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How athletics departments should handle sexual assault investigations is the most difficult question NCAA President Mark Emmert has ever faced.
At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in July 2014, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) grilled Emmert about a report that said more than 20 percent of the NCAA’s member institutions give athletics departments oversight over sexual assault cases involving student-athletes.
“I can’t tell whether you’re in charge or are a minion to them,” McCaskill told Emmert at the hearing. She added: “I don’t sense that you feel like you have any control of this situation, and if you have no control, if you’re merely a monetary pass-through, why should you even exist?”
To the NCAA’s credit, it swiftly responded to the criticism. In the fall, the association published “Addressing Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Violence,” outlining recommendations for universities and athletics departments in an effort to improve protocol around campus sexual assault investigations.
“Although sexual assault and interpersonal violence do not have their roots in college environments or in college athletics, we in athletics have an opportunity to make a difference,” the report concluded.
But the NCAA is no closer to implementing a standard sexual assault policy. The NCAA has not come out and prohibited accused, charged or convicted sex offenders from transferring to teams at other schools, leaving it up to the universities themselves to make those calls.
“America Tonight” went to the Final Four in Indianapolis to ask Emmert about the lack of NCAA standard policy regarding sexual assault during his April 2 press conference. In his response, Emmert emphasized that cases involving athletes accused of or charged with sexual assault fall on the shoulders of the schools:
The first responsibility for student behavior that's not part of the competitive environment resides with campuses themselves. So when a student, whether they're a student-athlete or not, is engaged in behavior that's inconsistent with the values of that university, then every university and college has a set of protocols for handling disciplinary matters. So the members of the association, all the universities, have decided that those decisions first and foremost must be handled by the institutions themselves. If it's a criminal offense, then by the legal system of that state. If there is evidence that a university handled one of those cases in a way that is different than the way they would handle a non-athlete, in other words, there was a student-athlete that was engaged in some inappropriate or criminal behavior, and the university treated that person differently than they would have if that person was just a regular student, then that is, in fact, an NCAA violation, and, in fact, the association gets involved in trying to determine what the ramifications of that behavior would be. It's not that the national rules don't have a policy about it, it's that they first and foremost reside with the campuses.
At the same press conference, Harris Pastides, president of the University of South Carolina and chair of the NCAA Division I board of directors, joined Emmert in that sentiment.
“I think the NCAA would be watchful about how a university handled a particular issue with the student-athlete,” Pastides said. “But we don’t expect our colleagues from Indianapolis to be telling us how to handle a student on an academic matter or on a very serious criminal matter like [sexual assault].”
Because of the NCAA's hands-off approach, cases where student-athletes who are accused of or charged with sexual assault transfer and play without consequence pop up regularly in football and men’s basketball, the association's highest grossing sports, and at some of the more big-time athletics programs.
The latest example involves Daymean Dotson, one of the three former Oregon men’s basketball players who were accused of gang raping a female student last year. (None of the players in the case were charged.) This week, Dotson is expected to transfer to the University of Houston and sign a national letter of intent to play for the team.
“The reason coaches can’t resist the temptation sometimes to give them a so-called second chance is because they’re really good athletes,” said Jeff Benedict, a writer for Sports Illustrated and author of “The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football." “You don’t give second chances to guys who are going to sit on the bench and not play. You give second chances to guys who can help you win.”
Explore our timeline of some of the most notable instances in the last 15 years of alleged or convicted sexual assaulters transferring and continuing to play their respective sports.