How Many Chances?

On same day U.S. senator released report saying colleges don't take sex assault allegations seriously enough, word leaks that a college is recruiting an athlete who was accused of sexual assault at two other institutions.


July 11, 2014

A former University of Oregon athlete may have a third shot at a college basketball career, starting fresh at a community college after being accused of sexual assault at two other institutions.  

Brandon Austin was one of three Oregon basketball players who were suspended for up to 10 years last month after allegedly sexually assaulting a female classmate. He had been previously suspended from the Providence College basketball team for an alleged sexual assault there. Austin denies the charges and local law enforcement said it didn't have enough to charge him or any of the other men in either assault. Lawyers defending the three Oregon players accused the university of mishandling the case.

In an open letter published in June, the victim criticized Oregon's athletic department for bringing Austin to the campus given his alleged history at Providence.

“I am angry with the culture that appears to exist in our athletic department that prioritizes winning over safety of our students,” she wrote. “I cannot fathom how our basketball coach recruited someone who was in the middle of a suspension for another sexual assault to come to Eugene.”

Now, Austin may head to Kansas to play basketball for Hutchinson Community College, which has a reputation for sending athletes to Division I teams. Austin has visited the college apparently as part of a recruitment effort, but Steve Carpenter, Hutchinson’s sports information director, said there’s no decision yet on whether Austin will be a student there, or a member of its basketball team.

“Brandon is not enrolled for fall classes and our officials are evaluating all aspects of this potential student-athlete,” Carpenter said. “There is no timetable for a decision.”

The way colleges handle sexual assaults involving athletes came under sharp scrutiny this week when a report released by Senator Claire McCaskill stated that more than 20 percent of institutions allow their athletic departments to oversee sexual assault cases. McCaskill called the finding “borderline outrageous” and, in a previously scheduled Senate hearing Wednesday, prodded Mark Emmert, the president of the National Collegiate Athletics Association, into promising he would raise the issue with NCAA leadership in their August meeting.

The American Council on Education, the main lobbying group for higher education, pushed back against McCaskill’s report, calling it unfair and incomplete. Ada Meloy, ACE’s general counsel, said that colleges were “greatly disappointed” by the report, describing it as “a blanket indictment that draws unwarranted conclusions and ignores how hard colleges and universities are working to address this serious and complex societal issue.”

Colleges and universities are grappling with how to fairly handle sexual assault cases, with an increasing number of student victims coming forward. Colby Bruno, a lawyer with the Victim Rights Law Center, said as institutions take a stronger stance against sexual assault, more students who are accused are going to look into transferring.

Dominic Artis, another one of the accused Oregon basketball players, attempted to transfer to St. John's University, in New York, but the university ceased his recruitment in late June.

“I think we’re going to start seeing this a lot more,” Bruno said. “I think a lot more students are being held accountable, and as universities are still more comfortable with suspension over expulsion, those students are going to just look to go elsewhere.”

Indeed, Austin is one of a number of athletes banned from a college for sexual misconduct in recent years, only to quickly find himself back on a campus.

In 2009, the Arizona University System agreed to pay a victim $850,000 after she was raped by a football player the system had previously expelled for groping, threatening, and exposing himself to women. He returned to campus at the request of a coach, and raped the female student in her dorm room.

Last year, a football player suspended from Vanderbilt University for allegedly raping a female student transferred to Alcorn State University to play football there. As he took to the field for his first game, he was out on a $50,000 bond, awaiting a court appearance.

“I think it’s a very, very risky thing for a school to do, to accept a transfer student knowing he’s accused of assaulting people at other schools,” Bruno said. “It is a very shortsighted view to not look into the rationale, but the schools who allow these students to transfer there have bad priorities. I think it’s loathsome.”

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