The University of Wisconsin Athletic Board has approved significant changes to its student-athlete discipline policy. The decision comes shortly after a Wisconsin jury acquitted one of the school’s football players of sexual assault charges.

Wide receiver Quintez Cephus was expelled from the University in August 2018, then, following the jury’s not guilty verdict, he was reinstated and allowed to rejoin the football team.

The amended policy mandates suspensions of any student-athlete who is believed to be imminently facing an arrest or the filing of certain criminal charges. According UW-Madison Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs Ray Taffora,

suspension is automatic as soon as it is believed that “something is happening soon.”

The offenses triggering suspension under the new policy are as follows:

  • Causing serious physical injury to another person;
  • Creating a serious danger to the physical safety of another person;
  • Making a credible threat of serious physical injury to another person;
  • Sexual assault;
  • Delivering or possessing with the intent to deliver a controlled substance as defined by Wisconsin law;
  • Felony theft or felony criminal damage to property;
  • “Stalking” as defined by Wisconsin law; and
  • Repeated criminal violations deemed to raise the concerns addressed by the student-athlete discipline policy.

Significantly, the University Athletic Board also added campus discipline as a possible trigger for mandatory suspension. However, what type of campus discipline will mandate suspension remains unclear. Also unclear is the point at which criminal charges or an arrest become “imminent.” The Wisconsin Athletic Board did not say whether suspension could result from mere accusations of criminal conduct or whether a certain quantity or quality of information is necessary before the policy is enforced. To address these and other “grey areas,” the policy provides that the Athletic Director, in consultation with the Chair of the Athletic Board, has the authority to decide good-faith questions about whether the policy applies.

Once an athlete is suspended, the University undertakes a factual inquiry into the incident. During this time, the athlete continues to receive financial aid and athletic training services and opportunities, but is barred from competition and team activities. Ultimately, the punishment to be imposed is decided by a committee consisting of the Athletic Director, Chair of the Athletic Board, a member of the Athletic Board, and a designee of the Chancellor. Punishment can range from reprimand to dismissal from the team.

In addition, although the student-athlete discipline policy is separate from the University’s student disciplinary policy, athletes remain subject to discipline under the general academic and non-academic misconduct rules applicable to all students.

Wisconsin appears to be the only major NCAA Division I school to implement a policy of this kind. At this time, the University has not reported whether any of its student-athletes has been disciplined under the new policy.