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Patty Kleban: NCAA Needs Code of Conduct, Not Penn State Athletics

by on November 19, 2012 6:00 AM

So let me get this straight. The powers that be at Penn State have decided to implement a new code of conduct for athletics. Student-athletes, coaches, staff and anyone else associated with the athletic department will now be asked to sign a six-page document in which they agree to follow the Athletic Code of Conduct.

Pst. Wanna hear a secret? The university already has a code of conduct.

For employees, there are already a whole range of human resource policies that guide the behavior of someone who works at Penn State. From everything like where you can park your car to conflict of interest on intellectual property to who is eligible for health benefits, Penn State’s HR department outlines the expectations and potential consequences for employee conduct.

And, to add good measure, the recently added “mandated reporter” policy clarifies what all Penn State employees who work with kids (mandated reporters) and the rest of us (authorized adults) are now supposed to do if we see or know of a child being mistreated.

An athletic code of conduct? What am I missing? To quote my friend in law enforcement, we don’t need more laws; we just need to enforce the laws we have.

In all of the years that I have been teaching at Penn State, I have never once met a coach, academic adviser or anyone associated with the athletic department who either subtly or overtly suggested that I look the other way in response to a classroom or academic issue with any of the hundreds of student athletes I have had in my classes. It never happened. In addition, I have yet to find a colleague who says he or she was pressured in any way by anyone in athletics.

Prior to the incidents of last year, Penn State has never had an NCAA sanction related to academics or otherwise.

For the sake of argument, however, let’s go with it. In response to all of the accusations thrown at Penn State in relation to the Sandusky scandal, let’s go ahead and pile on an Athletic Department Code of Conduct for the coaches and staff. That way, we can say to the world one more time, “See? We are changing our culture.”

But why the students?

At no point in the events of last year has even one student been implicated. The Office of Student Conduct (formerly Judicial Affairs) at Penn State already manages student conduct. Things like disruptive classroom behavior, drinking, stealing, academic dishonesty, etc. violate the existing Code of Conduct. There are expectations for student behavior on campus regardless of athletic, scholarship or other standing.

A student cheats in class? Procedures. A student demonstrates inappropriate classroom behavior? Policies and guidelines. Vandalizes university property? Gets in trouble with the law? They have it covered. Why do we need an extra layer of bureaucracy because a student plays for a sports team? Holding student-athletes to different standards seems like the proverbial slippery slope.

The only group that I can think might benefit from a Code of Conduct is the NCAA.

I remember a few years ago when a student-athlete was in solid D-F range in several of our courses; he barely passed. Some of us did the collective “uh oh” because we knew his role on the team was pretty big. The bowl game came and there he was, on national TV, out in front, not only playing but playing a lot. The next day, I contacted a friend in the Morgan Center for Athletic Advising.

“How was he eligible?” I asked.

I found out that while the student may not have met the university’s threshold for performance, the student met the very low bar set by the NCAA. The NCAA formula for determining eligibility is very complicated and involves variables like semester standing, number of degree-earning courses (non-electives), etc. Student-athletes can even fail courses and still be eligible to suit up by NCAA standards. It’s lunacy, but those aren’t Penn State policies, those guidelines are all NCAA.

Then, there is recruiting. The rules imposed by the NCAA about recruiting are so elaborate and involved that coaches and staff have to be tested on them. I laughed out loud when I heard that a youth sports group can be invited to go out on the Penn State soccer, field hockey or lacrosse field at halftime to give the kids a thrill and to show their Penn State spirit. However, if there are ninth graders in the group, those kids can’t participate because that is a recruiting violation. While Penn State is diligently managing 15 year olds on the field at halftime, we hear of alumni gifts to players, money under the table and letters of intent for middle schoolers at other universities.

Tell me again who needs an Athletic Code of Conduct?

NCAA executives who make triple figures. Exorbitant budgets to oversee the athletic endeavors of college students. Planes, trains and automobiles. Sanctions applied at some universities but infractions ignored as “not our business” at others. Looking the other way at embarrassing graduation rates. My favorite? Made-up classes with no syllabus or assignments, yet everyone gets an A.

An Athletic Code of Conduct at Penn State is unnecessary. Adding layers of paperwork and collecting signatures from people who already have a history of following the rules seems like window dressing to me. Our energies would be better served by using what is already in place.

On the other hand, maybe the NCAA should come up with a Code of Conduct of its own.

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Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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