollegiate athletic governing bodies do not discriminate against religious traditions in the absence of clear discriminatory practices.