OPINION: It’s time to hold programs accountable for harboring hostile atmospheres against women

NCAA Bylaw 19.5.2.3.1 states:

“An institution shall be considered a ‘repeat violator’ if the Committee on Infractions finds that a major violation has occurred within five years of the starting date of a major penalty. For this provision to apply, at least one major violation must have occurred within five year after the starting of the penalties in the previous case. It is not necessary that the Committee on Infractions’ hearing be conducted or its report issued within the five-year period.”

The repeat violator rule, better known as the NCAA’s Death Penalty, became known to the sports world following the SMU Football Scandal’s of the 1980s.

The football world at SMU was rampant with impermissible benefits, such as new cars, pay-for-play and hundreds of thousands of dollars used to coerce recruits to play in Dallas (However they weren’t alone).

It’s the first and only time the NCAA has officially used the Repeat Violator Rule on a Division I program.

But, maybe it’s time the NCAA consider it again.

A lawsuit was filed against the NCAA on Wednesday by 7 plaintiffs, six of the seven attended either University of Nebraska-Lincoln or Michigan State University.

This is not the first time either of these two universities have run into trouble with harboring a dangerous atmosphere among it’s athletics programs.

Nebraska was consistently finding themselves in trouble throughout the glory run of the mid-90s under Tom Osbourne. The Huskers trouble wound up in the media, but was seemingly overshadowed by Big Red’s dominance on the football field.

The most egregious violator was their star running back Lawrence Phillip, who infamously beat and bloodied his ex-girlfriend Katherine McEwen, a women’s basketball player after breaking into Scott Frost’s apartment.

Yes, that Scott Frost.

Ryan Loco/Hail Varsity

That was only the tip of the iceberg as other notable incidents included Damon Benning involvement in an assault case. Riley Washington was charged with attempted second-degree murder, Tyrone Williams stood trial on felony weapons charges, and Christian Peter was convicted of sexual assault.

Ever since Scott Frost returned as coach of Nebraska, his boys have seen their fair share of run-ins with the law.

Former running back Maurice Washington was sentenced to 30 days in jail following a revenge porn cases, involving an ex-girlfriend. Two Nebraska players were cited this past off-season for possession of marijuana.

Now adding this lawsuit, which claims of Nebraska football players involved of rape dating back to 2015, the Nebraska athletic department should be feeling the heat for possibly harboring an atmosphere that encourages this type of behavior.

However, with how bad the atmosphere has been at Nebraska, it hasn’t held a candle to what has happened at Michigan State.

The number one event most everyone will associate Michigan State with is the work of Larry Nassar, who was employed at Michigan State for nearly 25 years. Nassar repeatedly sexually abused and raped hundred’s of women between the University and USA Gymnastics until his ouster in 2016.

But it has been shown that sexual assault at Michigan State was not just a Larry Nassar problem.

In November 2019, Michigan Radio NPR released an article that showed more than 4,000 undergraduate women said they were sexually assaulted in the 2018-19 school year. That is nearly 30% of the female population at the university.

The biggest issue was with the Spartan football team, in which 16 players were accused of sexual assault or violence against women in a 2018 report from ESPN’s OTL. Head coach Mark Dantonio clearly allowed an atmosphere that was dangerous towards women among his football team.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

It was also found that members of the Spartan basketball team were guilty of sexual assault and/or violence against women, such as Travis Walton hitting a woman at a East Lansing bar or Adreian Payne and Keith Appling sexually assaulting an MSU student and the university delayed in starting a Title IX case, which is required by federal law to start immediately.

In the Outside The Lines interview, Lauren Allswede, a former Michigan State sexual assault counselor told ESPN’s Nicole Noren:

“Most of times when it involved athletes that would be dealt with in house, none of it was transparent. It was very insulated, and people were a lot of times discouraged from seeking resources outside of the athletic department.”

Lauren Allsweede to OTL (January 2018)

Many thought that Michigan State’s image would improve after the departures of then-president Lou Anna Simon and athletic director Mark Hollis.

This newest lawsuit has proven anything but that as the case.

The accusation in the lawsuit was made by a former Michigan State female track athlete, alleging that she was raped by a member of the men’s team and that she reported it to an assistant coach, according to the Washington Post.

Her coach told her: “if she pursued any claims against (the man), no one would like her, and that because (she) is ‘pretty’, she would become a ‘distraction.'”


So it’s time to get to the point of all this:

It’s time to stop dancing around these issues and make the universities who enable this pay.

Maybe using the death penalty is one way to drive that point home, shutting down the program and firing everyone involved with these incidences. But it would be hard to find someone to use this power in the right light without becoming a college athletics version of Maximillien Robespierre.

Perhaps tailor the Repeat Violator Rule to include an exception in cases of lack of institutional control caused by an atmosphere that allows sexual assault and rape for an extended period of time.

No matter how you do it, it is time to stop letting these universities off Scot-free.

It’s time to act like big boys, NCAA. You’ve let these programs run around like a stereotypical, millennial, suburban father who believes in coddling his children, rather than disciplining them.

Now it’s time to be a father like an ex-marine. Attentive, tough and not afraid to hash out punishment.

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