State lawmakers could amend student-athlete discipline policies

Liz Butterfield
Online News Editor

VCU’s student-athletes may see changes to their disciplinary and enforcement policies next semester if a bill in the Virginia General Assembly passes this session.

House Bill 205, introduced by Delegate Steve Landes (R-25) in December, requires all state institutions of higher education to create and enforce disciplinary policies for their student-athletes. The policies would be at the discretion of the Boards of Visitors of the institutions, and the Boards would also be tasked with enforcing such policies.

Landes, who is chairperson of the House Education Committee, said he introduced the bill this year after incidents at James Madison University and Virginia State University drew his attention.

Although the bill is not intended to dictate what specific rules or policies student-athletes would be required to comply by, Landes said, it would mean they would have one in place.

“When student-athletes are out performing and acting as part of a team or individual, obviously they’re not only representing themselves, but they also represent the university or the college,” Landes said.

The State Council for Higher Education of Virginia worked closely with Landes to compile a list of schools with and without policies. Although most universities and colleges in the Commonwealth already have separate student-athlete codes of conduct, at least four schools in the state have no policy or limited policies regarding the behavior of such students.

Virginia State University’s policies only provide sanctions for student-athletes involved in hazing or gambling. Virginia Military Institute does not have specific policies governing its student-athletes. Longwood University only has a student-athlete arrest policy; and Richard Bland College doesn’t have specific policies for student-athletes yet because it has not previously competed at an intercollegiate level, according to a SCHEV report on policies regarding arrest of student-athletes at Virginia’s public colleges and universities.

The bill requires universities and colleges that already have student-athlete policies to have their rules be enforced by the Boards of Visitors, a role the Board of Visitors at VCU does not take on, said VCU spokesperson Anne Buckley.

“The bottom line is that we already have an additional code of conduct in place for student-athletes that is in addition to the code of conduct for students,” Buckley said in an email. VCU’s Board of Visitors does not enforce either policy, Buckley added.

VCU’s current student-athlete code of conduct was first developed in the 2011-12 academic year to support VCU’s student-athletes, and to “give them guidance and support through the challenges facing them,” according to the code.

Student-athletes at VCU are required to report any of their own and others’ violations of the code to coaches and directors. They must comply with all policies of the student-athlete handbook, the VCU code of ethics, rules of the NCAA, and VCU Athletics’ Drug and Alcohol Policy.

Any act of hazing is specifically prohibited in the code, as well as disrespect, poor sportsmanship, gambling or bribery, poor academic performance and any other conduct unbecoming of a VCU student-athlete.

Student-athletes also must obey restricted guidelines as to their use of social media accounts and may not post on the Internet any “information, photos, or other items online that could be a negative reflection of you, your team, the Department of Athletics, or Virginia Commonwealth University,” according to the code.

Disciplinary sanctions are conducted “independent of, and supplements of the university judicial process,” according to the code. It is the athletics director’s responsibility to verify accusations and follow through with sanctions for accused athletes.

VCU student-athlete’s most common violations of the code are unknown because they are dealt with privately, VCU Athletics spokesperson Scott Day said in an email.

Although it may not be the traditional role of Board members to take on such matters, Landes said he thinks this is a reasonable responsibility for Boards to take on.

“(The state legislature) has tried to in the last several years to make sure that the boards are taking on more responsibilities,” Landes said. “Board members I think in the past have had the expectation that they are somewhat insulated and they’re more like a private board of directors with a corporation … but it’s a governing body of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and they have certain responsibilities … As long as I’m there with higher education, I think we need to have these discussions and the boards need to be involved and need to be aware of what’s going on in their institutions.”

The bill currently sits in the House Committee on Education.

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