Friday, March 23, 2007

Schools debate merit of establishing specific code of conducts to deal with serious offenses for athletes

A great article that can be found here... The Daily Orange

By: Matt Gelb
Posted: 9/26/06If it were up to him, Bobby Bowden wouldn't suspend any of his players, no matter the crime. "If a kid makes a mistake, we don't have to kick him off the team," Bowden said to reporters seven years ago, before the 1999 national championship game. "There's a lot of ways to punish him. I ain't cutting my nose off to spite my face."Earlier that season, star wideout Peter Warrick was suspended by the Florida State administration for his involvement in a shoplifting scheme. Warrick was charged with grand theft. The penalty handed down by the school: two games. Warrick was in contention for the Heisman Trophy and a valuable part of Bowden's run to the national championship. Warrick's partner in crime, Laveranues Coles, was kicked out of school. The uproar was swift and animated. Why was Coles-who had 12 receptions for 179 yards and one touchdown-kicked off the team while Warrick, the star of the team with four touchdowns and more than 500 yards receiving, slapped on the wrist?"It's not like I killed the president," Warrick infamously said to reporters after Bowden and FSU came under fire. The truth is the NCAA has no say over the policies of its member institutions when it comes to dealing with infringements of the law. The NCAA does have strict bylaws regarding recruiting, amateurism and academic standards, but when an athlete breaks the law, there is no uniformity among member schools because the institutions cannot agree on a consensus. And that's the way it will stay-perhaps forever."All of our current rules are bylaws decided by member institutions," said Stacey Osburn, spokesperson for the NCAA. "It will stay that way as long as possible. We do not have a bylaw for legal matters."So instead, schools are developing their own code of conducts for student-athletes, a process that has demonstrated the wide range of philosophies among NCAA schools. "The ones that are running wild have so much to learn from the ones who are doing it well," said George Gardener, director of strategic communications at the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University. "The key is to be a school that is willing to stand behind its policies and implement the penalties."At Syracuse, the athletic department works closely with judicial affairs, but has its own discipline policy in addition to any punishment handed down by the university. "If there is a university sanction, the athletic department will get involved with the coach," said Rob Edson, senior associate director of athletics. "We have an umbrella policy for athletes, but the guidelines revolve around internal student affairs."Edson says punishments are handled on a case-by-case basis. Depending on the level of the offense, coaches and department members will make a decision based on the university's findings. Athletes receive discipline from not only the university, but also the athletic department. However, the athletic department's punishment can be altered."The coach always has the option to supersede the department," Edson said. "If the coach feels the conduct was especially detrimental to the team, they can suspend the player for longer or institute a stricter penalty."Although coaches are directly involved in the discipline process, Edson said the athletic department guidelines are installed exactly for that reason-to make sure every team follows the same principles.Orange linebacker Kelvin Smith, who has played under two coaches at SU, said the culture can vary depending on the coach. "It's more like (Greg Robinson) treats us like adults, like NFL athletes," Smith said. "That gives us more of a sense to act like adults. (Former head coach Paul Pasqualoni) put his foot down. He said 'Don't do anything at all, don't think about it.'"Former SU safety Diamond Ferri was arrested on charges of misdemeanor assault and resisting arrest on May 22, 2004. He was not suspended by the school or the team. Defensive tackle Eugene Brown was arrested March 27, 2005, after a fight on Marshall Street. He was charged with second-degree assault, a felony in the state of New York. Brown was immediately suspended from the university and football team indefinitely. Two weeks later, Brown was reinstated by Syracuse and was attending classes. Brown played in five games in 2005. Florida State's policy on felony charges is a suspension until the charges are resolved. Warrick was originally charged with a felony but pleaded down to a misdemeanor. Under FSU's policy, Warrick's penalty was ultimately Bowden's call-a decision many believe was made based on football priorities first. But Bowden isn't the only one who refuses to sacrifice wins for discipline. Before the 2006 season started, Alabama linebacker Juwan Simpson was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana and a stolen shotgun. Simpson reached a plea agreement, confessing to the charges before the season started. But he avoided a suspension from head coach Mike Shula and was in the lineup against Hawaii for the Crimson Tide's opener. The backlash against Shula was extensive. A columnist for the Mobile (Al.) Register said Shula's double standards had "Bear Bryant rolling over in his grave."Initially, Shula had not planned on suspending Simpson. After public outcry, Shula changed his stance, saying his rationale was to spread the suspensions of seven players who breached team discipline standards over the first three games of the season. The players would serve their suspensions in the order they broke the rules. He said it wouldn't be fair to the team to suspend all seven players for one game. "These should be areas where people defer to the code of conduct," Gardener said. "He shouldn't have to run around asking, 'What do I do? What do I do?' He's got an agreement that says what happened when player X does Y."Shula suspended Simpson, the leading tackler on the team, for the third game of the season, against Louisiana-Monroe two weekends ago. The Crimson Tide won, 41-7. The combined margin of victory for its first two games of the season was 11 points. According to the Alabama athletics compliance department, there is no separate code of conduct for student-athletes. Alabama athletes are only held to the standards of the regular student conduct codes. However, many athletic departments around the nation are adopting conduct codes with blanket punishment standards in order to eliminate the variability of dealing with violations on a case-by-case basis-and to avoid the criticisms Shula faced. Wisconsin, for example, introduced a policy in 2003-since revised to include alternative forms of punishment-that eliminates coaches from the discipline equation. Any player charged or arrested for a serious crime is immediately suspended from all team activities. "The responsibility of the coach is to take care of the daily issues of the players," said Shawn Eichorst, senior director of athletics at Wisconsin. "We delegate to them the ability to handle the student-athletes, but with criminal conduct, that's the department's responsibility."Bowden and Shula probably wouldn't react so kindly to a similar policy at their respective schools. "We want to treat all of our student-athletes consistently," Eichorst said. "It's difficult to treat them consistently when you have different sets of coaches chiming in. We've done this by minimizing the potential for conflict of interest."The old policy was tested by former UW running back Booker Stanley. A backup and highly touted recruit, Stanley was suspended immediately after he was charged with sexually assaulting a former girlfriend on Dec. 21, 2005. He missed the Badgers' Capital One Bowl victory over Auburn and was kicked off the team two months later. "In the old policy we would just suspend them," Eichorst said. "Now we're going to embark upon a fact-finding mission to find out what happened and go from there."The University of Maine established a point system to dish out punishment to its athletes. Violations are assessed a point value, generally between one and five, with one being the least offensive. Once an athlete accumulates five points, they are suspended for 10 percent of his or her team's schedule. The suspensions increase as the points stack up. "A lot of it is set in stone," said Brett Williamson, assistant athletics director at Maine. "It takes the ambiguity out of it. If a swimmer has a DUI, they are treated the same way as a football player would."But the reality is that college football players around the country are not treated identically to other athletes. While Gardener understands the NCAA is trapped in a hard spot and there is no scenario in which they could oversee a punishment policy, he still thinks they should act. "What the NCAA can do is help the schools identify the code of conduct," Gardener said. "Offer schools a set of best practices to create codes of conduct. The NCAA could provide great guidance."

No comments: