With the college football season set to kick off, most attention will turn to wins and losses rather than the off-field issues that place universities and athletic departments in the media spotlight. However, with the increase of internal investigations stemming from Title IX issues of abuse and harassment, matters of student-athlete welfare, and discrimination allegations in today’s litigious society, it is prudent for institutions and their athletics administrators to review their current policies and procedures in order to assure that these problem areas in the collegiate athletic arena are effectively addressed.
There are several policy areas institutions should continually review and update to reflect compliance with directives from the federal Office of Civil Rights, as well as recent court decisions. A clear articulation of reporting, investigation, grievance, and appeals processes need to be outlined and understood by faculty, staff, and students alike. Training is a key preventative measure, which athletics departments need to provide and promote. Similarly, educational institutions should proactively coordinate cross-campus interactions and work with other university departments, such as the university’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Human Resources, and the Office of General Counsel, to ensure that when the need for an investigation arises, all stakeholders are aware of the steps necessary for a prompt, thorough and low profile investigation and resolution.
Additionally, the relationship between the athletics administration and coaching staffs is crucial. Clear communication of expectations by both administrators and coaches is necessary in order to protect all parties, and well-drafted policies and procedures that ensure consistent, objective, and prompt consideration and resolution of issues are extremely important. Comprehensive review and personalized training specifically for coaches and administrators is critical as well. A well-run athletics department is constantly evolving and changing its policies and training in order to both prevent harmful incidents, and to provide the best defense against those claims that do arise.
As a new academic year begins, athletics administrators should review their policies—both for the department and for each individual sport. It is important to ensure that policies and practices address the rising concerns facing collegiate athletics departments so that when the unexpected incident occurs, which may well be inevitable, all administrators and coaches can confidently tackle and immediately resolve the issue.