by Brynn Smith ’19
A number of high-profile incidents of sexual assault involving college athletes have recently come to light. In the most notorious incident, a lawsuit brought against Baylor University in 2016 by a former graduate alleges that 31 Baylor football players committed at least 52 acts of rape, including five gang rapes, between 2011 and 2014.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the organization responsible for regulating athletes, institutions, and conferences, has been broadly criticized for its lack of response to these cases. The NCAA has rules against paying collegiate athletes for the sport they play. They have rules against faking grades in order to allow athletes to continue playing their sport and rules against receiving special treatment in any form. What the NCAA won’t do, is insert itself into issues such as sexual assault.
Many have called for the NCAA to bestow the “death penalty” upon Baylor. In terms of collegiate athletics, the “death penalty” refers to the NCAA’s power to ban a school from competing in a sport for at least one year. However, it is unclear whether the NCAA even has the power to dole out penalties for sexual misconduct. The organization passed a resolution that states the NCAA can “cooperate but not manage, direct, control or interfere with college or university investigations of sexual violence.” The NCAA refuses to set a clear line for itself on dealing with athletes involved in sexual assault cases.
The NCAA expects that colleges, like Baylor, will punish their athletes accordingly. But, Baylor is unlikely to take its number one sports attraction out of business for an entire year, which means that students athletes accused of sexual assault often continue to play for their teams.
The one time the NCAA attempted to penalize a school for sexual assault, it didn’t end well. In 2011, Jerry Sandusky, assistant football coach for Penn State, was found guilty of sexually assaulting young boys. The NCAA levied unprecedented sanctions on the college, including $60 million in fines and the retraction of every Penn State win between 1998 and 2011. Giving into public pressure, the NCAA sidestepped its usual disciplinary protocol to sanction the college. The president of the NCAA submitted to public outrage and harshly penalized the university. However, once the dust had settled and the initial outcry against Sandusky’s actions subsided, the NCAA was criticized for overstepping its bounds.
Since then, the NCAA has done its best to stay out of these issues, including not penalizing Baylor.