Looking for scandals in college sports is as difficult as looking for hay in a haystack. And while the particulars vary , the pattern is distressingly similar: accusations of severe misconduct against players are dismissed or ignored until adverse publicity forces the program to settle the case.
Just last month , Florida State University announced it had settled a lawsuit with a former student who said she was raped in 2012 by Jameis Winston , the former quarterback of the Seminoles and winner of the Heisman Trophy. FSU agreed to pay the woman $950,000, along with making a five-year commitment to awareness , prevention , and training programs.
According to media reports , the lump sum is the largest settlement for Title IX claims involving indifference to a reported sexual assault by a student. In mid-February this year , the glare of publicity is on the University of Tennessee which is accused of ignoring inappropriate sexual behavior by Peyton Manning , its famous quarterback , back in 1996 when it was easier to hush things up.
It is unlikely that in 1996 the University of Tennessee, or indeed most colleges and universities, had established comprehensive compliance programs. Even today, with all the reports of wrongdoing by student athletes on college campuses, it is doubtful compliance programs reach into athletic departments in a meaningful way. Winning is so important in collegiate sports it is a rare institution that is not tempted to look the other way when scandal threatens to sideline a star player.
Fans, too, are often complicit in protecting a winning tradition. The New York Times reports that in the Jameis Winston case, the Seminole Boosters picked up $1.3 million of the university ‘s $1.7 million tab for legal fees. Sexual assault victims are often ridiculed and threatened and even forced off campus for daring to threaten a player ‘s eligibility with their accusations.
All the more reason then for colleges and universities to establish compliance programs that are independent and vigorous enough to withstand the ire of powerful coaches and players and even university presidents.
***This Blog is reposted with permission from the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics.***