No Special Treatment

August 14, 2014

The National College Athletic Association made clear to its members last week that college athletics departments should not have an oversight role in investigating sexual assault allegations against athletes.

The NCAA's Executive Committee unanimously passed a resolution Friday that spelled out expectations for how athletics departments should handle cases of sexual assault.

"Athletic departments must cooperate with but not manage, direct, control or interfere with college or university investigations into allegations of sexual violence ensuring that investigations involving student-athletes and athletics department staff are managed in the same manner as all other students and staff on campus," the resolution stated.

A survey released in July by the office of U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, found that 22 percent of a national sample of colleges reported that they had a policy or procedure that gives the athletics department oversight over sexual assault allegations made against athletes. About 20 percent of the nation’s largest public institutions and 15 percent of the largest private institutions had such a policy, the survey found.

McCaskill called the finding "borderline outrageous" and confronted Mark Emmert, the NCAA's president, about the survey during a previously scheduled Senate hearing on the same day as the report's release. Senator Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, added: “The athletic department is not where you handle these allegations, Dr. Emmert. You’ve got to walk out this door and fix that.”

Emmert promised to raise the issue with NCAA leaders and said that any such policies created “enormous” conflicts of interest.

“This is really inappropriate and we need to find ways to make sure that athletic departments are not the ones who are responsible for adjudication of these issues because of all of the obvious concerns that you raise,” he said.

The issue of the athletics department role extends beyond the results of the senator's survey. In some of the prominent cases in which women say that colleges have ignored or covered up sexual assaults, the alleged victims say that athletes whom they accused were protected by a range of college officials, including those in athletics departments.

Friday's resolution also directs colleges and their athletics departments to comply with campus authorities; educate all college athletes, coaches and staff about sexual violence prevention and response; and assure compliance with all federal and applicable state regulations related to sexual violence.

As the resolution was passed by the executive committee and not through a board of directors or Council vote, however, the directions are more guidelines than legislated rules.

“The Executive Committee recognizes the importance of addressing the abhorrent societal issue of sexual violence, especially when it occurs on our campuses,” the resolution stated. “The Executive Committee acknowledges that it is our members’ collective responsibility to maintain campuses as safe places to learn, live, work and play."

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