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  • NCAA Passes Resolution Seeking To Clarify The Role of Athletic Departments in Campus Sexual Assault Investigations

    On August 08, 2014, the Executive Committee of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) passed a resolution (the “Resolution”) addressing how athletic departments should handle cases of sexual misconduct involving student athletes. “The committee, composed of 20 university presidents and chancellors, passed the resolution addressing sexual violence prevention and response at a time when questions are being raised about the appropriate role college athletics programs should play in preventing and resolving incidents of sexual assault,” the NCAA said in a press release.

    The Resolution comes just weeks after U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, released a report based on the results of a survey of 440 four-year higher education institutions throughout the nation. According to Senator McCaskill’s report, more than twenty percent of the 440 higher education institutions surveyed give athletic departments authority over investigating sexual assault allegations that involve student athletes.[1] Senator McCaskill also interrogated NCAA President Mark Emmert at a hearing before a U.S. Senate Committee on why the NCAA has not addressed the institutional mishandling of sexual assaults involving student athletes. “If you’re a victim and you know your allegation is going to be handled by the athletic department, as opposed to any other student on campus who’s handled in a different system, why in the world would you think the process is going to be fair?” asked McCaskill. U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, also reprimanded Emmert and the NCAA during the hearing. “The athletic department is not where you handle these allegations, Dr. Emmert. You’ve got to walk out this door and fix that right away,” stated Ayotte.

    According to the Resolution, athletic departments must now “cooperate with but not manage, direct, control or interfere with college or university investigations into allegations of sexual violence ensuring that investigations involving student athletes and athletic department staff are managed in the same manner as all other students and staff on campus.” The Resolution also requires athletic departments to “educate all student-athletes, coaches and staff about sexual violence prevention, intervention and response.” Athletics staff, coaches, administrators and student athletes must “know and follow campus protocol for reporting incidents of sexual violence, immediately report any suspected sexual violence to appropriate campus offices for investigation and assure compliance with all federal and applicable state regulations related to sexual violence prevention and response.”

    “The Executive Committee recognizes the importance of addressing the abhorrent societal issues of sexual violence, especially when it occurs on our campuses and acknowledges that it is our members’ collective responsibility to maintain campuses as safe places to learn, live, work and play.” However, while the NCAA has authority to investigate colleges and universities for alleged academic or institutional misconduct, the NCAA has not expressly stated the penalties involved if an institution fails to comply with the requirements of the recently passed Resolution.

    In the past year, there has been an unparalleled wave of complaints alleging institutional mishandling of sexual assault cases and pressure is growing on institutions to improve their handling of campus sexual assault. Sexual assault cases involving student athletes, such as the recent University of Missouri and Florida State University cases, are receiving unprecedented attention in the national spotlight and athletic departments across the nation are being reprimanded in the public arena for improperly interfering with Title IX investigations. We urge institutions to provide immediate and comprehensive sexual assault training to student athletes, coaches and staff in order to ensure compliance with the NCAA Resolution and also the U.S. Department of Education’s heightened Title IX expectations.

    If your institution would like further information, please email James G. Ryan at jryan@cullenanddykman.com or call him at (516) 357-3750. This article was written with Hayley Dryer, an associate at the firm.

    [1] http://www.mccaskill.senate.gov/SurveyReportwithAppendix.pdf.