As a female sports blogger, there can be challenges. While this idea that men are cavemen inherently born with an understanding of sports has surely progressed over the years, you still get the occasional guy who thinks that, because we don’t have “the equipment,” we can’t possibly understand sports, particularly football. I’m lucky in that Jamie Plunkett (my Editor) isn’t of that mindset at all. Of course, Melissa Triebwasser (my other Editor) helps keep him in check, too.
But as of a couple years ago, the challenges of being a female sports writer, and even a female sports fan in general, changed drastically. While the NFL struggled to pull female fans back to their stadiums after watching videos of Ray Rice punch his fiance in an elevator, women everywhere were faced with a dilemma: How do you support a team, a coach, and a league that repeatedly looks the other way when players commit violent acts against women? We can talk about “Girl Power” all day, but what example does it set for our children to see a video like that on the news and then watch us wearing the team colors and cheering for the assailant? I have to admit it was easy for me to decide that while I will support the former TCU players in the NFL, my loyalty to any particular team is done.
And then the world of college football shifted on its axis completely: Penn State’s football program was upended by allegations of child rape and molestation by longtime former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. There was evidence of a cover-up, which abruptly ended the careers of school president Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley, among others. Fast-forward to 2014, when a pattern of sexual assault arrests appeared down in Waco. Players were convicted, and lawsuits were filed against the school and coaching staff. Then, in October 2015, an escort named Katina Powell published Breaking Cardinal Rules, a book about Louisville Basketball’s use of her services with recruiters and players alike. It included pictures, and lots of documentation.
So now the conundrum of being a female sports fan and college sports writer has hit closer to home. As more evidence comes to light surrounding the ongoing scandals at schools like Louisville and Baylor, and we watch the list of new allegations grow against schools across the country (including the University of Minnesota, Michigan State, and Purdue), we have to start asking some tough questions. Why are student-athletes, in particular, so often involved? What can Universities do to prevent this from happening? And what should the NCAA be doing to punish these schools? As I pondered these questions, I did what any blogger would do: I started typing. I started researching and saving articles and reading books in criminal psychology. I researched cases, studied books about coaching styles, and read school websites. And I compared everything to TCU, because I am, after all, a Frogs O’ War writer. I wanted to know what I could do, as an alumni, a college sports fan, and the parent of a little girl to make sure that young ladies at TCU feel safe and their voices are heard. My typing turned into a 6-part series on sexual assaults involving student-athletes on college campuses, why they happen, and how to prevent them. There are plenty more questions to ask than what I’ve written here, but we can’t fix the problem until someone starts the conversation. And so, below you will find Part One: The N-C-Double-Standard.
She wakes up in a dark room. A sliver of light shines through curtains, telling her the sun is out. As her vision clears, she realizes this isn’t her dorm room. And that’s not her roommate lying on the floor next to her. She recognizes him, but she can’t say from where. Her brain isn’t fully functioning yet. Her head is pounding. She realizes she’s naked and grabs for the nearest thing to cover her, though the room seems quiet and the man next to her is still sleeping. She can hear the sounds of breathing all around her, and she realizes there are others asleep in this room—this room she doesn’t recognize that seems so silent and so loud at the same time. She gets up and looks for her clothes, sending a prayer of thanks to the heavens when she finds them close by. There are clothes everywhere, a mixture of men’s and women’s, plus shoes, purses, and keys. The door to the room is open and she walks out to find herself in a small living room, a kitchen nearby. She’s in an apartment. It starts to come back to her: Her roommate coming to her side of the dorm room yesterday. Asking her to drive her to a party. Begging her to play designated driver. Promising that it would be fun, but that these were friends who could be trusted to throw a great party. She recalls giving in, going to the party. And then there are only pieces left. Pieces of memories that don’t quite connect. Starting to shake, she finds her purse. Her keys. She briefly looks for her phone and can’t find it. She leaves it. She doesn’t see her roommate anywhere, and more than anything she knows she has to get out. She has to leave now. Maybe if she walks outside, gets in her car, she’ll be OK. She’ll wake up. This will be one of those weird dreams within a dream. She opens the door and quickly walks to her car. At least it’s still there where she left it, parked in front of the apartment. She gets in, starts the engine, and begins to drive home. As she sits in the car, she gets that feeling. That feeling that only women know. The one that tells her something physical happened to her body. And with it, twinges of pain that tell her it wasn’t consensual. She didn’t drink. She swears she didn’t. And yet, bile rises in her throat. She rolls the window down and breaks into sweats. She pulls off the freeway halfway home and into a mall parking lot to open the door and throw up. She doesn't hesitate—throwing the car back into drive and leaving before other cars arrive on this Sunday morning. She can’t face anyone right now. She can’t handle any questions. She’s not even sure she would know the answers to them. And so she drives home. She all but runs to her dorm room, looking for comfort in the familiarity of her bed, yet knowing that something has happened and she’ll never feel safe anywhere, ever again. And she still has no idea what’s happened.
In 1905, the sport of football had claimed the lives of 18 players during games. Theodore Roosevelt was faced with the decision to ban a sport he loved, or find a way to protect young athletes. After meeting with 13 representatives of football, a safety agreement was created and the NCAA was born a short time later. Over time the NCAA quickly evolved into the governing body that it is today. It went from 62 member schools to 1,123 schools and institutions, generating almost $1 Billion in revenue. In 1921, the NCAA hosted it’s first NCAA Championship in a sport, and in 1952 it became obvious that a part-time committee that created rules regarding college sports and recruiting was inadequate and needed full-time support. Offices were moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and full-time staff was added. In the 1980s, Women’s sports were offered under the NCAA, yet in 1999, the NCAA was sued for discrimination under Title IX for giving more graduate waivers to men than women. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the NCAA wasn’t subject to that particular law, but never actually reviewed the allegations of discrimination.
The NCAA has 7 core values listed on the website:
It’s governed by a Board of Governors that includes 20 members from varying conferences, divisions, and schools.
As we’ve seen in the past with SMU and Penn State, the NCAA has the ability to investigate member schools for violations or infractions against their core values. The Mission of the NCAA’s Infraction Program can be seen below in Section 19.01.1, as listed on their website:
In section 19.01.2, the NCAA states that it will “hold institutions, coaches, administrators, and student-athletes who violate the NCAA constitution and bylaws accountable for their conduct, both at individual and institutional levels.”
Additionally, Section 19.1.1 addresses the Severe Breach of Conduct (Level 1 Violation):
So what does all of that mean when we’re talking about jurisdiction over the behavior of student-athletes and their coaches? In their case against SMU, the NCAA used the infamous “death penalty” after learning that the school and its boosters were paying players. Given the above, you can see why SMU was in violation: by offering players money, they gained an unfair advantage in recruiting and success on the field which likely would not have occurred without those players, and jeopardized the amateurism of the sport. The jurisdiction was clear, especially with repeated offenses.
But the NCAA’s investigation into Penn State in 2011 was unprecedented. You can see a full timeline of the allegations, arrests, and actions taken by law enforcement and the NCAA here. With public outrage and collective disgust over the actions of Jerry Sandusky and other members of the Penn State coaching staff and administration, on July 23, 2012, the NCAA announced a $60 million fine, banned them from the postseason for four years, and vacated their wins from 1998-2011. They also lost 20 football scholarships a year for those four years. The Big Ten Conference followed by designating Penn State’s share of bowl revenues for the next four seasons for donation to child abuse prevention (an estimated $13 million).
In February 2013, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett signed the Endowment Act, in an attempt to keep the $60 million fine within the State of Pennsylvania. In September 2013, the NCAA agreed to give back the football scholarships it took away, stating that the university took appropriate action after Sandusky’s actions became public. Fast-forward to September 8, 2014 when the NCAA said Penn State could compete in the postseason and would receive the full number of football scholarships as soon as 2015. Penn State also agreed to give $60 million toward child sexual abuse prevention and treatment. Several months later, the NCAA agreed to restore 111 of Penn State’s wins as part of a settlement for a lawsuit brought by Pennsylvania State Senator Jake Corman and Treasurer Rob McCord (both alumni of Penn State), reinstating Joe Paterno as the winningest coach in college football history (something the school has taken great pride in for a long time). The NCAA also agreed to keep the $60 million penalty in the state of Pennsylvania. The entire NCAA timeline can be found here.
So now we turn to Baylor. People everywhere have repeatedly asked why the NCAA hasn’t brought about punishment for their culture of violence against women perpetuated by members of the football team. After looking at the battle that the NCAA fought against Penn State and the State of Pennsylvania as a whole, it’s easy to see why they would be hesitant to take action against Baylor. The NCAA was originally created to focus on student-athlete’s safety during games, and was later expanded to make recruitment a fair practice. But if you're going to define a Severe Breach of Conduct to include “Individual unethical or dishonest conduct,” you have to consider behavior that occurs off-the-field. The NCAA’s first two Core Values include:
Integrity should not only refer to sanctioned games, practices, and team events. And if you talk about them “balancing their academic, social, and athletics experiences,” then you should have jurisdiction over off-the-field activities. Let’s face it: most “social experiences” in college don’t happen in front of a stadium or arena full of people.
They implore University coaches and staff to maintain high moral values because they are “in the final analysis, teachers of young people.” While I applaud them for including this, you have to be willing to uphold it, which includes facing down beloved coaches at big name universities. Even if that means vacating wins and forcing a program to rebuild from the ground up.
So after reviewing all of that, the NCAA’s jurisdiction for off-the-field activities get a little more murky. Do they have jurisdiction? Should they have jurisdiction? The original consent decree from the NCAA against Penn State said, in part, “The NCAA recognizes that the circumstances involved in the Penn State matter are, in many respects, unlike any matter encountered by the NCAA in the past; it is doubtful, hopefully, that a similar circumstance would arise on any other campus in the future. In particular, the egregiousness of the predicate conduct is unprecedented, amounting to a failure of institutional and individual integrity far exceeding lack of institutional control or individual unethical conduct.” After the final consent decree in the Penn State case was signed in January 2015, NCAA Board of Governor member (and Kansas State president) Kirk Schulz said, “As the board of governors, we don’t have any desire to go in and have to do these sort of actions with any of our college institutions ever again…This was a truly extraordinary circumstance and the board felt that they had to quickly and decisively put forward a set of sanctions. … I hope it is a once-in-a-hundred-year type of occurrence and that we’ll be able to use the regular compliance activities” in the future. Little did he know that Baylor’s escalating sexual assault problem was already underway.
On June 15, the NCAA handed down major punishment against Louisville’s basketball team. They cited Rick Pitino for Failure to Monitor, which is basically the NCAA-equivalent of “because I said so.” The phrase comes from the NCAA’s expectation that athletic administrators (including the Athletic Director and Head Coaches) are responsible for ensuring that lower-level staff, coaches, and athletes adhere to the NCAA Bylaws. This catch-all phrase does technically give them jurisdiction, but it leaves them wide open for appeal, which is exactly what Louisville is planning to do.
Louisville’s situation is loosely similar to Baylor’s in that it involved players having sexual contact with strippers and girls who were arranged by a member of the University’s coaching staff ahead of time. Where the two teams differ is that Louisville hired these women to perform for athletes, prospective athletes, and parents. According to Powell’s book, the girls were very willing to participate. At Baylor, many of the female victims were reportedly involved in the Baylor Bruins organization—a group of female “hostesses,” who assisted with football games, activities, and recruiting efforts. It’s described in detail in the Elizabeth Doe v Baylor University lawsuit:
Many schools have done away with these programs, as they seem to perpetuate a quiet culture of flirtation, parties, and enticing new recruits with sexual favors—the very activities that have gotten Baylor into deep water.
While many, including myself, believe that the NCAA should hold Baylor accountable for the sexual misconduct of their football players under former head coach Art Briles and his staff, it’s easy to see why they have not. There are no bylaws that specifically address sexual misconduct and/or off-the-field activities and behavior. It’s like a Police Officer seeing a group of young adults hanging out in an alley at 2 a.m.—you may suspect that they’re up to no good, but you can’t arrest them for anything without probable cause to back it up. But the law is fluid, and cities and states have changed the law to fix problems like this—by creating curfews, public intoxication and loitering laws. The NCAA is similar in that it’s changed and evolved over time, from a basic organization designed to keep football players safe to a non-profit that rakes in almost $1 Billion a year and governs recruiting right down to the number of phone calls allowed. And while nobody is looking to expand on the 414-page NCAA Constitution just for fun, it’s clear that this is no longer a “once-in-a-hundred-year type of occurrence.”
It’s time for the NCAA to expand on their expectations of athlete and coach behavior to include situations involving sexual assault. They need to make it clear that this type of behavior is unacceptable and grounds for losing all NCAA eligibility. And if the University is found to be covering up misconduct, ignoring allegations, or discouraging victims, the constitution needs to make clear the ramifications.
But where exactly does the responsibility lie for off-the-field behaviors? With the athletes? The coaches? And what role do the alumni, parents, and University play in all of this? It can’t be up to the NCAA to take full responsibility for creating rules and punishment for bad behavior. There are several others that must step up and take responsibility. In Part 2, we’ll take a look at several other entities that need to make institutional changes that will protect and assist victims of these heinous acts.