A small public university in southwest Virginia has become the second school in the nation to adopt the most comprehensive serious misconduct policy in college sports.
The University of Virginia’s College at Wise on Tuesday officially adopted the Tracy Rule, which requires thorough background checks on athletes and bars those found liable in a hearing or court from Title IX violations. sexual or violent behavior from playing on college sports teams.
Title IX is the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education.
“For us, this is kind of a natural next step to continue to grow our campus culture,” UVA Wise athletic director Kendall Rainey said in an interview with USA TODAY. “It’s about continuing to educate our constituents on how we can just be better and be our best selves.”
The NCAA announced a new policy in April 2020 requiring NCAA athletes to annually disclose to their schools any allegation of sexual abuse against them that has resulted in an investigation, disciplinary action in a court proceeding. under Title IX or a criminal conviction. The policy also covers dating and domestic violence and other forms of violence that result in serious bodily harm or involve deadly weapons.
In addition, the NCAA has directed all 1,100 member schools to adopt written policies directing staff to collect this information from previous schools of recruits and transferred athletes. Aimed at preventing struggling athletes from slipping through the cracks without schools knowing, the policy was supposed to go into effect before the 2021-22 school year, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NCAA to delay until fall 2022.
The NCAA Board of Governors adopted the policy four months after a four-part USA TODAY investigation titled “Predator Pipeline” that detailed how dozens of college athletes were seamlessly transferred to NCAA schools and continued their playing careers after being found liable in a Title IX case or in court for sex crimes.
At the time, six of the NCAA’s 33 Division I conferences – the Southeastern Conference (SEC), Big 12, Pac-12, Big Sky, Southern Conference and Mid-American Conference (MAC) – had adopted policies or procedures requiring screening of potential athletes for violent conduct. But their definitions of guilt varied, and most relied on the honor system — not actual record checks — to vet recruits. USA TODAY’s survey found that some problematic athletes fell through the cracks.
Tracy’s Rule builds on the policies of these conferences and fills them. Like Big Sky’s policy, it requires athletes to self-report ongoing and closed investigations in an annual questionnaire. It expands the list of disqualifying offenses to include sexual harassment, incest, hate crimes, manslaughter and murder. Basically, this also requires that the Title IX coordinator from each transferring athlete’s previous school indicate whether that athlete was involved in any Title IX investigations at that school.
Named for gang rape survivor and activist Brenda Tracy, Tracy’s rule goes beyond NCAA policy, disqualifying athletes if they’ve been found guilty of such an offense before a court. court or disciplinary proceedings. The University of Texas at San Antonio became the first school to adopt it in 2019.
“Not everyone has the guts of UTSA and UVA Wise,” Tracy told USA TODAY. “I believe they’re setting an example for other schools, and I hope other schools will see what they’re doing and realize that it’s not as scary as they think it is, and that it’s good thing for our campuses and our communities.”
Athletes disqualified by Tracy’s Rule may appeal to a University Review Board, which may seek advisory opinions from a committee comprised of at least one victim advocate, counselor, or other trauma-informed employee. The president and the sporting director make the final decision based on the jury’s evaluation.
UVA Wise had no problems implementing Tracy’s rule, Chancellor Donna Henry and Title IX coordinator Tabitha Smith told USA TODAY. The campus lawyers didn’t dispute that, and all of their coaches — men’s and women’s teams — were on board.
“I think our coaches generally see it as another mechanism to support their recruiting efforts,” Rainey said. “It formalizes or embeds into the policy certain things that they already do in the recruitment process.”
UVA Wise enrolls about 2,000 students, about 300 of whom play varsity sports, Rainey said. Cavaliers teams compete in the NCAA’s second highest level of competition, Division II.
Tracy is expected to be on campus Wednesday for a rule signing ceremony. Later today, she plans to meet with the men’s sports teams and talk about her journey after she said she was raped, sodomized and robbed in 1998 by four men, including two Oregon State football players. She reported the incident to the police. The four men were arrested.
Amid community attacks on her and her credibility, Tracy made what she thought at the time was an informed decision to decline to press charges, she said. Oregon State players served one-game suspensions for what their coach, Mike Riley, called a “bad choice” – a statement he told The Oregonian, which he later regretted.
Sixteen years later, Tracy went public with her story in The Oregonian. Riley met Tracy, apologized, and gave her the opportunity to speak to her football team at the University of Nebraska, which she did. She told the team that there was a time when she hated Riley more than her rapists.
Riley’s act proved pivotal to Tracy’s recovery, she said. Since then, dozens of colleges and high schools across the country have invited her to their campuses to share her story in front of halls full of young athletes. She urges them to be a solution to the problem of sexual violence. She runs a non-profit organization, Set The Expectation, which aims to educate about sexual violence prevention and advocacy through sport.
“I would never want anything to happen to a student, like what happened to Tracy, which was possibly preventable,” Henry told USA TODAY. “I think with this policy in place, it just gives us additional prevention tools. And hopefully we make our campus even safer than it is now.”