NCAA explores ways to curb violence

Updated: November 18, 2010, 1:20 AM ET
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- Mark Emmert is taking a look at what the NCAA can do to help prevent violence against women.

Two representatives from the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes said they spent nearly 90 minutes meeting with the NCAA's new president Wednesday, imploring him to send a strong message to the nation's college athletes that violent acts would not be tolerated.

"I'm encouraged by it," Kathy Redmond, president and founder of the group, said after the meeting. "I told him we would be in contact and we would love to help him build a program around this topic."

The group has already sent a formal proposal to the NCAA's executive committee. It calls on the NCAA to take disciplinary action against student-athletes who have engaged in inappropriate conduct such as rape, sexual assault, domestic violence or sexual harassment.

Redmond and Wendy Murphy don't necessarily want Emmert to add more rules to the already hefty NCAA rulebook.

Rather, they contend the governing body has a moral obligation to provide leadership on the issue and would like to see the NCAA, at least, adopt a written policy establishing guidelines, corrective actions and potential sanctions for schools and individuals that violate the guidelines.

One potential sanction could be the loss of membership.

Murphy, a professor at the New England School of Law and a well-known former sex crimes prosecutor, believes the number of sexually-related cases among student-athletes has increased dramatically over the past two decades. In a Lexis-Nexis search she conducted for media reports over the last 12 months, Murphy said she found 672 stories about athletes' cases against women. Murphy said the number was half of that in 1995. In 1990, she said, the number was around 50.

She said she cited those numbers during the meeting.

"What it shows is that the NCAA has a huge perception problem on a near daily basis," Murphy said before leaving town. "That's why the NCAA has to step up and fill the vacuum."

A message seeking comment from Emmert was left with an NCAA spokesman by The Associated Press.

Becky Bell, an associate athletic director at the University of Arizona, has started a program called Step Up that encourages student-athletes to intervene when they see bad situations. Bell has visited more than 100 campuses since implementing the program two years ago, including Virginia where a male lacrosse player was charged with murdering a female lacrosse player.

Her coursework touches on everything from hazing to eating disorders and alcohol abuse to discrimination, and Bell also has a component that deals with sexual assaults.

"I think the research shows that it doesn't necessarily mean its happening more, but they are in the headlines more," Bell said. "I think that many, if not most, of these things are preventable."

Last week, NCAA spokesman Bob Williams told The Associated Press that the goals of Redmond's group and the NCAA were "not in conflict." And on Wednesday, Redmond said she was encouraged by what she heard from Emmert, a former University of Washington president.

"He understands the challenges the presidents face and he has respect for the university presidents," Redmond said. "What I'm seeing is that it's not the presidents who have the authority on campus, it's the athletic departments, and I think this is a time that university presidents stand up and send a message."

They believe Emmert should lead the charge, in much the same manner the late Myles Brand led the movement for academic reform at the NCAA.

But unlike professional sports leagues, the NCAA president does not have autonomous authority over all schools and all athletes. Member institutions must vote on proposals.

One thing that would help, Redmond believes, would be using the NCAA as a point of last resort -- or when they see a pattern at a certain school.

"We want the victim to be able to report to the NCAA after she's exhausted everything else and then if the NCAA sees some red flags at an institution, they can call up the school and say 'What is your prevention program," she said.

The executive committee could discuss the proposal at the NCAA's annual convention in January, and Murphy and Redmond said Emmert wanted to keep the dialogue open though no formal second meeting has been scheduled.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press