The University of Wisconsin unveiled a department-wide student-athlete discipline policy Thursday. The policy establishes consequences and an appeals procedure for student-athletes who violate certain types of local, state or federal law, or University, or team rules.
Wisconsin head football coach and Athletics Director-designee Barry Alvarez announced the policy Thursday afternoon. The aptly-titled University of Wisconsin Athletic Department Student-Athlete Discipline Policy sets forth that any athlete that has been convicted of, or has been charged with, a violation of local, state or federal law related to drugs, gambling or violence, or has committed any felony, will be suspended until the issue has been addressed by the legal system. Once informed of the suspension, student-athletes have 72 hours to appeal. An appeal committee established by the athletic department may modify suspensions or reinstate the athlete.
"We just wanted to be fair and equal to everyone," Alvarez said. "We wanted to take it out of everyone else's hands and be very consistent with what we did so that there wasn't speculation (of subjectivity) and that is what we think we came up with."
While suspended a student-athlete would not be allowed to practice or compete for a team. They would maintain privileges related to academic support, weight room and sports medicine facilities and would continue to receive financial aid.
The guidelines are a standard for all athletics teams at UW, but they do not preclude individual coaches from setting team rules regarding anything not included in the policy. Coaches may also have more restrictive guidelines than the policy establishes for the violations of law it describes. The policy also allows student-athletes to appeal suspensions that result from violations of team or university rules.
The completed policy was shared with all Wisconsin coaches Aug. 12, but Alvarez said that UW coaches were told last spring that the athletics department was in the process of establishing the disciplinary guidelines. The athletics department worked on the policy throughout the summer, consulting a number of other schools that have similar programs. Alvarez personally contacted Nebraska and Iowa State to learn more about their respective athletics discipline codes.
The policy was unveiled to the UW football team on the first day of practice this fall. Alvarez stated that it went into effect as of that day and will go into effect for each student-athlete as soon as their coaches have the opportunity to broach the policy to them.
"When I met with (the football team) and went over the policy with them, from that minute on we implemented the policy with them," Alvarez said. "As the other student-athletes come in and their coaches go over it with them (it will go into effect). That is only fair. We can't implement something to student-athletes without them knowing the rules."
One area of team rules that is not incorporated within the guidelines is alcohol-related violations. Unless an alcohol-related incident results in a violation of law as stipulated within the policy, it remains within the purview of team rules.
"Every coach in every sport will have the opportunity and we will expect them to have their own team rules," Alvarez said. "This does not include alcohol unless alcohol is involved in one of the issues that is listed. The reason for that is many coaches have different rules and regulations, and team rules, regarding alcohol. We respect that."
Once the athletics department becomes aware of a violation of the new policy, a student athlete will be immediately informed of their indefinite suspension. If the athlete appeals within the allotted 72 hours then a five-member appeals committee will decide whether to uphold, modify or lift the suspension. (The 72-hour window may be extended if the three-day mark ends on a non-business day or the student-athlete can prove they did not receive the proclamation of suspension in a timely manner) The appeals committee will consist of the Athletic Director, the Chair of the Athletic Board, a member of the A.D.'s senior staff, a head coach and a student-athlete who serves on the Student-Athlete Advisory Council. If any member of the appeals committee is associated with the same team as the student-athlete requesting the appeal, then a substitute will be appointed to the committee.
"We talked about some of the people, some of the athletes, that we thought would do a good job (on the committee)," Alvarez said. "We would like to get one committee in place so we would be consistent, particularly just to start this. We haven't talked to all of those people yet so it hasn't been set yet. But it is not going to be very difficult to get that committee in place."
Alvarez stressed that the University will not be attempting to prove guilt or innocence regarding questions of law.
"We are not trying to determine whether somebody is guilty or not," Alvarez said. "That is not our job. We just want to take the speculation and everybody else having an opinion on it, out of it. If the student-athlete has a legitimate case even though he has been charged, and there are extenuating circumstances, he can be back on the field. This eliminates an awful lot of questions and second guessing."