Sexual Assault: Why the NCAA needs to act

By Morgan Dale, Columnist

The National Collegiate Athletic Association faces an existential challenge: How to handle sexual assaults committed by student-athletes, including how it should punish the players and their schools.

Athletic departments have escaped punishment by covering up assaults, so their star players can take the field and win millions in revenues for the schools. The (partial) roster of shame:

  • The University of Tennessee: Alleged two decades of sexual and criminal misconduct by football and basketball players.
  • The University of Southern California: A football player was accused of raping an unconscious 19-year-old woman in 2016 and videoing it on Snapchat.
  • Baylor University: Possibly 52 rapes by anywhere from 19 to 31 different football players between the years of 2011-2014.

These stories represent only a few of the incidents that have come to light. Most such actions go unreported and, therefore, unnoticed.

Photo by Stephen McClung, used under Creative Commons license.

The NCAA has done little, saying instead that these matters are for the schools and law enforcement to deal with. Is this just a smokescreen? The NCAA could acknowledge that athletes receive special privileges compared to non-athletes and, thus, claim jurisdiction.

Certainly it should be a priority of the NCAA and its member institutions to add to their unethical conduct bylaws a section granting the NCAA the authority to punish institutions that do not meaningfully and transparently adjudicate sexual assaults. This section would state that any athletic personnel that does not report an accusation of violence, whether that is sexual or not, would be penalized accordingly, which would be much in line with current law under Title IX.

The NCAA should be able to take action in these cases not only because these athletes are receiving benefits not accorded to other students, but because these universities should be held morally responsible. For the actions that Baylor’s football team has committed, for example, the death penalty would send an important message, show that the NCAA cares about the well-being of athletes and non-athletes alike, and demonstrate that the NCAA is perhaps still relevant.

Some basic steps could include requiring Title IX compliance for NCAA membership, prohibiting athletic department employees from being involved in campus or external athlete sexual harassment investigations or adjudications, and barring high school or transfer students with a history of sexual violence from participating in athletics, among other activities.

A few conferences have already taken the steps mentioned above. The SEC, BIG 10 and PAC 12 approved policies that bar transfer student-athletes from athletics if the students were not allowed to re-enroll in their previous institution due to serious misconduct, such as sexual assault. Why hasn’t the NCAA taken similar steps?

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