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Student-athletes and crime: Punishment or a slap on the wrist?

Student-athletes And Crime: Punishment Or A Slap On The Wrist?Bryant Eteuati is placed into custody of the Davis County Jail while his lawyer Deven Coggins listens to Judge Thomas L. Kay explain the ruling at the 2nd District Courthouse in Farmington on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009. (NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner)

In 2009, Weber State University football wide receiver Bryant Eteuati was pulled over on 26th Street and Harrison for a minor traffic violation. When the officer ran his plates, they found that Eteuati had no insurance on his vehicle along with finding outstanding arrest warrants for communication fraud, aggravated assault and retail theft. While dealing with the investigation, the Weber State football team was preparing for a big conference matchup against Northern Arizona; both teams were undefeated at the time and if Weber State was to win, it would be the first time in school history that the football team would have a 5 0 conference record. Days after the arrest, John Kowalewski, Weber State s executive director of marketing and communication, made the following statement regarding Eteuati:

We have a long standing practice in the Wildcat athletic department with regards to student-athlete discipline, he said. Based on that long standing practice and the current circumstances, Bryant Eteuati has been suspended from the football team indefinitely for disciplinary reasons.

While many universities let student-athletes get away with breaking the law due to a reluctance of risking the opportunity to win a championship game, the Weber State University Athletics Department is unwilling to risk the culture of their programs for certain student-athletes who violate the law.

Crimes on Campus

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2013, there were a total of 27,600 criminal incidents against persons and property on college campuses that were reported to police and or security agencies. Yearly, every college institution is required to provide the public with a Clery Act report. That report contains information regarding campus security, crime reporting and disciplinary policies. At Weber State, the Clery Crime statistics from 2013-15 included four on-campus sexual assaults, 17 burglaries and seven accounts of domestic violence. The report also provided a report of arrests that have been made due to violations of the school code of conduct. During that time, there were a total of 27 arrests made for drug abuse violations and 73 arrests made for liquor law violations on campus property from 2013-15.

In comparison, the University of Utah had 63 reports of sexual assault on campus property and in residential facilities, 347 burglaries and 25 reports of domestic violence. Typically, these reported and documented crimes are committed by the average college student. However, a statistic that is not typically released is what percentage of student-athletes are involved in these criminal allegations.

Student-athletes And Crime: Punishment Or A Slap On The Wrist?In an episode of Outside the Lines by ESPN, they discovered that 80 student-athletes from the University of Florida had been named suspects in over 100 crimes. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

An Outside the Lines Investigation

In 2015, ESPN s investigative team Outside the Lines explored campus and city police records, while cross-referencing the rosters from the football and men s basketball teams at 10 college campuses that represent the major athletic conferences. In their report, they discovered that over the duration of six years at the University of Florida, 80 student-athletes had been named as suspects in more than 100 crimes. Of those criminal allegations, 56 percent of them were not prosecuted.

Those numbers seemed to be the consensus, as they found similar numbers within the other nine universities.

Student-Athletes and Special Treatment

There are many critics that question whether or not high profile student-athletes receive special treatment from law enforcement officials simply because they are student-athletes. Although there is no way to know for sure why or if law enforcement takes it easy on student-athletes, there are some speculations. A few potential factors that affect the way the system handles crimes committed by student-athletes are the resources available to a high-profile attorney (often hired by the university), intimidation felt by the witness, unwanted media attention on the athletic program or the school and universities athletic programs inserting themselves into investigations.

Student-athletes And Crime: Punishment Or A Slap On The Wrist?Jeff Hurst, Dean of Students, is the person who looks into alleged student code of conduct violations. (The Signpost Archives)

Process of Handling Student-Athlete Crimes and Violations

Just like any student, when student-athletes commit a crime or violate the student code of conduct, there are specific steps that should be taken for handling the process. At Weber State, depending on the violation or crime, the issue is handled by either the university or the police before making its way up the athletic chain. The Weber State Police Department s primary responsibility is to investigate major crimes that occur at the university. If a student or student-athlete is accused of a crime, officers will conduct investigations. They will then submit their case to the Weber County Attorney s Office to be reviewed for prosecution.

Weber State s Dean of Students, Jeff Hurst, handles alleged student code of conduct violations. If a student is reported for breaking the code of conduct, there is a process for handling the violation. Hurst begins this process after receiving a report of a violation, whether it be from a police officer, on an on-campus housing representative or an email from a professor. Hurst then reviews the report and makes the decision if a violation is apparent. If so, the student is then summoned and informed of the charge and offered the option of a formal hearing or an individual office hearing. Depending on which decision is made by the student, the hearing is then held. If the student is found responsible for violating the code of conduct, then sanctions such as warnings, probations, suspensions and expulsions are imposed.

The process with my office is no different for student-athletes, Hurst said. Student-athletes may have additional sanctions or restrictions placed on them by the athletics department, but that is not my decision.

At some universities, this chain of command can be swayed by the school s athletics department. However, at Weber State, it is required that student-athletes report his or her own violations to either their head coach or athletic director within 24 hours. Once the athletics department is aware of a violation of the law, they are required to report it to the WSUPD. Once the sanctions have been imposed by the university or the police, Weber State s athletic program will refer to their handbook when imposing additional sanctions such as probation, warnings, community service, restitution, suspensions or expulsions.

What happens when athletics gets involved?

There are two such examples that have garnered attention where a student-athlete has received leniency for their crimes due to the involvement of athletic program.

Student-athletes And Crime: Punishment Or A Slap On The Wrist?Oklahoma State basketball head coach Travis Ford attempted to protect one of his student-athletes during a police investigation. (Source: Tribune News Service)

Oklahoma State University In 2010, Darrell Williams of the Oklahoma State men s basketball team was under investigation for rape and sexual battery. When police officers showed up to practice and approached head coach Travis Ford with a search warrant, Ford told the officers they would have to wait because the student-athlete was in a required film session. Thirty minutes later, Ford said he was unable to locate the player. A year later during the trial, Ford revealed that he had actually heard about the sexual assault allegations by a letter from the victim received prior to being contacted by the police. The trial also found that Ford had called his student-athletes into a meeting and made sure everyone was telling the same story regarding the questioning and investigation of the players. It was also noted that the university immediately began protecting the student-athlete and did not cooperate with law enforcement.

University of Utah Viliseni Fauonuku was a senior at Bingham High School in West Jordan when he was being pursued by both Brigham Young University and the University of Utah for football scholarships.

In 2010, the defensive lineman entered a garage filled with teens and young adults with the intention of purchasing marijuana. After an altercation, Fauonuku threatened the seller with a handgun and demanded the drugs. He then told them that if word of this got out, he would come back and kill the teen. According to the University of Utah s Code of Conduct, the school does not offer financial scholarships to felons. Fauonuku admitted to his crimes in a juvenile court, and could have been charged with aggravated assault a first-degree felony. However, the court system classified his offense as a delinquent act. While it may or may not have been intentional, this loophole paved a way for Fauonuku to sign a letter of intent to play football for the Utes.

Student-athletes And Crime: Punishment Or A Slap On The Wrist?In 2013, Hasan Ali was charged with retail theft after stealing from the Newgate Mall. (The Signpost Archives)

How Weber State Handles Student-Athlete Crimes and Violations

Weber State Athletics focuses heavily on the culture of its program. While some student-athletes can stray from the path of success momentarily with poor decisions, the athletic department sees themselves as a gateway to help athletes overcome these issues. At Weber State, in cases where the law or student code of conduct is broken, student-athletes are treated no differently than the average student. High profile student-athletes will still be interrogated, questioned and expected to cooperate with the investigation just like any other student would be expected too. In 2013, Weber State football player Hasan Ali and former teammate Yuvraaj Madra were accused of shoplifting a bottle of Calvin Klein cologne from the Sears department store at the Newgate Mall. The two managed to escape but were spotted in the mall by a security officer the next day, who called the police and had them both arrested.

The Ogden Police department released a statement saying that the pair admitted to shoplifting. Ali made a court appearance a week later where he pleaded not guilty. While the investigation was ongoing, the redshirt freshman was suspended indefinitely by Weber State head football coach at the time, Jody Sears.

Until we do all of our research and jump through all of our hoops and make sure we go through the proper chain of command and communication, we want to make sure we have all of the facts and information, Sears told a local newspaper. We can clearly use this moment to teach a life lesson and make sure we are holding everybody accountable. Later that year, a math professor at Weber State resigned after she helped five football players cheat in their math course by completing exams, quizzes and other coursework material for them.

According to the Weber State University Student-Athlete Code of Conduct, academic dishonesty is not tolerated.

The students went through the regular academic disciplinary process, where they were reviewed and ultimately failed the course for academic dishonesty, according to Allison Hess, Weber State s public relations director, The student-athletes were also suspended from the team.

Weber State s Athletic Department reported the case to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which placed the Weber State football program on a three-year probation. Wildcat Athletics was required to pay a fine of $5,000 and 2 percent of the program s operating budget, estimated at approximately $20,000. The program also had its financial aid awards reduced, limiting them to 60 scholarships for those next three years.

Student-athletes And Crime: Punishment Or A Slap On The Wrist?In 2013, former Weber State football player Yuvraaj Madra was arrested for two counts of retail theft and possession of forged writings. (The Signpost Archives)

Because the NCAA said Weber State s Athletic Department was so cooperative with their investigation, the sanctions imposed were much lighter than what they could have been.

The school was credited with properly detecting and coming forward with the information as required by their membership, Rodney Uphoff, NCAA chief hearing officer told the media of the case. That is a factor that worked in Weber State s favor. According to Amy Crosbie, assistant athletic director at Weber State, the Athletics Department does not involve themselves in criminal or university investigations.

It is not our job to decide if our student-athletes are guilty or not, Crosbie said. When there has been an alleged criminal act or violation, we are made aware of the situations by those handling it, but we let them run their course before we take any action. It is apparent that the Weber State Athletic Department is not willing to risk the culture of their programs to protect student-athletes who get involved in erogenous criminal activity.

It is our job to have conversations with student-athletes who have made poor choices and have education moments with them and help them work through whatever they are dealing with, Crosbie said. We do not involve ourselves in other investigations, but in a sense, that student-athlete is our responsibility and is somebody we re brought into this environment. We are going to help them on that end.

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