Creating Accountability in Sport Clubs

April 08, 2011

The Important Role of a ‘Code of Conduct’

Gabriel Valenzuela
University of Southern California

In the Spring of 2006, shortly after the unfortunate events involving the Duke Lacrosse team, administrators at the University of Southern California (USC) felt that it was necessary to examine the operations of the club sports program in three specific areas: hazing, sexual harassment, and alcohol & drug abuse. The university believed that an internal examination would be a very important learning opportunity for all club sports participants. In fact, US Lacrosse, the national governing body for the sport, took it one step further and issued a press release on 4 May 2006 about the need for each individual, program and university to view the incident as an opportunity for personal accountability.

‘This situation has created an important learning opportunity for our sport, particularly at this time of unprecedented popularity and growth. All of us–players, parents, coaches, officials, event and camp directors,–must continue to hold each other to the highest standards of personal responsibility, inclusiveness and respect for others…’ (US Lacrosse)

At the time, USC club sport participants were simply required to fill-out a waiver form. Nothing ever mentioned specifics or consequences, if any, for violations of university policy. Following the internal review, the student-run Recreational Club Council (RCC) was charged with drafting a ‘Trojan Integrity and Conduct Code’ (TICC) for all club sport student-athletes to sign. The TICC would bring hazing, sexual harassment, alcohol & drug abuse and personal accountability to the forefront while also highlighting previously established university guidelines. The athlete’s signature would indicate their seriousness and commitment to uphold the ‘highest standards of personal responsibility’.

The TICC was reviewed and approved by USC Student Affairs in October of 2006. (see attached) and almost immediately the language in the document was tested in the Spring of 2007 when a USC hockey player ‘mooned’ fans at an American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II playoff game. For USC and the Club Sports program, the ‘hockey incident’ became national news. The story took on a life of its own when it was featured on MSNBC, ESPN and local media outlets. The student involved was reprimanded by local authorities and the university.

While some believed that this was an open and shut case, the RCC believed that the hockey team had also violated the TICC. A key phrase in the document stipulates that, ‘clubs may be held responsible for the acts of individual members’. Furthermore, the RCC reserves the right to ‘issue sanctions, including but not limited to denying or revoking membership to individuals in violation of university rules and regulations’. As a result, the RCC placed the club hockey team on probation until Spring 2009, forfeited university funding for the team for the FY2007-2008 year, and suspended the club from post-season play for one year. Subsequent appeals by the team to overturn the decision were denied by the Recreational Sports Department.

While the TICC will likely not prevent all at-risk situations for club sport directors, the document does provide a starting point for discussions concerning the topics addressed in the document (hazing, alcohol, sexual harassment), and can make the handling of disciplinary issues fairly straightforward since the student has already been made aware of the potential consequences. As Club Sport participants become more competitive, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that these athletes compete with courtesy and respect–win or lose.

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