Rules help keep athletes in school after allegations of misconduct
By Todd Crosset
Jun 09, 2015 | 3:30 PM
Terps beat writer Don Markus talks about former Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon becoming the latest player to transfer to Maryland. Where does this team rank in Terps history? (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Mr. Sulaimon was dismissed in January from Duke University's basketball program for "unspecified reasons." The school said in a statement that Mr. Sulaimon remained "in good academic stating and [was] expected to finish the spring semester," which he did.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski said Mr. Sulaimon "repeatedly struggled to meet the necessary obligations" of the team. What he didn't say was that the player had been accused of sexual assault separately by two female students in the 2013-2014 academic year, according to The Chronicle, Duke's student newspaper. Each of the women made public accusations against the player, though neither filed criminal charges nor took up the issue with Duke's Office of Student Conduct, the newspaper said. Mr. Sulaimon has denied that he committed any sexual assault and has said that his dismissal "had nothing to do with this allegation."
It certainly is possible Mr. Sulaimon's team dismissal, the first in Mr. Krzyzewski's 35 years at Duke, was unrelated to the allegations, which have never been proven. But the whole saga — the dismissal of a player who's been accused of sexual assault without explanation, the choice to keep him on as a student and his transfer to Maryland — fits what has become a pattern in the NCAA.
The phrase "good academic standing" is a reference to NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) rules. The APR was designed to encourage athletic departments to work with academically troubled athletes to stay in school. Teams that do not retain athletes or fail to keep them academically eligible can have their scholarships reduced or be suspended from postseason play, through a point system. Essentially, a school is given two points for every athlete who returns to campus in good standing. If an athlete stops going to class and drops out of school mid-semester — or is expelled — the team loses those two points. But if an athlete leaves school at the end of a semester in good standing, the team loses only one point. And if the athlete transfers in good standing to a four-year institution, the team is not punished at all.
An unintended consequence of the APR, therefore, is that it incentivizes colleges and universities to keep problem athletes on campus to the end of the term and then help them to transfer to another school — a recipe for repeat offenses and Title IX lawsuits.
This transferring of problem athletes to other schools without holding them accountable for bad behavior — or publicly clearing them of it — is far too common.
An investigation last year by the Tribune Review newspaper in Pittsburgh revealed that between 2012 and 2014, California University of Pennsylvania signed three players who had been released from "Division I schools when charged with violent crimes ranging from armed robbery to aggravated assault."
In July, Northwest Florida State College recruited Brandon Austin, even though he was accused of sexual assault at two previous colleges and had been suspended from the basketball teams at each because of the allegations, though no charges were filed.
Football player Jonathan Taylor was dismissed from the University of Georgia for domestic violence in July 2014. He was picked up by rival Alabama, and then dismissed from the team in March following new allegations of domestic violence; a school spokeswoman said Mr. Taylor was referred to judicial affairs and confirmed that he was no longer a student as of early April, nor was he eligible for re-entry.
When athletes are accused of misconduct and dismissed from their teams, they usually retain full access to athletic academic counseling to ensure they make it to the end of the semester in good standing. Additionally, they have access to athletic training facilities to enable them to stay fit and a remain attractive prospects for another school.
Last month, the SEC passed a rule prohibiting conference members from accepting transfers from other SEC schools that dismissed players for sexual assault or domestic violence.
The NCAA needs to follow the SEC's lead. It should create an exemption in the calculation of the APR index for athletes expelled or suspended for sexual assault, domestic violence or other violent or hostile acts. Athletic departments then won't feel compelled to pass their most troubled athletes to other institutions and can act to create a safer educational environment.
Holding young men accountable for bad acts will also give them reason to change. Is that not what we should expect of our institutions of higher learning?
Todd Crosset is undergraduate program director & associate professor in the Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His email is email@example.com.