Indiana University made the news recently when its athletics department created a new policy that banned the enrollment of prospective student-athletes (both freshman and transfer students) who have a history of sexual or relationship violence. The ban covers athletes who have been convicted of felonies or who have been found responsible in on-campus proceedings of sexual or relationship violence.
Sounds great, right? It really isn't.
When I first read about Indiana's new rule, my first thought was this: A student can be convicted of felony domestic or sexual battery and still get an athletic scholarship (at any school but Indiana, apparently), but if he's convicted of a minor, nonviolent drug offense, he can't get federal financial aid? That's the worst kind of hypocrisy.
The Indiana rule seems similar to one the Southeastern Conference (SEC) created in 2015. The SEC rule prevents transfer into the SEC of athletes who were kicked out of their previous sports programs for “serious misconduct,” where “serious misconduct” means sexual or relationship violence (but not, say, theft).
Barring the enrollment of student-athletes with felony convictions of sexual or relationship violence or those with findings of responsibility for sexual or relationship violence is a good thing. But the rule is also far more limited than you might think. Much of the recent high-profile transfer-athlete violence that might have prompted such a rule would not have been prevented by the Indiana rule at all.
Let's look at a few cases, and compare the effect the Indiana rule would have had in preventing the violence to the effect the SEC rule would have had.
First, there is the case of Samuel Ukwuachu at Baylor University TX (a case that was excellently reported by Jessica Luther and Dan Solomon in 2015). Defensive end Ukwuachu was an All-American who transferred to Baylor in 2013 from Boise State University ID after being kicked off the football team for violence against a female student there. While at Boise State, Ukwuachu was not convicted of a felony, nor did he go through the campus judicial process for his conduct. After transferring to Baylor, Ukwuachu was then convicted of assaulting a female Baylor student.
One of the many scandals of the case was the question of whether the Baylor coaching staff knew of Ukwuachu's violent history at Boise State before recruiting him to campus. Recently, Baylor's football program has come under massive scrutiny for how it has handled sexual assault allegations against its players. The controversy has led to the firing of the head football coach and the resignation of the university's president.
Indiana's new rule would not have prevented Ukwuachu's transfer to Indiana. Indiana's rule requires conviction of (or a plea to) a felony or a finding of responsibility in a campus judicial proceeding prior to applying to transfer or enroll. And a conviction or finding of responsibility are both exceedingly rare. Ukwuachu was dismissed from his team, but he was not convicted or found responsible. He was not even indicted. Now, the SEC's new rule only requires dismissal from a prior sports program for a student to be banned from transferring. Therefore, had a rule like that been in place at Baylor at the time of Ukwuachu's transfer, the rule would have barred Ukwuachu from joining the Baylor team. (Baylor is in the Big 12 Conference, not the SEC.)
Then there's the basketball team gang rape case at the University of Oregon that came to light in 2014. One of the alleged rapists, Brandon Austin, had transferred to UO after being suspended from his prior basketball team at Providence College RI, also for a sexual assault allegation. Austin transferred away from Providence before he could be found responsible in any campus proceeding, and no criminal charges were brought against him. After the ugly UO rape case came to light, he was dismissed from the team at UO. (The UO case was very, very ugly. The police report will turn your stomach. Austin's defense to the woman's allegations of violent gang rape? It was consensual.)
Incredibly, Austin's career still didn't end. He went on to play on scholarship at Northwest Florida State, a junior college, and tried out for the NBA. The other two UO players involved in the gang rape case successfully transferred to new Division I programs: the University of Texas El Paso and the University of Houston TX.
None of the UO players were charged with crimes in Oregon, and they weren't found responsible in UO campus proceedings, either—after being dismissed from the UO basketball team, all three transferred away from UO.
Would the Indiana Rule Prevent Violence?
As with Ukwuachu's transfer to Baylor, none of Austin's transfers to or from Oregon or the transfers of the other Oregon players would have been barred by the Indiana rule. After all, even though Austin was twice dismissed from basketball teams for sexual violence, he was never convicted of a felony, and he was never found responsible in a campus proceeding. The same goes for the other two players who transferred from Oregon to new schools. However, their transfers would have been barred by the SEC rule, because the SEC rule takes into consideration a player's dismissal from a previous team, which is often the only punishment a player will ever see. (None of the teams involved here are members of the SEC.)
Yes, let's ban those convicted of sexually violent felonies from receiving athletic scholarships. And let's have a reasonable appeals process as well, so that those students who've made an effort to rehabilitate can have a chance to go to school.
But the Indiana rule is not enough. Crimes of sexual and relationship violence are massively underreported to police. And when they are reported, the conviction rate is egregiously low. Plea deals (the manner in which more than 90% of criminal cases end) often lower felony indictments to misdemeanor convictions. Among those of us who work in the field of sexual and relationship violence, felony convictions for rapists and abusers of the victims we advocate for can be as rare as unicorns.
Similarly, students rarely report their rapes to campus authorities, and when they do, they rarely seek to file formal complaints. Instead, they seek other protections their schools can provide, such as restraining orders or schedule changes so that they can avoid seeing their assailants.
When we're talking about the secretive world of big-money collegiate sports, a dismissal from a team for sexual or relationship violence speaks loudly. And schools that recruit these players anyway, knowing they have a history of hurting students, are acting irresponsibly. The Indiana rule doesn't go far enough to protect vulnerable students on campus.
This is the first article in an ongoing series on campus sexual assault.