NCAA Division I Breakout Session
(Tuesday, June 16, 10:15 - 11:00 a.m.)
Dave Hart, Jr.:
My name is Dave Hart, Jr. and I'm the director of athletics at Florida State University and NACDA's third vice president. I'd like to welcome you to the next session entitled "Student-Athlete Behavior/Visibility/Accoun-tability." As all of you in this profession already know, and witness every time we have the opportunity to gather at a convention of this nature, as athletics administrators, we sometimes may be operating in a mine field. I think, particularly, as it relates to today's topic, we have to be very cognizant of ramifications of poor decisions that might be made by one or more of our student-athletes, 17 to 22-year old young men and women who can, when they make a poor decision, bring a lot of negative firestorm to our athletics department and, more disconcerting, to our university.
In today's world of honestly, overwhelming exposure and visibility to intercollegiate athletics and the young people who participate in our games, I think we have an obligation as athletics administrators to educate those young men and women and try to help them with leadership skills, with skills in making good decisions and we have to make them cognizant of the consequences of their poor decisions and there have to be consequences. In my judgment, it there are not consequences, you have no behavioral changes. It's important and that's what this panel will discuss today. It's important for them to understand that and important for us to help them understand why they truly live in the fish bowl that they live in.
In my judgment, their participation in intercollegiate athletics is a privilege. It's not a right. How do we get a handle on such a huge challenge? Today's panel will discuss that. To my left, and we appreciate very much his participation today is, Ed Tolley, who is a University of Georgia graduate, has his undergraduate degree there, his master's degree from the School of Business and is a graduate of the University of Georgia Law School.
To my right, a gentleman I'm very familiar with, who serves on our staff at Florida State University is Bob Minnix, the associate director of athletics. He spent 20 years with the NCAA and his last position before coming to Florida State was director of enforcement. Bob also swears that he was a decent running back at Notre Dame.
To Bob's right is Joe Castiglione, who honestly, is viewed as one of the top directors of athletics in our profession and just took the job at the University of Oklahoma.
Let's get right into this topic, one that affects all of us and one that is not simplistic. Quite to the contrary, it's very complex. Let's begin with Ed Tolley.
I agree that the behavior of the student-athletes, by and large, is appropriate or even exemplary compared to student populations as a whole. I think we also have to recognize that as the incidences of violent behavior and drug abuse increase in society in general, there have been increasing incidents of extreme misbehavior by a very small number of student-athletes.
My role for the University of Georgia has evolved over the past several years, but most recently, has been that of an independent council. That is a scary word to use in this political atmosphere. I think it's a good idea, if you decide to use a lawyer to investigate any incidents, that you do use an outside lawyer because the report that the lawyer renders is going to be microscoped by the media in general. So, I think it's very important that we proceed, at least initially, as an independent report.
If I receive a request from the athletics association to investigate an incident of misconduct by a student-athlete, usually, beginning with an arrest for either a misdemeanor or a felony, then what I normally do and I usually advise other counsel and investigators to do this is, to get the facts first. That means, getting the police reports, interviewing the police officer, talking to the student-athlete affected and any particular witness and find out, most importantly, how the prosecutor is going to view the incident, because a lot of times, through cooperative efforts with the prosecution, a lot of these matters can be resolved before they get out of hand.
My primary responsibility in investigating these matters is to provide to the athletics director and to the head coach of the affected sport information which is as accurate as possible in order to effect the appropriate disciplinary resolution. I want to mention that the University of Georgia, through a directive from Coach Dooley, has adopted a new policy which is still getting fine tuned, but which is very simple in its application. That is, if a student-athlete at the University of Georgia is arrested for a felony, from this day forward, that student-athlete will be immediately suspended, followed by an investigation that's going to be conducted either by myself or someone like me immediately, with a report back to a committee comprised of senior athletics officials and a representative from the university's faculty to make recommendations to the athletics director on the appropriate disciplinary action. In other words, whether the student, given the serious nature of the offense, should remain suspended or, whether there is sufficient doubt or mitigation that another approach to the problem is sufficient.
If a student-athlete is arrested at the University of Georgia for a misdemeanor, which we all know what that means, it's a drinking offense or loud, boisterous behavior, it's generally within the purview of the head coach of that individual sport to determine what disciplinary action is appropriate in the interim and beyond. There is a catch clause, and that is, if the misdemeanor is an extreme act of misbehavior, detrimental to the interests of the university athletics and the university in general, then either the athletics director or the head coach can recommend and impose immediate suspension which is then triggers an immediate investigation and review proceeding.
If I understood what Coach Dooley told me correctly, his vision in doing this is to put an end to the ambiguity that exists on behalf of the students in knowing where they stand in the event they put themselves at risk or put their university at risk.
Dave Hart, Jr.:
Let's recap in terms of his responsibility legally over to Joe Castiglione to talk about how he views this in his role as director of athletics.
Thank you Dave, and good morning to everyone. When Dave called me and asked me to participate in this panel discussion, I immediately said yes. I hung up the phone and wondered what in the world did I just do. We're dealing with a very complex topic, as Dave mentioned, and one that we're all trying to get our arms around, to use the phrase, properly.
Secondly, it was a coincidence because I just had a conversation with Steve Wieberg, the highly respected college writer for USA Today, who was working on a series. In talking to perhaps many of you in this room about this very issue, how do we deal with policies and procedures on our campus? How do we approach letting a student-athlete continue to participate after being charged with some serious offense or a felony? Perhaps this morning, one idea or one approach will spark or strengthen the policy you might have on your campus.
Like you, I've been part of situations. I know that we don't have any fail-safe notions to prevent all of this from happening on our campuses, but perhaps, some of these examples will relate to something you faced.
During the course of time at Missouri, I encountered a student-athlete who got involved in a buy-back scheme or in a sell back scheme of textbooks. Someone was picking up textbooks, the student-athlete was going to the bookstore, selling them back to someone they knew and receiving the money. Interestingly enough, in that particular situation, the university uncovered that scheme and moved to action before the athletics department had any opportunity to respond.
The student Code of Conduct provided them with an opportunity to render that student-athlete ineligible for any other kind of extracurricular event outside of class work. Subsequently, the student-athlete retained the services of a lawyer. The lawyer took it to court. The judge overturned the university's action and allowed the student-athlete to continue to play throughout the rest of the season and, subsequently, the student-athlete faced the legal proceedings following the season and was found guilty, but to a reduced charge.
The institution had a great deal of egg on its face. It reminded us to take a greater look at our policy, to discuss policies with legal counsel to find out how viable they are and how defensible they are for us to impose a kind of discipline for a various offense.
We all understand that with 24 hours of media on talk radio, cable television, etc., many times, we are finding out about situations after the media. No longer do we get a late night call from one of the law enforcement agencies telling us they have one of our student-athletes, can you come pick him up. That doesn't happen. We get a call from one of the media sources and they tell us they've heard about one of our student-athletes getting in trouble and getting arrested, and that what are you going to do about it? Of course, we're stuck trying to figure out the facts, trying to respond before we even know facts. It really causes us to refer back to a policy. In some of my conversations with Steve, we learned that many institutions have policies, but few have written policies and even fewer, have policies that they can provide to the student-athletes. One thing I'd like encourage people to do is, if you don't have a written policy, go ahead and get one and ask for legal advice before imposing it.
I think possible steps of improvement are going to start, first, with recruitment. I know many of your coaches will say they do the best they can with the number of days he's out on the road to recruit. Maybe we need more days. They're going to tell you that high school coaches and/or administrators are very reluctant to provide types of information for fear of some kind of reprisal. I must emphasize that it has to start with recruitment. We've got to be more creative in finding ways to get more awareness of people's backgrounds.
Create the written plan. Educate. Reinforce. Follow through. Provide specific responses to the degree the legal counsel will allow for certain types of behavior. Obviously, with everything from peace disturbances to felonies to reaction to involvement with gambling or agents, determine whom, on campus, is going to impose discipline. Are you going to leave it entirely up to the coach? Is the coach going to communicate with an athletics director, or will you take athletics personnel almost completely out of the process and refer to student affairs, refer it to some student judicial panel, or some internal student-athlete grievance procedure? Some schools even have a student-athlete grievance or a judicial panel to help impose discipline to other student-athletes.
How does it relate to the campus code of conduct? Does it compare favorably? Is it contradictory? Make sure you policy does compare favorably. Involve other campus constituents. I mentioned student affairs, your CEOs, other members of the CEO staff. Develop a press response. Immediately, you need to be on the offense if you haven't already been on the defense. Get the information out. Many people are already facing situations where the media are watching records, police reports, comparing names they can recognize to the police report. That's why some of this information is getting out to the newspapers, radio and television before some of us even have a chance to react.
Try to engender an atmosphere of trust. That really comes through continuous dialogue with student-athletes. You want this, in a way to be self-motivating, but they understand expectations and the consequences for inappropriate behavior. You can have a continual dialogue with them and have a better chance at eliminating most of the inappropriate behaviors. Obviously, you've got to involve your entire staff and coaches. Everyone is on the same page with the policy.
Many schools are moving away from general generic policies and more to a get-tough type of a policy. I know Nebraska, Arizona State, Northwestern all have policies in place and others are moving toward getting tougher policies in place. Some range from the very broad, let the coach do it to take the coach out of it entirely. We're finding that legal counsel is advising us to stay somewhere in between. Let the judicial process take place and then react appropriately to the findings.
We understand there are so many variables, so many mitigating circumstances that it's almost impossible for us to put a specific recommendation before you.
My conclusion is to continue to have this kind of dialogue for us to share the kind of policies we have in place, to work to recruit the better character in our student-athletes and to follow through and be consistent with whatever plans you have and whatever forms of discipline you have on campus. We understand there are no fail-safe methods. We understand we are just as accountable as we're trying to hold our student-athletes. One of the tricks we're going to talk about later is how do we really hold these student-athletes accountable?
Dave Hart, Jr.
Thank you Joe. As you listen to this and you, in your own mind, get questions, remember that many of you work on a campus and maybe your campus philosophy of your president's philosophy is, we don't want you to treat student-athletes any different from the general student population. They're not any different. They're a whole lot different. Should they be held to a higher level of accountability? Should they be held to higher standards? In my opinion, the answer is easy, yes, they should be held to higher standards because of that visibility.
We have reporters in Tallahassee, one in particular, who, every July, spends a day going through microfilm to see how many of our student-athletes, with rosters of our most visible sports in front of him, were arrested. I doubt they've ever done that exercise for our 30,000-student population. They are different and they have to be held to a higher level of accountability. Our next presenter is Bob Minnix.
Thanks Dave. When we talk about behavior, accountability and visibility, I think we're also talking about choices, responsibilities and consequences when we talk about our student-athletes. As Dave has indicated in introducing me earlier, I have had the unique opportunity to observe the student-athlete and the changes in the student-athlete from several vantage points over my 23 years in college athletics. I was a high recruited athlete and went to a highly visible institution. I was an enforcement representative and director of enforcement at the NCAA for 20 years. Presently, I'm the compliance officer at Florida State University and also chair of the NCAA Committee on Sportsmanship and Ethical Conduct. So, I've had an opportunity to see a lot of different things from a lot of different viewpoints and I have to say that the view is not necessarily pretty. It's not impossible, but it's not very pretty.
Today's athletes are different and the question is why are they different? The key word here is exposure. We're actually recruiting a national athlete. We're talking about an exposure to the Internet, ESPN, CNN, TBS, and USA Today; high school events being televised nationally on ESPN 2. We have numerous national magazines now identifying athletes and all of the writers writing about these young kids at these different campuses. We have the all-star games, camps, traveling AAU teams, and all of this lends itself to problems that we're having with our student-athletes today.
I remember one time, there was a student-athlete who lived in Florida. He left his home around June 1, with very little money and he attended camps in Florida, Indiana, Michigan, California, Nevada, and returned to California to another camp. Finally, he returned home around August 1. When he returned home, he had a pocketful of money and a ton of gifts. I think that's what we're faced with today. During the whole time he was gone, for that two months, never once was he with his parents, never once with his high school coach, but he was with individuals who we might call street agents or individuals who run shoe companies. These are the kind of people today who are influencing our student-athletes. Where's the key point? Problems like agents, gambling, violence, cash and expectations of being taken care of is developed and nurtured on the athlete's home turf before the athlete actually gets to our campus and that's key. This indoctrination starts when they're actually in middle school and also in high school.
This attitude is further promoted by the parents, the high school coaches, even the college coaches, family friends and street agents. I don't know how many of you have seen "He's Got Game," with Denzel Washington, but it's a very good movie in terms of representing the number of influences our student-athletes are under today from a lot of different sources.
You have student-athletes showing up on campus with all of these influences, particularly, the street agents or the shoe company individual and they're telling the young man or woman they only have to be there one or two years because then, you're going to come out and become a pro. With that attitude, the young student-athletes don't feel they have to adhere to any rules or regulations on the campus.
We also have to blame the media for some of our problems. We have situations where some publications are identifying the top eighth graders in the nation and putting them into magazines and newspapers. I had a situation when I was at the enforcement department at the NCAA. I had a young man take me into a room and there was $20,000 laying on the bed given to him to sign with a certain university. I've gone to many homes where there were cars, like Trans Ams, sitting out in front of the home given to them by boosters and other individuals just so he would think about going to a certain institution.
There are numerous situations of student-athletes having their tests taken for them by other individuals just so that individual would end up at that institution. These are the types of things we're dealing with and the issue here is that we have to rein in this attitude that many of the student-athletes now have.
The dilemma and the challenge we face as administrators are simple. It's how to make the athlete accountable for the behavior when you have an entitlement mentality by the athlete prior to getting on campus. First, we must hold the athlete responsible for his actions in order to break this cycle. We must understand that the athlete with this mentality is caught between the go-for-it law of the streets and the ethics of the NCAA as defined by the Amateurism Rules.
I have several solutions I would like to throw out. One of the solutions I thought we might think about is to increase the promotion of sportsmanship in junior high school and high school levels. The NABC is attacking the situation trying to eliminate, at least alter, the summer recruitment period. That's a very good idea to take the agents and the shoe companies out of it. We have to look at early signing dates. The problem you have is that with the early signing date, we have more and more coaches looking at younger kids in order to get them committed to the institution. We need to increase our Life Skills Program on all campuses so we can get involved with these kids as soon as they get on campus and give them leadership qualities and skills and teach them things about the media and get them to Outreach Programs throughout the community where the institution is located.
Those are just some of the things we need to think about. We also need to think about re-instating the Freshman Eligibility Rule. I say that because when the athlete comes to campus, he has an ego and this is a way to defuse that ego and also give them an opportunity to step back from the intensity of having to play at the level in terms of the visibility and the pressure of big time athletics. These are just some of the things we need to think about, among other things, in terms of trying to solve this problem.
Dave Hart, Jr.
One point Bob made and I certainly think it's worth emphasizing, is that as the sands continue to shift and the landscape continues to undergo some dramatic changes in our industry, you look at what's happening to our young men, and now, our young women, in terms of their tenure at our universities. The elite athletes, very few of them have any plan of being there for four years, any plan of red shirting and being there for five years because they have been convinced the ultimate goal for them is to be a professional, be it baseball, basketball or the NFL. This is a very real scenario.
At this time, please feel free to ask some questions.
I'm David Horn from North Carolina State. You've commented on some legal issues as far as student-athletes violating some type of public law. Could you comment on specific situations for student-athletes and personnel issues with either coaches or administrators and then comment on student-athletes violating some type of law with another student-athlete?
The whole idea of developing a written policy, most of you have informal verbal policies, which is what Georgia had until just recently, is to remove the ambiguity that exists so that the student-athlete knows what's going to happen to them if they violate the law. It becomes a very complex set of issues because you have to be concerned about overreacting and you have to be concerned about the courts becoming involved and second-guessing your decisions. You need to bear in mind the decision for the student-athlete to play or not to play is not the same legally as the decision whether or not the student has a right to attend the university. Those are two very different issues.
Whenever you have a student-athlete who has violated a public law, you have to address the issue on several levels. Number one, you have to address the discipline issue in whatever way your school has determined is appropriate. Georgia has a way it's going to address the issue.
Number two, you have to address the head coach of that individual sport that may be affected. One of the things that has developed informally that I've begun to do and didn't intend to do, but it's worked pretty well and that is, to assist our sports information director and our head coach in developing public statements to the media. What I have found on occasion is that coaches naturally want to be supportive of their players and a lot of times, before the coach has all of the facts in hand, as Joe pointed out, may get a phone call in the middle of the night and the coach's natural reaction is to defend that student-athlete. That's what the student-athletes expect. A lot of times, these coaches will get themselves out on a limb and the limb will get sawed off and they'll wind up being embarrassed. The best thing to do is be reserved in your initial comments. If you've got an outside counsel, get them to help you with the legal terms of art.
Make sure the individual press agent, who's writing the story in your local newspaper, understands the legal issues. Over the years, in the general practice of law, I've learned to take the time to make sure the newspaper reporter knows what they are writing about. For example, if I were to ask each one of you what Grand Jury secrecy means, you may or may not be able to tell me, but that reporter's going to be writing about it, so you want to make sure when they're writing about your student-athletes, they truly understand whether an issue is important or not important, given the legal terms of art.
One of the other things I would encourage you to do if you have a student-athlete who has at least ostensibly violated a public law is to adopt the Golden Rules which I've adopted. Avoid whining about it. Avoid blaming someone else. Avoid blaming the police, because these are things the public reacts to very negatively. I found, not only in these cases, but in other cases that I've handled, to make sure the student-athlete is under control, as well. Your worst nightmare is for the student-athlete to take the microphone and give an interview pending his criminal charges. These are very important rules to follow and adopt, either in writing or informally within your organizations.
There are really two issues and Coach Dooley has reminded me of this on a number of occasions, when a student-athlete violates a public law. Number one, did the student-athlete, in fact, commit the crime for which he or she is charged? Those are matters ultimately resolved in the courts. More importantly, from the university athletics department perspective, what was the student-athlete doing there in the first place? For example, your star quarterback is in a bar three days before a ball game, at midnight. Forget whether or not he, in fact, did what they say he did. Should he have been there to begin with?
That's also an important issue that combines both the violation of public law and the university's policy.
It's important to take the high road in terms of the reputations of your universities and the university's athletics association. Today, more than ever, and this comes from dealing with the Atlanta General Constitution, USA Today and other good, tough publications, they demand a very high level of responsibility, as they should, from these student-athletes. I think our responses from the athletics point of view are going to have to be more and more responsible and in keeping with what the public expects. Coach Dooley's policy, which is just one of the many policies available of no ambiguity in addressing these issues, is a very good one.
From the Floor:
I want to comment to Bob about when you talked about all of the different people you identified having an affect on these men and women. Sometimes, we need to look inward at what we do in the recruitment process that I think skews the viewpoint of these young men and women we're recruiting that are 17 and 18 years old from writing them letters everyday, to flying them in on a private charter for an official visit. Sometimes that makes it difficult for these young men and women to actually have an objective viewpoint of what their self-importance is. It's demeaning to them and it's demeaning to the university for some of the recruiting stories that we all hear about in the process. We need to look inward at what the outlook is for these men and women.
The NCAA, at one point, saw that area as a problem and made an attempt to reduce the dog and pony show of recruitment. I thought by the late 80s and early 90s, they had this under control in terms of the recruiting process. We have seen lately, that we're now starting to fall back into that old cycle of hyping up the recruiting process in terms of putting kids' names on billboards and taking them to fancy restaurants and those types of things. I really, truly believe that the NCAA enforcement staff needs to start cracking down again on those types of situations. You're right. This has gotten out of hand again and I know, myself personally, have called and complained about some of the recruiting activity as far as the recruiting visits by some of the schools within our state.
This is a real problem. We had it under control at one time. I see that we're falling back the other way.
What Bob is saying is that this attitude that a lot of these youngsters come, when after 25 years of dealing with students and 15 years with student-athletes, some of their attitudes is that they can do anything they want to do and won't be accountable for it. That starts with the recruiting process and it's part of the same set of problems.
Dave Hart, Jr.:
Unfortunately, we're going to have to wrap up. This all goes back to a couple of things such as, making good decisions, helping student-athletes make good decisions and hold them accountable, making sure they understand that there are consequences. Those consequences will be severe and costly to them. Without that, the education of good decision-making has much impact on the final analysis.
The panel will be around if you'd like to follow up and ask them questions. One of the encouraging things about this morning is that we didn't have enough time to discuss a couple of the topics that were being presented to the membership and that's not necessarily a bad thing. We'll make sure that we allocate future time at similar gatherings and Conventions to continue discussions on issues that aren't going to go away. This is not a 1998 issue. It probably won't be totally resolved in 1998.
Thank you for your participation. Enjoy the rest of the Convention.