Though student-athletes are spending their summer break in classes or off-season drills, the courts are still in season as it relates to intercollegiate athletics. Two major developments have occurred this week that are worthy of note:
1. On Monday I was surprised to read an article from Inside Higher Ed reporting that a basketball player dismissed from two other institutions for allegations of sexual assault has been awarded an athletic scholarship by a Florida college. (The article also reminded us that many institutions allow athletics departments, and not the campus student conduct office, to handle sexual assault investigations involving student-athletes.) The basketball coach at the Florida college is quoted as saying that the institution has the "experience, support, and resources" to help this student-athlete be successful in and out of the classroom. Though I do not know much about this institution, nor its resources and "experience", I do contend that this symbolically reinforces the culture within some (not all) institutions that garnering a prize recruit is more valuable than seriously addressing sexual assault and hostile environments on their campus.
When I was a graduate student, I wrote and published a paper regarding potential liability institutions could face for the sexual crimes of student-athletes that were recruited despite lengthy criminal records. My interest in the topic was sparked when I learned of a case that occurred at the University of Georgia prior to my arrival as a student. Tiffany Williams, a female student at UGA, was raped by three student-athletes--one of whom had been dismissed from two other institutions amid allegations of sexual misconduct. In Williams v. Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, the 11th Circuit allowed Ms. Williams to pursue claims not just against the university for its untimely response but also against the coaches, president, and athletic director. That case was settled out of court.
Similar instances happened at the University of Colorado and Oklahoma State University, to name a few. With the increased enforcement of Title IX and the enactment of the Campus SAVE Act, I think institutions need to look at how the issue of sexual assault is addressed not just among the student body but also within the athletics department. I applaud Florida State University's president Garnett Stokes for supporting the hiring of three full-time staff members to handle sexual assault cases and to work toward eliminating a hostile climate at FSU. (FSU received much criticism for its handling of the investigation into sexual assault charges against Heisman winner Jameis Winston.)
2. On Tuesday the NCAA announced a proposed settlement in a class-action lawsuit brough by former student-athletes who had suffered head injuries. $70 million will be spent on testing and diagnosis and $5 million will be used toward research. This settlement is somewhat different than the one the NFL entered into in September, which we reported on here.