A star player on a Division 1 team is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to their school and the NCAA, which is potentially why the organization is facing criticism that it protects student-athletes accused of sexual misconduct by allowing them to continue in their sport. In a new report by USA Today, Kenny Jacoby details what he calls the “predator pipeline,” a system within the NCAA that allows players accused of or, in some cases, convicted of sexual assault to transfer schools and play on other teams—even if they have been expelled from their university.
“College athletes can lose their NCAA eligibility in numerous ways, but sexual assault is not one of them,” Jacoby writes. “Even when facing or convicted of criminal charges, even when suspended or expelled from school, NCAA rules allow them to transfer elsewhere and keep playing.”
The newspaper found that, since 2014, almost 30 Division 1 student-athletes transferred from one NCAA school to another, after being disciplined by their college for sexual misconduct. But this number likely only includes a small fraction of students—those from schools that would release student records. Though legally, schools are not required to keep student records confidential “5 of every 6 universities refused to provide the records” to USA Today. “The disciplinary records from the schools that complied revealed the names of hundreds of students found responsible for sexual offenses — many of whom the USA TODAY Network identified as athletes who transferred and continued playing afterward.”
Perhaps the most alarming fact to come out of the report is a detail that the NCAA plainly advertised. In the 440-page rulebook, created by the association, there is no punishment listed for athletes who are found guilty of commuting sexual offenses. While the rules for smoking marijuana or accepting financial rewards involve harsh punishment, the NCAA by its own admission does not punish sexual misconduct. Instead, they leave any decisions on disciplinary actions to the discretion of the school. Should a school choose to expel a student after a sexual misconduct investigation, that student is still eligible to play on a different NCAA team, a protection that allows for repeat offenders.
The NCAA is already a controversial organization; it’s easy to argue that it does more harm to student-athletes than good. Through college athletics, schools can generate thousands to millions of dollars on the backs of student-athletes that cannot be paid for the work that they are doing. Until just recently, the NCAA maintained a ban on any student-athlete partnering with outside businesses to turn a profit.
The manner in which most schools, not just ones with D1 teams, respond to sexual misconduct cases plainly shows who and what is valuable to the institution. The game has always been about protecting all kinds of moneymakers—we’ll see if a new level of scrutiny pushes those in power to act.