Andrew Cooper, From College Star To Activist: ‘The NCAA Doesn’t Exist To Protect Athletes’ | college sports

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LLet’s be clear: Andrew Cooper is not a fan of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. A former track and cross country runner at Washington State University and the University of California, Berkeley, Cooper’s experience as an athlete at major American universities provided him with critical insight into how the NCAA governs collegiate sports. As a long-distance runner, Cooper has had a lot of time to think. And he thinks the structure, system and priorities of US college sports need a reset.

Cooper served within the machine as chairman of the NCAA Student and Athlete Advisory Council at WSU and UC Berkeley. Today, he is an activist for athletes’ rights who sees a systemic failure in the way universities and the NCAA handle issues related to allegations of sexual abuse and mental health. Cooper sees patterns.

“The problem is that universities have processes in place and make empty claims about protecting athletes and students,” says Cooper. “Universities are trusted to regulate themselves, but they benefit from covering up sexual assaults. There is a crisis in the United States around self-regulation.

Universities care. [about athletes] until it potentially affects your reputation and income. Once the accusations affect a university’s reputation and revenue, they suddenly affect a person’s job. If your job depends on protecting the reputation or income of the university, then you will do everything you can to protect the reputation and income of your source of income. Anyone who takes a Policy 101 course will immediately realize that it is obvious that an institution would protect its own interests at the expense of workers or students who are negatively affected by an event.”

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And there is a lot of income to protect. For example, this summer the Big Ten conference of 16 universities agreed to a seven-year media rights deal with Fox, CBS and NBC. worth over $7 billion which will see each university receive $80m-$100m per year. At the highest level, NCAA-governed college sports are big business.

More than 1,000 universities and colleges are under the administrative control of the NCAA. The NCAA has its own regulations and rules for sports on and off the field that often differ from international governing bodies. College basketball rules differ from those of the NBA, as do football from FIFA’s laws of the game (one quirk is a countdown clock). There is a maze of regulations on amateurism (athletes are not paid), athlete eligibility, playing time, and exploitation of image rights. However, there is no clear general policy for reporting allegations of sexual harassment through the NCAA. Universities and colleges self-regulate, which, according to Cooper’s point and the experience of many young athletes and coaches (as recently reported at the University of Toledo), often fails athletes.

“Why does the NCAA exist?” Cooper asks. “Not to protect athletes. It is supposed to exist to protect college athletes and regulate college sports. That is why it was founded in 1906.”

Then named the United States Intercollegiate Athletic Association, the NCAA was born out of a crisis. According to the NCAA website, there were 18 deaths and 159 serious injuries during the 1905 college football season. President Theodore Roosevelt called on colleges to address the safety of football players, and rules intended to stop deaths on the field among 13 universities.

Cooper points to how Michigan State University treated now-convicted rapist Larry Nassar as an example of how some institutions deal with sexual assault allegations, sometimes at great cost. Nassar was employed as a medical doctor by MSU and as head athletic trainer for the United States gymnastics national team for 18 years. In 2018, MSU (or, rather, its insurers) agreed to pay $500 million to settle the claims of 332 Nassar victims, a list that included many young athletes. In 2014 a former cheerleader reported abuse by Nassar to MSU officials, but the university initially ruled the doctor’s digitally invasive “pelvic floor” treatments were medically appropriate. The NCAA cleared MSU of any violations in how he handled Nassar’s sexual assault allegations, and the university has said allegations that he participated in a cover-up are “simply false.”

“Larry Nassar was one of the biggest sexual assault trials in history,” says Cooper. “He assaulted hundreds of women. So what happens when a student is sexually assaulted by a person in a position of power? They are responsible? Is the school responsible?

In 2021, after a five-year investigation, the NCAA said that Baylor University, a private Christian university in Texas, had a “campus-wide culture of sexual violence,” after several footballers were convicted of rape following incidents that led to the firing of the team’s coach and the resignation of then-university president Ken Starr. Starr, who died in September, was the former US attorney general who led a 1990s investigation of Bill Clinton that included his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

But the NCAA did not sanction the university even after officials failed to report sexual assault allegations against football players between 2010 and 2015. “Baylor admitted moral and ethical failings in its handling of sexual and interpersonal violence on campus. , but argued those flaws, nonetheless. egregious, it did not constitute a violation of NCAA rules,” the NCAA said at the time. The NCAA committee investigating Baylor said it could not issue a punishment because the university’s failings were not limited to its athletes and were part of a broader problem on campus.

“The NCAA refused to punish the state of Michigan and refused to punish Baylor who actively covered up [crimes]Cooper says. “The NCAA simply exists to protect the universities and the interests of the levels.”

The NCAA did not respond to multiple interview requests or comment on how it handles allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault within college sports. A political document published by the organization’s Committee on Women’s Athletics exists and stated that the organization believes that “sexual relationships between coaches and student-athletes have become a serious problem” and “any romantic or sexual relationship between coaches and student-athletes constitutes sexual abuse”.

“The government enforces a law and the human resources department enforces a policy,” says Cooper. “If your human resources department has zero protections for speaking out against the institution, then it’s essentially useless. US corporations follow the law most of the time because there is a risk of liability if they don’t. Colleges don’t want to be held responsible for harm to students who are sexually assaulted by a teacher or coach [but] there is no supervision. They can do whatever they want.”

It’s not just athletes who say the NCAA and institutions don’t always protect student athletes as well as they should. The NCAA’s own lawyers have suggested it. Mounting a defense against a lawsuit by the family of Derek Sheely, a Frostburg State University football player who died in 2011 after collapsing at a team practice, the NCAA’s central legal argument was that he had no legal duty to protect athletes. NCAA President Mark Emmert later claimed his legal team used “a terrible choice of words.” And he added: “I am not a lawyer. I am not going to defend or deny what a lawyer wrote in a lawsuit. I will state unequivocally that we have a clear moral obligation to ensure that we do everything we can to protect and support student-athletes.”

In November 2012, Roger and Cindy Kravitz and their two daughters Rachael and Heather attended a meeting at the University of Toledo with Dr. Kay Patten Wallace, senior vice president for student affairs at the University of Toledo, and Kelly Andrews, athletic director senior associate at the university. . Rachael and Heather were college students and part of the women’s soccer program. They were concerned about the behavior of football coach Brad Evans and believed that he was emotionally abusing the players. As Roger and Cindy recall, they brought documentation to the meeting and outlined their concerns. Roger Kravitz recalls Andrews replying that the university had received glowing reports of Evans.

“I can show you a box full of them,” Roger Kravitz recalls Andrews saying. “Why are your children still here? Why don’t they leave if it’s so bad?

Cindy replied, “Because they haven’t done anything wrong.”

To the Kravitz family, the university seemed unconcerned about how Evans’ behavior was affecting the mental health of students. A few years later, the university would receive more complaints about Evans, including sexual assault. Evans has never been charged in any of the allegations against him, and the University of Toledo said it has no further comment on the meeting.

“Non-athletes have no idea what it’s like to be a high-performance athlete,” says Cooper. “It’s not a game. It feels like life or death. It is a very narrow margin between being in the team and not being in the team. Being on a scholarship and not being on a scholarship. The pressure that college athletes face is caused by the multi-billion dollar industry that college athletes champion, but without any rights or protection of any kind.”