The title of the series looks alarming: “Predator pipeline.” And as the story unfolds, the alarm is more than justified. The NCAA, while more than happy to discipline student athletes across the country for such unforgivable sins as smoking marijuana or profiting off their likeness, is unforgivably silent when it comes to sexual assault.
Or as USA Today Network reporter Kenny Jacoby writes: “College athletes can lose their NCAA eligibility in numerous ways, but sexual assault is not one of them. Even when facing or convicted of criminal charges, even when suspended or expelled from school, NCAA rules allow them to transfer elsewhere and keep playing.”
The investigation found 28 such athletes who played since 2014, and an additional, astonishing five who kept playing after court sanction.
The process is simple to understand and execute. If a player is accused of sexual assault, he or she might face consequences at the individual university level. That is, he or she might be suspended or expelled. But the NCAA, which waxes poetic about the importance of amateur play, allows these athletes to transfer to new schools and keep playing.
Three responses come to mind. First, this shouldn’t surprise anyone. For too long, our society has been dismissive of the consequences of sexual assault. The lenient policy of the NCAA reflects long-held, unexamined assumptions about the severity of these crimes. It’s a shameful fact that abused and assaulted women for too long have been ignored and shunted aside in their quest for justice.
The onus is on all of us — the schools involved, the court system and college sports fans individually — to treat this issue with the seriousness it deserves. This means taking women seriously and investigating allegations thoroughly and fairly, even when it means interfering with treasured athletic programs.
Second, the NCAA must re-evaluate its rules and regulations. If student athletes are students first and athletes second, their conduct as students and in the university setting must be held to the highest standard. Declining to address questions about the issue, as they did in this case, won’t make it go away.
Third and finally, this project shows the continuing value of in-depth reporting. Serious journalistic projects like this one take time, money and talent. And while the news industry faces well-documented challenges, we are all lucky that dedicated reporters are still out in the field, seeking answers and asking tough questions.
In this case, let’s hope those questions lead to tangible results.