Two schools change rules after investigation

Two schools change rules after investigation

Five other universities named in USA TODAY Network report ignored questions.

Two of at least seven universities identified in a USA TODAY Network investigation for unwittingly recruiting athletes with histories of sexual misconduct will change their procedures to avoid such a scenario in the future.

Both the University of South Florida and Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania confirmed they will more fully vet student-athletes trying to transfer to their institutions.

But five others — Texas Tech University, San Diego State, the University of North Texas, Southern University, and Capital University — have ignored repeated questions about how they intend to address their shortfalls.

Each of those schools previously told the USA TODAY Network that they were unaware of their athletes’ prior misconduct until the news organization brought it to their attention as part of its four-part series, “Predator Pipeline,” which was published Dec. 12.

The investigation found at least 33 athletes since 2014 who have transferred to NCAA schools despite being disciplined for a sexual offense at a previous college. The actual number is likely far higher, as the vast majority of colleges refuse to release records from disciplinary proceedings, even though federal law gives them explicit permission to do so.

North Texas recruited two such athletes: linebacker Tim Faison, who played the last two seasons, and defensive back Darius Turner, who played in 2016. Senior Associate Athletic Director Eric Capper said previously that no one in UNT athletics, including head coach Seth Littrell, knew about their violations.

Sep 15, 2018; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback Connor Noland (13) carries the ball against North Texas Mean Green linebacker Tim Faison (3) during the second half at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. North Texas Mean Green defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks 44-17. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

UNT’s athlete code of conduct already disqualifies those disciplined for serious misconduct but provides no protocols for checking athletes’ backgrounds.

UNT student leaders expressed outrage at the athletic department’s lack of commitment to fix it.

“If we have athletes who play for us and represent us who are actual assaulters, that’s just ridiculous to us,” said UNT Student Government Association President Yolian Ogbu.

She and other student leaders urged campus administrators to adopt The Tracy Rule, a zero-tolerance policy barring athletes disciplined for sexual and violent offenses and named for rape survivor and advocate Brenda Tracy.

Among its vetting procedures: a requirement that the Title IX coordinators at each transfer-athlete’s previous institutions state if the athlete was investigated for any sexual or gender-based offenses.

UNT in a statement declined to comment on the students’ efforts or acknowledge its football team’s oversights.

“UNT takes the safety and well-being of all students very seriously,” spokeswoman Leigh Anne Gullett said in a statement. “We are thorough and diligent in researching best practices in ensuring campus safety for our student body and will continue to do so.”

Meanwhile, the University of South Florida broadened questions on its transfer-eligibility questionnaire, or “transfer tracer,” to capture more information about past disciplinary issues, said Associate Athletic Director Brian Siegrist.

Unlike Slippery Rock, however, USF would not commit to denying playing opportunities in the future to athletes found responsible for sexual misconduct, such as Tyrik Jones, a defensive end for the Bulls in 2019.

Tyrik Jones is a defensive end with the USF Bulls. Before transferring he had two seasons at Arizona Western Community College. Photographed Saturday afternoon, Sept. 28, 2019, in Tampa Florida. [HERALD-TRIBUNE STAFF PHOTO / THOMAS BENDER]

Jones last year transferred to USF from Arizona Western College, where after a female student in February 2018 told campus officials that Jones forcibly fondled and exposed his genitals to her when she gave him a ride in October 2017, according to a police report. The school found him responsible in a conduct proceeding for sexual misconduct and placed him on disciplinary probation for 17 months, campus disciplinary records show.

When Jones signed with USF 10 months in, the tracer USF sent Arizona Western asked only if Jones had been disqualified or suspended for disciplinary reasons. So Arizona Western marked “no,” said Nikki Hage, associate dean of campus life and student conduct for the college.

USF is currently reviewing its policies to determine if any changes to admissions processes are necessary, Siegrist said.

NCAA could take action

The NCAA itself may take action soon.

Its highest governing body, the Board of Governors, said last month that it will adopt new sexual-violence policies amid pressure from Congress calling for an independent study of the NCAA’s lack of accountability for violent athletes. But the NCAA offered no details on what those policies will entail.

Onlookers remain skeptical of the board, which for years has rebuffed calls from activists, U.S. senators and its own study commission to take a tougher stance on the issue.

NCAA President Mark Emmert hinted that the new policies will address the current absence of vetting procedures.

“There’s no mandated background checks right now,” Emmert said at the organization’s annual conference in January. “We want to make sure that everybody has that information and that everyone is making decisions based on the best information available, and we’re not sure that’s the case today.”

But like USF, Emmert would not commit to banning or otherwise penalizing athletes with documented histories sexual misconduct.

While the NCAA disciplines athletes for profiting off their own likeness, nothing in its 440-page rulebook stops those found responsible for sexual or violent misconduct from competing. Even when expelled, suspended or criminally convicted for sexual offenses, athletes can transfer to other NCAA schools and return to the field in a year or less.

“Every one of the cases of a student-athlete are all unique,” Emmert said at the conference. “Let’s make sure the schools have all the information in front of them and they know exactly what the backgrounds of student-athletes are and what their experiences have been, and then they can make a decision based on the information that’s in front of them.”

USA TODAY’s Dan Wolken contributed reporting.

NCAA promises expanded sexual-violence policies

NCAA promises expanded sexual-violence policies

Victims and advocates are skeptical, saying the organization has failed to take action before.

NCAA Board of Governors Chairman Michael Drake
NCAA Board of Governors Chairman Michael Drake, who is also the president of Ohio State University, addresses the media at Longaberger Alumni House on the Ohio State University campus on Aug 22, 2018. [Greg Bartram/USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA will expand its sexual violence policy, the college athletics organization confirmed Wednesday during its annual conference, but sexual assault survivors and advocates remain skeptical it will be tough enough.

The NCAA Board of Governors reviewed its stance on athletes accused or convicted of sexual assault this week amid congressional pressure stemming from a USA TODAY Network investigation called “Predator Pipeline.” Published in December, the investigation found dozens of athletes who’ve transferred to NCAA schools in recent years despite being disciplined for sexual assault at previous colleges.

Board chairman Michael Drake, the president of Ohio State University, said after the meeting that the board will schedule a special session in the next few weeks to finalize the policy. He did not offer details on what it will encompass.

“This has been an active area of discussion for us over these, honestly, last several months and years,” Drake said after the meeting. “It’s time, we think, to revisit the policy, which we’re going to do.”

It is unclear if the policy will prescribe a uniform set of regulations for all schools, require each school to institute its own rules, or something else entirely. Drake dodged a question from a reporter on Wednesday asking if the new policy will ban athletes found responsible for sexual offenses by their schools or in court.

“We’ll have to wait until the policy is determined,” Drake said, “but we’ll look at that in the next couple weeks, and we’re looking forward to it.”

Some doubt the organization’s commitment to fixing the issue. Empty promises have long been the hallmark of NCAA leaders, said Kathy Redmond, head of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes. 

“They have failed to act over a span of decades of complaints by sexual-assault and interpersonal-violence victims, many of whom are female NCAA athletes,” Redmond. “They have chosen profits over people, words over actions, perpetrators over victims.”

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a former Olympic swimmer, rape survivor and founder of the advocacy organization Champion Women, said any new policy must have enforcement mechanisms and outline consequences for schools that break it.

“Without consequences, it will not protect women,” Hogshead-Makar said.

Brenda Tracy, who in 1998 reported being raped by NCAA athletes, co-authored her own serious misconduct policy, the Tracy Rule, which reflects a strict zero-tolerance approach to sexual violence. She remains hopeful the new NCAA rule will, too.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” she said. “It’s fairly easy to adopt a policy that looks good in theory and creates some positive media buzz, but doesn’t actually address the real issues going on in college athletics.”

Congressional study

Unlike the pro leagues, the NCAA currently has no personal conduct policy and no specific penalties for those who commit sexual assault, the USA TODAY Network’s four-part series found. Even when expelled, suspended or criminally convicted for sexual offenses, athletes can transfer to other NCAA schools and return to the field in a year or less.

The investigation’s findings drew the ire of women’s groups, sexual assault organizations and members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Florida, who filed a bill last month that will specifically address issues raised in the investigation, she said.

Co-sponsored by Rep. Ross Spano, the Congressional Advisory Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics (CACIA) Act would create an independent commission to study the NCAA.

The Board of Governors – comprised of 19 university presidents, chancellors and athletic directors – has been aware of the issue for years. But it has resisted previous calls by eight U.S. senators and its own study commission to fix it. 

Drake himself was part of an NCAA study group, the Commission to Combat Campus Sexual Violence, that in 2018 advocated for the organization to tie athlete eligibility to behavior. But the board, of which he was not a member at the time, disbanded the group instead.

A handful of NCAA conferences and individual schools have adopted their own policies disqualifying athletes disciplined for sexual and violent offenses. 

The strictest is the Tracy Rule, which the University of Texas at San Antonio became the first school to adopt in September. It is modeled after the Big Sky Conference’s Serious Misconduct Rule, but it goes further by requiring schools to request disciplinary records from incoming transfer-athletes’ previous institutions.

Reclaim MSU, a survivor advocacy group at Michigan State University, told the USA TODAY Network in a statement that the NCAA policy should be at least as strong as the Big Sky’s.

“As we saw at Michigan State University with the recruitment of Auston Robertson, athletic departments have too many incentives to put competitive advantage ahead of student safety,” Reclaim MSU said.

MSU football coaches recruited Robertson despite numerous allegations of sexual misconduct while he was in high school. He went onto plead guilty to sexually assaulting an MSU teammate’s girlfriend and is now in jail.

“For this culture of rape acceptance to end,” the organization said, “the NCAA must act.”

USA TODAY’s Dan Wolken contributed reporting.

Congressional bill to examine NCAA ‘predator pipeline’

Congressional bill to examine NCAA ‘predator pipeline’

NCAA says its Board of Governors will address the issue at its meeting this month.

U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Florida, who wants an independent review of NCAA rules, is seen here at a 2013 Miami Hurricanes game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Shalala was president of the University of Miami at the time. [Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports]

The NCAA will review its stance regarding athletes accused or convicted of sexual assault, the college sports organization said Wednesday, amid pressure from Congress calling for an independent study of the NCAA’s lack of accountability for such athletes.

Both the congressional call and the NCAA’s commitment to reviewing its policies come on the heels of a USA TODAY Network investigation that exposed how college athletes can keep playing sports even after being found responsible for sexual assault.

The NCAA notoriously metes out punishments to student athletes for bad grades, smoking marijuana or accepting money and free meals. But nowhere in its 440-page Division I rulebook does it cite penalties for sexual, violent or criminal misconduct, the USA TODAY Network found.

Even when suspended or expelled from school for rape, NCAA athletes can transfer elsewhere and continue playing.

U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Florida, wants to change that. She, along with U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, R-Florida, introduced a bill requesting the study on Dec. 19.

Called the Congressional Advisory Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics (CACIA) Act, the measure would establish a two-year independent commission to review, among other issues, “the NCAA’s lack of accountability for athletes who commit sexual assault, other serious misconduct, and the practice of transferring to other institutions,” said Christofer Horta, a legislative assistant for Shalala.

There is “no question” that the NCAA should have a personal conduct policy for athletes and strict transfer regulations, Shalala told the USA TODAY Network. 

“That really goes to not only the integrity of the NCAA but the integrity of the colleges themselves,” Shalala said. “The NCAA clearly does not have clear rules on sexual assault and transferability. What we’re interested in is everyone being accountable for their behavior, and for the NCAA to be accountable specifically for the behavior of athletes.”

The bill, H.R. 5528, has been assigned to the House Committee on Education and Labor. If enacted, the commission also would examine the NCAA’s amateurism rules, athletic department finances, safety protocols and other issues in college sports.

“The NCAA is actively working with members of Congress, including Congresswoman Shalala, on finding appropriate ways to modernize our rules,” NCAA spokesman Chris Radford said in response to questions from the USA TODAY Network.

“At its upcoming meeting this month, the Board of Governors will review and examine NCAA policies regarding those accused and/or convicted of sexual assault in an ongoing effort to provide guidance at the campus, conference, and national level,” Radford said.

The Board of Governors – the NCAA’s highest governance body, comprised of 19 university presidents, chancellors and athletic directors – has been aware of the issue for years. But it has resisted previous calls by eight U.S. senators and its own study commission to fix it. 

An NCAA study group, the Commission to Combat Campus Sexual Violence, in 2018 advocated for the organization to tie athlete eligibility to behavior.

But the Board of Governors disbanded the group instead. It promised to “continue to monitor and track on sexual violence issues,” minutes from its August 2018 meeting show. It has taken no action since then.

National Organization for Women President Toni Van Pelt said in a statement that the CACIA Act “will hold the NCAA accountable and work towards ending a serious predator pipeline.” 

“We are finally seeing some hope for change,” Van Pelt said. “NOW strongly supports the demand for the equal enforcement of rules, laws and regulations especially when it comes to Title IX requirements, criminal behavior and violence against women. Enough is enough.”

Personal connection

A USA TODAY Network four-part series published Dec. 12 called “Predator Pipeline” found at least 33 athletes since 2014 who have transferred to NCAA schools despite being administratively or criminally disciplined for sexual offenses at a previous college.

One of them is Alex Figueroa, a University of Miami football player accused of gang rape in 2014, when Shalala was the university president, a position she held from 2001 to 2015. The university expelled Figueroa, and later he accepted a deferred prosecution agreement for felony sexual battery with multiple perpetrators.

But like many athletes disciplined for sexual assault, Figueroa managed to find acceptance at another NCAA school.

After two seasons at Garden City Community College in Kansas, Figueroa played another two years at the University of Central Oklahoma under head coach Nick Bobeck. In a previous statement, Bobeck said Figueroa was an exemplary student-athlete while on his team and that a university review during his recruitment determined he was “not a threat to the campus community.”

The congressional commission, Shalala said, would examine whether athletes like Figueroa should be permanently banned from intercollegiate athletics or subject to some other punishment from the NCAA. It would report back to Congress, make recommendations to the NCAA and determine what legislation to issue.

The commission also would review another issue the newspaper investigation identified — insufficient background checks for incoming transfers, Shalala said.

“Predator Pipeline” found several schools claiming ignorance that athletes on their rosters had been disciplined for sexual misconduct by previous institutions. Such confusion could have been avoided had they requested the recruits’ disciplinary records, but none did so until after the USA TODAY Network brought the matters to their attention, they said.

An easy fix would be to require schools to obtain past disciplinary records for prospective transfer-students, Shalala said, though any legislation on that issue would likely cover all students as opposed to only athletes.

“My bill specifically covers these shortfalls,” Shalala said.

A handful of NCAA conferences and individual schools already have adopted policies that ban athletes found responsible for serious misconduct. Only one existing policy, the Tracy Rule, requires schools to request athletes’ past disciplinary records.

The University of Texas at San Antonio in September became the first school to implement the rule, named for Brenda Tracy, a survivor advocate who reported being gang-raped by college football players in 1998 and went public with her story 16 years later.

Slippery Rock University, an NCAA Division II school in Pennsylvania, announced last month that it also will adopt the Tracy Rule. It did so after the USA TODAY Network’s investigation revealed it had recruited an athlete found responsible for rape at his last school.

“Despite receiving over $130 billion in federal subsidies, the NCAA continues to willfully ignore the problem of violent athletes,” said Tracy. “I hope Congress can serve as an advocate for these student-athletes because clearly the NCAA doesn’t care about the violence student-athletes are experiencing or perpetrating.”

Ex-University of Idaho diver Mairin Jameson reported a fellow athlete, Idaho football player Jahrie Level, for sexually assaulting her in 2013. Although Idaho expelled him, Level transferred before the ruling to Stony Brook University in New York, where he played two more years without losing any playing time.

“Congress is choosing to do what the NCAA will not do, which is assess the risks these perpetrators bring to all students on campuses across the country and acting appropriately to negate future assaults,” Jameson said. “This is a step in the right direction, but we need to do more to create positive change.” 

Asked about the USA TODAY Network’s investigation at an Aspen Institute symposium last month, NCAA President Mark Emmert blamed universities for failing to act.

The 19 college and university leaders who sit on the NCAA’s Board of Governors, however, ignored requests for comment or referred questions to the NCAA.

The NCAA and its member universities’ inaction, Shalala said, shows why an independent congressional commission is necessary.

“My view is that we need across-the-board accountability,” Shalala said. “That’s why Congress has to step in.”

Slippery Rock U to adopt ‘Tracy Rule’

Slippery Rock University is located in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. [Courtesy/Slippery Rock University]

Slippery Rock U to adopt ‘Tracy Rule’

The university will ban athletes found responsible for sexual assault after a USA TODAY NETWORK investigation.

A university that recruited a football player found responsible for rape by his former college vowed to ban such athletes in response to a USA TODAY Network investigation that identified the recruit among dozens of others across the country.

Slippery Rock University, an NCAA Division II public school in northwest Pennsylvania, will adopt the Tracy Rule, it said last week in a statement to the USA TODAY Network.

The Tracy Rule, named for Brenda Tracy, a survivor of rape by college athletes, outlines specific procedures for vetting prospective athletes’ backgrounds and disqualifies those administratively or criminally disciplined for sexual and violent misconduct.

“Slippery Rock University is currently reviewing its application for all transfer applicants with legal counsel to develop a question that asks about disciplinary history, including pending charges, at all former colleges,” the statement said. 

“In addition, SRU will be implementing Tracy’s Rule. We are currently reviewing the public materials available on the UTSA website for adaptation at SRU. We are planning a training for coaches early next semester.”

The announcement came less than two weeks after a USA TODAY Network investigation identified at least 33 athletes since 2014 who have transferred to NCAA schools and continued their playing careers after being found responsible for sexual offenses — including the one on Slippery Rock’s current roster. 

Eric Glover-Williams joined the Slippery Rock football team in 2018 after being suspended from Ohio State University in 2016 for “non-consensual sexual intercourse,” disciplinary records obtained by the USA TODAY Network show. The defensive back enrolled in 2017 at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College before transferring to Slippery Rock the following year and playing two seasons.

Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Eric Glover-Williams (19) against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the 2016 Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. [Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports]

Glover-Williams declined to comment through a Slippery Rock spokesperson.

Slippery Rock head football coach Shawn Lutz in a previous statement issued in November blamed Ohio State coaches for failing to disclose Glover-Williams’ conduct, instead advertising him as a “positive addition to our program.”

“Our coaching staff spoke directly with members of the OSU staff,” Lutz said. “No issues of sexual misconduct or violent misconduct were disclosed.”

Glover-Williams apparently did not go into specifics with Lutz either. 
“Whatever happened at Ohio State, happened at Ohio State,” Lutz told The Canton Repository in February. “All I know is, when I get the chance to meet the young man, if he says he’s going to do right, I hold him to that.”

Legendary college football coach Urban Meyer was Glover-Williams’ coach at the time of the discipline.

Urban Meyer walks onto the stage prior to the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft in Downtown Nashville. [Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports]

Meyer abruptly retired from Ohio State a year ago amid health issues and a university investigation into his handling of another abuse claim against someone on his team — assistant coach Zach Smith, who had been accused of domestic violence. OSU ultimately fired Smith and suspended Meyer for three games.

Slippery Rock knew that Glover-Williams had been involved in a student conduct case and violated team rules but didn’t know that he’d been found responsible for rape, Lutz said. The university assumed Glover-Williams’ conduct wasn’t serious, Lutz said, because Ohio State said he “was allowed to remain a student at OSU and a member of the football team as the issue was resolved.”

“When we asked for more information, we were told the incident in question was not a legal issue and that Eric was never charged or held responsible for any wrongdoing,” Lutz said. “No additional information was provided.”

Ohio State said in a statement that it has “no record of an inquiry from Slippery Rock University regarding Eric Glover-Williams, and Slippery Rock refuses to say who in Ohio State Athletics they had ‘extensive conversations’ with.”

OSU went on to say that, “In its statement, Slippery Rock acknowledged that it was informed of a student conduct case but did not inquire further. The typical practice is to formally inquire about the student conduct case through the school’s office of student conduct.”

When contacted by recruiters from the University of Toledo about Glover-Williams, for example, the statement said OSU provided full information about the sexual misconduct. 

Ohio State also added, “We support stronger transfer mechanisms that would help institutions collect important background information without compromising the legal rights of the students involved.”

The Tracy Rule

The Tracy Rule was designed to eliminate confusion about past problematic behavior. It requires athletes to self-disclose disciplinary proceedings into their conduct. And it requires the Title IX coordinator at each prospective transfer-athlete’s previous colleges to sign a form stating if the athlete was involved in any investigations for offenses such has sexual assault and domestic violence.

Athletes who’ve been found responsible for violent offenses in the past are disqualified from playing sports at that school under the Tracy Rule. They can appeal to a university review panel, which can request an advisory opinion from a committee comprised of at least one victim’s advocate, counselor or other employee who is trauma-informed. 

“I’m happy to hear that Slippery Rock University is adopting the Tracy Rule,” said Tracy, who heads the nonprofit organization, Set The Expectation, dedicated to combating sexual and physical violence in athletic programs. “I hope other institutions and the NCAA will follow their lead.”

Tracy noted, though, that the policy is only as good as the people enforcing it. 

“We must continue to hold all institutions accountable and demand transparency,” she said. “Our campus students deserve nothing less.”

Brenda Tracy on the field as the University of Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles defeat the University of Texas at San Antonio Roadrunners in November at the Alamodome. [Courtesy/Jeff Huehn]

The NCAA imposes no penalties on athletes found to have committed sexual, violent or criminal offenses. Even when suspended or expelled from school, NCAA rules enable them to transfer schools and continue their playing careers with little or no interruption.

A handful of individual schools and conferences have adopted serious-misconduct policies barring from competition athletes convicted or found responsible by their schools for certain violent offenses. But their definitions of culpability vary, and most rely on the honor system — not actual record checks — to verify recruits. Some problematic athletes have slipped through the cracks, the USA TODAY Network investigation found.

The Tracy Rule is the only existing serious-misconduct policy that requires Title IX record checks. The University of Texas at San Antonio became the first school to adopt the Tracy Rule in September. 

“UTSA is proud to be a leader in adopting the Tracy Rule and to know our efforts have been well received by colleagues around the nation,” said athletic director Lisa Campos in a statement. “We believe the Tracy Rule should be a part of every university’s culture and it is a very positive sign that other institutions are inquiring about adopting it at their schools. UTSA welcomes the opportunity to serve as a resource to those universities.”

Glover-Williams has played both the 2018 and 2019 seasons for Slippery Rock, recording 71 tackles in 24 games. 

NCAA athletes are permitted to play four seasons of their sport. Having played 20 games at Ohio State during the 2015 and 2016 seasons, his eligibility is now expired. 

Lutz told The Canton Repository in February that he believes Glover-Williams has the potential to play professionally. 

“If you’re good enough,” Lutz said, “the NFL will find you.”

Last Chance U recruited athletes disciplined for sex offenses

Independence Community College football players walk onto the field with their coach, Jason Brown, in the Netflix documentary ‘Last Chance U.’ [Courtesy/Netflix]

Last Chance U recruited athletes disciplined for sex offenses

At least four football players found responsible for sexual misconduct appeared in Season 3.

Nearly three dozen elite college football players descended on a city of 8,600 people in rural southeast Kansas in 2017.

They formed a fearsome squad for Independence Community College where they bulldozed their way to a Jayhawk Conference title for the first time in 30 years.

All that played out on season three of Netflix’s Last Chance U. The documentary series chronicles former NCAA Division I football players who, after losing their first shot in college sports’ highest echelon, transfer to junior colleges in hopes of proving themselves worthy of a second chance.

Many do. Within months of the 2017 football season’s end, 21 Independence players signed with NCAA universities, a press release on the school website said.

Then-head coach Jason Brown won repeated praise — including from himself — for fielding such a star-studded recruiting class.

“I do believe I’m the best recruiter in America,” Brown said while smoking a cigar in a hot tub in episode five. “I’m always gonna go after the best guys, and I’m gonna have ‘em all. I’m kind of a, I don’t know what you want to call it, I’m a prostitute in that regard.”

But while season three of Last Chance U spotlights athletes who got bad grades, busted for marijuana or who came from difficult family situations, it never mentions that several landed at Independence for a more serious reason: They were found responsible for sexual assault.

At least four members of the 2017 Independence roster joined within months of being punished for sexual misconduct at their previous Division I universities, disciplinary records obtained by the USA TODAY Network show. Although not featured as central characters, the four made cameos on the show.

And all four have been recruited to new Division I schools since. They are among at least 33 athletes since 2014 identified in a USA TODAY Network investigation as having transferred to NCAA schools despite being administratively or criminally disciplined for sex offenses at a previous college.

At least 16 of the 33 stopped at junior colleges on their way back to the NCAA from the schools where the sexual offenses took place, the investigation found.

Brown said all four players were vetted and he believes they are innocent, adding that he has turned away others who have sexual misconduct in their backgrounds.

“I would have let them babysit my daughter any day,” he said. 

Last Chance U aired its first season in 2016 and is currently producing its fifth season. 

The show portrays “JuCo” football as its own form of punishment — a sobering new reality for athletes who’d grown accustomed to celebrity treatment, multi-million-dollar facilities and lavish amenities at top football schools.

On the contrary, athletes use junior colleges to evade sanctions imposed by their previous institutions and the NCAA’s one meaningful penalty — a year of bench time — for those who transfer while suspended or disqualified for disciplinary reasons, the USA TODAY Network investigation found.

The “year of residence” rule requires athletes to sit out for a year if they transfer from one NCAA school directly to another. But by first transferring to a non-NCAA school, such as a junior college, they can avoid that year of no game action.

In junior college, athletes can keep their skills sharp, garner looks from NCAA recruiters and, for those on Last Chance U, get on national TV. 

The USA TODAY Network did not identify athletes disciplined for sexual assault in the first two seasons, which took place at East Mississippi Community College. One athlete expelled for sexual assault, Tamarion Johnson, appeared in seasons three and four at Independence.

By highlighting only the feel-good stories and glossing over sexual assault, Last Chance U “glamorizes what these athletes have done,” said Kathy Redmond, a survivor advocate who heads the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes. 

“It’s false advertising,” Redmond said. “Netflix spins it like a fairy tale, and it makes you want to cheer for that guy. You think they’re the underdog, not that they’re harming people.”

Even NCAA President Mark Emmert, commenting on the USA TODAY Network investigation during an Aspen Institute symposium, said he was bothered by how easily troubled athletes’ disciplinary records can get overlooked during their junior-college detours.

NCAA president Mark Emmert speaks during a press conference in April. [Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports]

“I think the most disturbing component of that reporting was that it pointed to individuals that had moved into the community college system and then moved back into the four-year school system,” Emmert said at the Dec. 17 event. “The ability to track that becomes difficult, and some schools, I think, made admissions decisions where they lacked information.”

Athletes fresh off discipline for sexual misconduct sometimes transfer to junior colleges in packs, the USA TODAY Network investigation found.

In 2016, Boise State University expelled two football players and suspended another after a female student reported that they coerced her into performing sexual acts. They transferred to Coffeyville Community College in Kansas the same year, and two of them got recruited back to Division I after a season there.

Michigan State University in 2017 dismissed three football players after a female student said they gang-raped her. In addition to university discipline, they pleaded guilty to felonies and were sentenced to three years of probation and sex-offender treatment in 2018.

All three enrolled at Coahoma Community College in Mississippi the same year, and one got recruited back to Division I this year.

The four Independence players disciplined for sexual offenses followed nearly identical paths.

Without consent

Murray State’s Dior Johnson goes through drills during college football action at Burgess-Snow Field Jacksonville State Stadium in Jacksonville, Alabama October 26, 2019. (Dave Hyatt: The Gadsden Times)

Tamarion Johnson, Dior Johnson and Ray Buford arrived at Independence the same year that the University of Minnesota expelled them for sexual assault, according to disciplinary records obtained by the USA TODAY Network.

The other player, linebacker Tim Faison, came from Purdue University in Indiana, where a female student reported that he raped her in a bathroom at an off-campus house party in December 2015, records obtained by the USA TODAY Network show.

The same student said Faison saw her at a different party roughly two months later, approached her and rubbed her groin area without her consent, records show.

Purdue officials investigated both incidents. They did not hold Faison — who said it was consensual sex — responsible for rape, saying both sides’ accounts were “equally credible.” But they deemed Faison responsible for the second incident and suspended him for one year for violating the school’s anti-harassment policy.

Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback Connor Noland (13) carries the ball against North Texas Mean Green linebacker Tim Faison (3) during the second half at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in 2018. [Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports]

Rather than complete it, he transferred to Independence.

Upon appeal, Faison managed to get his sanction reduced to 10 months of disciplinary probation, counseling and a five-hour educational program about consent.

The Minnesota players unsuccessfully appealed their expulsions around the same time. In that case, a female student had told campus officials in September 2016 that as many as 10 to 20 men raped her in a football player’s bedroom after a game.

A university investigation report published by a local TV station, KTSP, shows that the woman described meeting one Gophers player and a high school recruit for the first time that night. The player brought them to his apartment, and she said it became clear that they wanted sex. She said she felt uncomfortable but complied, believing it was her only way out of the situation.

And then other players began showing up, the report shows.

They cheered, laughed and jostled for a position to have sex with her, she said. One by one, they forced her to perform sexual acts on them, she said. 

A university investigator determined that the players lacked credibility. They were reluctant to say who was present in the room, provided contradictory information and deleted pertinent messages and videos, the investigator wrote in her report.

“This suggests some degree of a collective, defensive effort to conceal relevant evidence by the accused students and other members of the football team,” the official wrote.

The investigator recommended discipline for a total of 10 football players — expulsion for five, one-year suspensions for four and probation for one. After the players’ appeals, other school officials decided not to charge five of them and to reduce one’s expulsion to a one-year suspension.

The expulsions for Tamarion Johnson, Dior Johnson, Buford and one other athlete, KiAnte Hardin, remained in place.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman declined to charge the athletes, citing insufficient evidence. But he released a statement saying that the players’ conduct could “only be described as deplorable behavior.”

Almost all the players sued the university for sex- and race-based discrimination, among other claims, saying that school administrators made examples of them to appear tough on sexual violence. A federal judge earlier this year dismissed their claims with prejudice, meaning they cannot refile the suit.

Hardin transferred to Pittsburg State University, a Division II school in Kansas, where he completed his year of residence before joining the football team for the 2018 season.

The other three headed straight to Independence.

‘Handled it horribly’

Brown, who resigned from Independence in February after texting a German player “I’m your new Hitler,” defended himself and his four recruits in an interview with the USA TODAY Network. 

“For me to be questioned about who I bring on my campus is a slap in my face,” said Brown, adding that everyone who knows him knows he respects women. “I’m far from a sexist toad. I had a female athletic director. I have a daughter. I’m not going to allow any of that crazy stuff to go on on my campus.”

Brown said he and other college officials reviewed the University of Minnesota’s investigation report, and that Minnesota “handled it horribly.” Independence’s athletic director and president signed off on the players’ recruitment, Brown said. 

Purdue mishandled Faison’s case, too, said Brown, without going into specifics. 

“That’s all BS, too,” he said.

Independence did not respond to requests for comment. 

Brown said none of the players were criminally charged, and that he did not receive any reports of sexual misconduct against any of his players while at Independence. 

Kathy Redmond [Courtesy/Kathy Redmond]

Redmond disagreed with Brown. The vast majority of women don’t report sexual assault, she said, and most schools make little effort to alert students about potential predators on campus.

Recent research also indicates that repeat offenders commit the vast majority of campus rapes, Redmond said. 

“The fact that he says, ‘Well, we haven’t had a report’ is absolutely ridiculous,” Redmond said. “He needs to look at the recidivism rates. These guys don’t just shut it off.”

Independence finished the 2017 season with a 9-2 record and won its bowl game by a 10-point margin. The perennially bottom-dwelling team celebrated its resurgence on TV and computer screens across the world.

Dior Johnson and Buford played in every game. Faison and Tamarion Johnson both played in all but one.

NCAA bound

In February 2018, three of the four players signed with new Division I schools. 

Faison landed at the University of North Texas, Dior Johnson at Murray State University in Kentucky, and Buford at New Mexico State University.

Tamarion Johnson, who goes by TJ now, played a second year at Independence before signing this February with Marshall University in West Virginia.

All four players declined to comment for this story through spokespersons.

Neither North Texas head coach Seth Littrell nor anyone on his staff were aware of Faison’s violation at Purdue, said Senior Associate Athletic Director Eric Capper.

The discipline was not noted on Faison’s transcript or on the “transfer tracer” questionnaire that Purdue filled out on his behalf. The tracer asked only if he’d been dismissed for disciplinary reasons, which he had not been. North Texas did not request Faison’s disciplinary records as part of its vetting process, Capper confirmed.

Marshall Athletics said in a statement that it was fully aware of TJ Johnson’s case at Minnesota and “reviewed all available information.”

“We are comfortable with the information we have gathered, and all of the individuals with whom we have spoken were confident that TJ would represent Marshall Athletics and this university with class. Thus far, that has proven to be the case.”

Murray State declined to comment, saying that federal student privacy laws prohibited it from discussing individual students.

New Mexico State Athletic Director Mario Moccia and head coach Doug Martin agreed to be interviewed about their recruitment of Buford. They were the only ones to do so out of more than five dozen coaches and athletic directors that the USA TODAY Network reached out to during its investigation.

Moccia said it is protocol for such decisions to be made by university administrators, not coaches, though no written policies or procedures dictate how to evaluate such cases. A Title IX official reviewed the investigation reports and decided, along with then-Chancellor Garrey Carruthers and then-general counsel Lizbeth Ellis, that they felt comfortable bringing Buford on campus, Moccia said.

In addition, Buford’s former coaches, including some at Minnesota, gave him high character references, Moccia said. He didn’t believe anyone from New Mexico State attempted to reach out to the victim but couldn’t say with certainty.

“We pass on a lot of situations,” Moccia said. “The ones we go forward with are scrutinized thoroughly.”

Martin said Buford is his first recruit who has been previously disciplined for sexual assault. Martin said he didn’t know the specifics of Buford’s case but that there have been no new complaints involving the athlete.

It is hard for Martin to imagine a scenario in which he would give a second chance to a player he or other university officials thought was guilty of sexual assault, he said, adding that there “would have to be very extenuating circumstances for that to happen.” But universities in general should be more open to providing second opportunities, he said.

“I think in our society today, particularly at the university level, we’re becoming very callous toward giving any young person a second chance,” Martin said. “There are certain situations where if a young man gets a second chance, he can make something really productive out of himself.

“I think that’s where this situation is headed.”

NCAA president deflects blame

NCAA president deflects blame

The finger-pointing follows a USA TODAY Network investigation about sexual assault.

NCAA President Mark Emmert on Tuesday defended his organization and deflected blame to universities just days after a USA TODAY Network investigation found that college athletes punished for sexual assault routinely transfer and keep playing in the NCAA.

His remarks came the same day that the National Organization for Women called on the NCAA to “end the predator pipeline,” evoking the title of the USA TODAY Network investigation.

Emmert, who has dodged the USA TODAY Network’s questions and interview requests for more than a month, made the comment during an Aspen Institute symposium about college-athlete pay. It was in response to an audience question about the investigation.

“When you hear, ‘The NCAA did this or did that,’ just insert, ‘the colleges and universities of America did this or did that,’” Emmert said. “That’s who makes those decisions.”

NCAA president Mark Emmert, shown here at an April 2019 press conference at U.S. Bank Stadium, blamed universities for problems exposed in a USA TODAY Network investigation. [Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports]

When contacted after the investigation, however, the leaders of those same institutions deflected questions back to the NCAA.

The USA TODAY Network sought interviews and comment from all 19 college and university presidents, chancellors and athletic directors who sit on the NCAA’s highest governing body, asking how they will address the problems raised in the investigation.

None would answer. Fourteen ignored the requests. Of those who responded, five tossed it back to the NCAA.

“This inquiry should be directed to the NCAA for a response,” said Texas State University President Denise Trauth, who sits on the NCAA Board of Governors.

‘Repeat offender’

The finger-pointing came amid outcry from survivor advocates and the National Organization for Women, whose president urged the NCAA to institute rigorous and enforceable codes of conduct that prevent teams from “monetizing sexual abuse.”

“The NCAA is a repeat offender when it comes to putting profits over people,” NOW President Toni Van Pelt said. “They have continued to let college athletes charged with assault off the hook.”

The USA TODAY Network investigation found at least 33 athletes since 2014 who have transferred to NCAA schools despite being administratively or criminally disciplined for sexual offenses at a previous college.

The true number may be far greater, as 5 of every 6 Division I public universities refused to release records from disciplinary proceedings that would help reveal the extent of the problem, even though federal law explicitly allows them to do so.

The NCAA, which cracks down on athletes who accept cash or a free meal, get bad grades or smoke marijuana, outlines no specific penalties for athletes who commit sexual assault. And nothing in its lengthy rulebook restricts suspended, expelled and convicted athletes from transferring to new NCAA schools and leaving past sanctions behind.

“The fact that the Board of Governors will not make a statement and has refused to make a change is complete negligence,” said Daisy Tackett, a former University of Kansas rower who, along with another rower, reported being sexually assaulted in 2015 by a Kansas football player.

The football player resurfaced on the Indiana State University team’s roster within months of Kansas finding him responsible in both rowers’ cases and banning him from its campus.

“They have an opportunity in front of them to make campuses and the NCAA a safer place,” Tackett said, “but apparently their bottom line and their public image is more important than the countless victims of abusive athletes they’ve emboldened.”

Daisy Tackett outside the building where she works in Dallas, Texas. [Freelance photo/ Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson]

In Emmert’s comments at the Washington, D.C.-based symposium, he did not acknowledge the victims of sexual assault – many of whom, like Tackett, were NCAA athletes themselves.

Instead, Emmert said, the NCAA has spent “an enormous amount of time on the issue of the prevention of sexual assault.”

“That doesn’t mean that it’s been enough or it’s gone far enough,” he added. “If we have one of those cases, that’s very problematic.”

Potential for policy

On whether athletes convicted or disciplined for sexual assault should be able to transfer to new NCAA schools, Emmert said, “the member schools decided that those were decisions that really needed to be made at the local level by schools themselves.”

But the Board of Governors, of which Emmert is a non-voting member, in August 2018 shot down a recommendation by its own study group, the Commission to Combat Campus Sexual Violence, to direct the NCAA divisions to consider legislation for holding such athletes accountable. The board has ignored calls by eight U.S. senators to fix the problem.

At least nine current Board of Governors members, including Emmert, attended that 2018 meeting as board members at the time, minutes show.

A more recent board appointee is Renu Khator, president of the University of Houston, whose basketball team in 2015 recruited one of three players suspended for up to 10 years from the University of Oregon for sexually assaulting a female student a year earlier.

That athlete, Damyean Dotson, played two seasons under Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson after his suspension at Oregon and now plays for the NBA’s New York Knicks.

Khator did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Sampson. Houston athletics did not answer questions about Dotson, instead saying in a statement that officials “spoke with Damyean, his family and former coaches and felt confident in his ability to continue as a student-athlete” at Houston.

Houston is a member of the American Athletic Conference (AAC). But while six of the NCAA’s 33 Division I conferences already have policies and procedures aimed at preventing athletes from competing at their schools if they’ve been disciplined for sexual assault, the AAC is not one of them.

Jon Solomon, editorial director of the Sports & Society Program at the Aspen Institute, asked Emmert in a follow-up question whether the NCAA could adopt one of the conference policies nationally, such as that of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) or Big Sky Conference.

“Potentially,” Emmert said. “All the rules are different, and all of them are complicated. It is an enormously complex issue when you look at the details of it. I think it’s an issue that’s going to routinely be discussed and debated widely.”

But the time for action is now, said Blake McKay, one of two University of Oregon students who in 2016 reported being raped by a Ducks athlete, then-freshman football player Tristen Wallace.

Although the university expelled him for “unwanted penetration” twice — once for each victim — Wallace transferred to a junior college, then to Prairie View A&M University, a Division I school in Texas where he has played the last two seasons.

Board of Governors members have a duty to protect the health and safety of students on their campuses, and their lack of response to the problem and to victims like her leaves her feeling “disappointed,” McKay said.

“It is a bit alarming that someone would be able to read these facts and statistics and not want to immediately put something in place for people and other students to be protected from sexual violence on college campuses,” McKay said. “I would have appreciated the NCAA to take some action because of how much power and dictation they have over these athlete’s lives.”

Note: The eight university leaders confirmed to have participated in the August 2018 board meeting are denoted with an asterisk (*) next to their titles.

Provided comment

Declined to comment – Referred questions to NCAA
Michael V. Drake – President, Ohio State University
Denise Trauth – President, Texas State University*
Eli Capilouto – President, University of Kentucky*
Sandra Jordan – Chancellor, University of South Carolina, Aiken
Philip DiStefano – Chancellor, University of Colorado Boulder*

Ignored requests for comment
Randy Woodson – Chancellor, North Carolina State University
Burns Hargis – President, Oklahoma State University*
Renu Khator – President, University of Houston
Satish Tripathi – President, University at Buffalo*
M. Grace Calhoun – Athletic Director, University of Pennsylvania
David Wilson – President, Morgan State University
Ronald K. Machtley – President, Bryant University*
James J. Maher C.M. – President, Niagara University
John DeGioia – President, Georgetown University
Laura Liesman – Athletic Director, Georgian Court University
Gary Olson – President, Daemen College*
Sue Henderson – President, New Jersey City University*
Tori Murden McClure – President, Spalding University
Stevie Baker-Watson – Athletic Director, DePauw University