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Programs added to address student-athlete behavior, issues

By Larry Hincker

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 22 - February 28, 1997

President Paul Torgersen Monday unveiled plans to improve overall student-athlete behavior and reduce the likelihood of athletes finding themselves in violation of the law. Multiple arrests of Virginia Tech athletes upset and embarrassed university officials during 1996. The action plan proposed by a student and faculty committee includes mandatory sanctions for athletes charged with a crime.

"Our approach in the review was threefold-to improve the chances that we recruit the kinds of students who can succeed in a collegiate environment, help student-athletes through problems unique to collegiate athletics while sending uncompromising messages about our values and expectations, and to have clear-cut and easily understood sanctions for unacceptable behavior," Torgersen said.

"Playing athletics at the intercollegiate level is a rare privilege afforded very few students. We expect the young men and women at Virginia Tech to uphold the highest values of sportsmanship, honor, integrity, and respect for others. We expect behavior off the field to reflect standards set by countless athletes who have represented Virginia Tech in the past. If contemporary athletes are not up to this standard, they won't be playing for us," said Torgersen.

A university-wide committee lead by Athletic Director David Braine made recommendations to improve the recruiting process, install educational programs to encourage appropriate behavior and help achieve academic success, and implement automatic sanctions for arrests. The university will incorporate new language about expectations and values in the student-athlete handbook. Sanctions for violations of the law are clearly detailed.

Sanctions are as follows:

Felony Charge: Any student-athlete charged with a felony or with a crime involving gambling or game fixing will be suspended until charges are dropped, dismissed, or resolved.

Felony Conviction: Any student-athlete convicted of or pleading guilty or no contest to a felony charge or a game-fixing charge will be permanently dismissed from the team.

Misdemeanor Charge and/or Conviction or Conviction of Student Code of Conduct Violations: Any student-athlete arrested, charged, and/or convicted of a misdemeanor charge (other than gambling or game fixing) will be subject to a review process and sanctions by the athletic director. The athletic director may impose sanctions ranging from a warning to dismissal from the team.

The review process for misdemeanor charges will consider the nature of the charge, prior behavior, self-disclosure of the violation, cooperation during the investigation, alcohol and/or drug use, and precedent established by other cases.

Under previous policy team coaches meted out sanctions for in appropriate behavior (except for violations of university policy which are heard within the university judicial system). Under the new policy the athletic director will determine team eligibility when an athlete is charged with a crime. "I am in a better position to have a broad perspective and review the overall impact upon the university," said Braine.

(For additional quotes from Braine before the Faculty Senate at its February meeting, please see page 8.)

Mirroring the committee report, which states that violent crimes are "utterly incompatible with the character of our university community, Torgersen said "We will clearly convey to student athletes our expectations about behavior and the repercussions from breaking the rules or the law. However, we also understand that the role of a student-athlete brings specials pressures and responsibilities. For that reason, we will also expand the support programs available to athletes."

Some proposed actions are the creation of a peer mentoring system, education programs on alcohol and drug awareness, increased random drug testing, increased staffing in the Student Life Office, an academic evaluation and diagnostic program, and expanded information and education on roles and responsibilities of student-athletes.

"We hope and believe that these new efforts will greatly reduce the chance of student-athletes getting into trouble. In the end, these young people are individuals and are responsible for their own actions, but we want to try to do everything we can to get the right kinds of kids to begin with, help them succeed in the college environment, and clearly communicate our values and expectations about civil behavior," Braine said.

All of the suggested changes in policy will be implemented immediately. However, the report represents a best-case scenario. Torgersen has asked Braine to develop a cost-and-prioritization schedule in order to implement the plan. The costs associated with the Athletic Department will be borne by the Athletic Department.