If you thought that USC football had a bad past week of PR, then you probably haven’t been paying enough attention to Baylor’s recent debacle. Yes, coach Steve Sarkisian dominated the headlines because of off-the-field issues — three of five Daily Trojan columnists, including myself, contributed to that media hoopla — but the controversy involving Baylor as well as Boise State was certainly more significant.
The controversy is over how much Boise State disclosed about and how much Baylor paid attention to the disciplinary record of a player who transferred from Boise to Baylor. In May 2013, Sam Ukwuachu was kicked off the Boise State football team because of an uncooperative attitude and violent personality. In October, after transferring to Baylor, he raped his then-girlfriend. This past month, he was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to six months in jail plus 10 years of probation.
During Ukwuachu’s rape trial, his ex-girlfriend at Boise State — different from his ex-girlfriend at Baylor — testified that she had been domestically abused by Ukwuachu, though no charges for it were filed. Chris Petersen, then the head coach at Boise State but currently the Washington head coach, has said that he was very upfront with Baylor head coach Art Briles about Ukwuachu’s disciplinary issues before transferring, but Briles has said Peterson did not disclose any information about Ukwuachu’s violence against women. Baylor has since launched an investigation into how the school handled the transfer process and has caught a lot of flak for it.
The issues of domestic and sexual assault are all too common in football. In fact, before Sarkisian was stealing the headlines for his public intoxication, it was the alleged sexual assault by former Trojan tight end Bryce Dixon that was the big news around USC football. The Dixon situation may have faded out of the headlines by now, but it deserves more attention. The Boise/Baylor he-said-she-said shows not only how prevalent this problem is in college football, but also how important it is to treat these issues with vigorous attention to detail.
Digging into the personal lives of classmates is very weird. I don’t even like calling out players’ on-field performances because I still buy into the veil of amateurism for these student-athletes. But these players are also legal adults who could be tried as such for serious crimes like sexual assault, and the severity of these allegations is worth discussing.
Last fall, Dixon allegedly violated affirmative consent laws during an encounter with a fellow student. He was suspended for part of the past season for a violation of team rules, and it’s unclear whether or not that was related to the alleged assault, but he was allowed back on the team later in the season. This spring, at the conclusion of a school investigation, Dixon was expelled from the university. His expulsion has since been overturned after an appeal, but he has not been allowed back on the football team.
The Dixon case, like a lot of other college sexual assault cases but unlike Ukwuachu’s case, is interesting because Dixon was not tried as a legal adult for the crime. The case was handled by the university as a student conduct issue, not as a felony. It wasn’t until Dixon’s appeal of USC’s ruling that it went to a court of law this summer.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert H. O’Brien ordered USC to stay the expulsion of Dixon after concluding that Dixon was not granted due process during USC’s investigation. Dixon has been reinstated to the university, but the judge’s ruling didn’t change his standing with the football team. His legal team said it would not seek a court order to reinstate him to the team.
This is a very concerning condemnation of the USC Title IX Office’s procedure on sexual assault. Dixon’s lawyers claimed that USC’s investigation “is utterly lacking in due process, with no hearing, no right to counsel, no rules of evidence, no presumption of innocence, no right to possess copies of witness statements and evidence and no right to confront witnesses against him.” And the judge ruled in Dixon’s favor.
Likewise, details from the investigation leave some pretty serious question marks about what actually happened. Dixon was actually investigated twice for alleged violations of affirmative consent policy and, according to reports, both incidents involved the same alleged survivor, but he was only ruled to have violated affirmative consent in the second case. How can there be two instances between the same parties of unclear consent, yet an investigation rules only the second actually violated affirmative consent? Why weren’t both violations? To me, it just doesn’t add up.
The other big question I have is how USC can defer to the Superior Court’s judgment on Dixon’s standing as a university student but then maintain autonomy in determining his status as a student-athlete. Yes, playing for a varsity sports team at USC carries certain responsibilities unique to other students. But this still seems inconsistent.
These are obviously very complicated subjects, and it’s hard to find some concrete takeaway when so much is in doubt. The Baylor/Boise State scandal shows that even when it looks like a school is taking a serious, no-tolerance approach to these problems, it can make the problem even worse by just spreading it elsewhere. I could segue this into a much larger discussion on the problems of the American criminal justice system, but this has already strayed far enough away from a “sports” column.
I won’t go as far as saying Dixon should be let back on the team, but based off of what we know, the school has, at best, been very inconsistent in dealing with the case. The opposite problem of being too lenient toward athletes like Baylor or even Florida State in the past is arguably an even bigger problem. But erring on the other end of the spectrum and violating due process is nonetheless significant. USC issued a statement after the ruling saying it stands by its judicial process and its findings from the case, but the school seems too afraid to admit it was wrong and let Dixon back onto the team.
When Sarkisian’s punishment for his incident was a public scolding and a physical workout ordered by his team — the kind of pointless hazing that gets fraternities in trouble with University administration — yet receives no actual discipline from the administration, USC looks pretty hypocritical.
This again begs the question of how Sarkisian will be able to effectively handle discipline issues with his team down the road. One hundred up-downs seems like it would be the appropriate punishment for tardiness, but that’s about it. Any time something more significant happens, this double standard will always be a talking point.
Yes, the allegations against Dixon are much more severe than Sarkisian’s misstep, but there’s no uncertainty regarding Sarkisian’s incident. The school does not appear to hold its employees to the same standard as its students in these two cases.
Luke Holthouse is a junior majoring in policy, planning and development and broadcast and digital journalism. His column, “Holthouse Party,” runs Wednesdays.