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Rethinking an Athletic Code of Conduct

October 4, 2006

Too often in college sports, the police blotter is required reading for head coaches and athletics directors.

Athletes are caught, generally disciplined internally, sometimes kept off the field, and -- for the most egregious violations -- kicked off the team and out of school. Universities are used to isolated cases of player misconduct, but seldomly does an institution see a rash of arrests in a short period of time.

That's been the case at Ohio University, where 17 football players have been arrested in the local county since January 1. Players were charged -- and some convicted -- of assault, driving under the influence of alcohol and the illegal possession of drugs. None had been suspended by the head football coach, Frank Solich.

After seeing a report detailing the legal troubles in The Columbus Dispatch, Roderick J. McDavis, the university's president, asked Kirby Hocutt, the athletics director, to lay out department-wide guidelines that cover athlete conduct and discipline procedures.

“The issue is when you have the number of incidents that we did over a nine-month period, it's time to stop and ask yourself, is it time to review the procedures in place?" McDavis said. "I believe the rules ought to be standard, across the board."  

McDavis said he wanted to leave the details of the proposal up to Hocutt, who was unavailable for comment on Tuesday. Colleges across the country have for years considered how to appropriately punish athletes who violate team or university rules -- let alone the law. Among the issues is whether to suspend a player just for being charged with a violation, with the idea that the athlete is unfit to represent the university, or to wait for a conviction to take disciplinary action. 

In the past, individual coaches at Ohio have handled what McDavis called "minor first offenses." A second offense generally would be handled by the athletics director. The new guidelines, which McDavis wants by October 31, will give individual coaches less discretion in punishing their players.

McDavis said that after he met with Solich, the coach decided to indefinitely suspend two players who had previously been arrested and kick off anyone else who is arrested this season.  (Solich himself was convicted last year of drunken driving and placed on probation.) Hocutt also announced the suspension of two other athletes -- a football player and a men's basketball player.

Both McDavis and Hocutt are seeking the advice of the college's Intercollegiate Athletics Committee, a group of faculty members, administrators and students that deals with conduct issues.

Douglas Bolon, chair of the committee, said that based upon the recent arrests, it's clear a change needs to be made. “There’s a general consensus that we need to move toward a more standardized approach," he said. "The other approach was more decentralized. Faculty have always been concerned about these issues."

Terry Hogan, the university's dean of students, said that athletes have "historically been held to a higher standard than the average student," because they are subject to both athletic department guidelines and the university's code of conduct for all students.  

"[The athletes] are afforded the same rights and are not treated differently," Hogan said.

 

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