College sports have always been somewhat marred by controversy—whether it be point shaving, paying off players, or academic fraud—as the money to be made from college sports and the overwhelming desire to win has always seemed to generate impropriety among schools, players, and coaches. However, in recent years, scandals within college athletics programs have escalated beyond mere efforts to “win at all costs,” with the spotlight now on instances of sexual violence committed by players against other students and the cover-ups of these assaults. Following the massive cover-up and mishandling of sexual assaults by Baylor University’s athletic department and officials, and the arrest and conviction of a sexually abusive physician at Michigan State University (MSU), it has become apparent that these instances of intra-university collusion are not “isolated incidents.” Instead, these events are evidence of a pattern of behavior employed by institutions of higher education—institutions that prioritize their image over the safety of their students. Further, these cover-ups undoubtedly involve more actors than are held accountable, with scandals leading to the removal of university “faces,” while lower-level employees, staff, and coaches are retained despite their obvious involvement.
This Comment will address the goings-on within college athletic programs and will argue that such catastrophic failures on the part of schools like Baylor and MSU are likely evidence of a conspiracy within those institutions to defraud their students or interfere with their civil rights, thereby jeopardizing the safety of every student enrolled. It will be a fact-intensive analysis of the tragic events at Baylor and MSU and of the lawsuits filed against both schools by victims. This analysis will show that a much greater evil is at play at these, and likely many other institutions. Not only did these universities fail to adhere to policy, protect their students, or act with any common sense or decency—they actively attempted to inhibit investigations and intentionally tried to cover up sexual harassment, sexual assault, and even gang rapes in order to protect their athletic programs, their employees’ jobs, and their schools’ reputations.
Next, this Comment will discuss the shortcomings of Title IX, focusing on how the statute does little to provide an adequate remedy for the victims at Baylor and MSU. Additionally, the impotency of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) sanctions will be analyzed, illustrating how those sanctions do little to encourage athletic officials to adhere to proper Title IX or university policy. Finally, this Comment argues that the pursuit of civil conspiracy claims against athletic programs and universities would: (1) deter schools from protecting alleged rapists in order to promote their athletic programs, and (2) root out and punish individuals responsible for willfully protecting students unequally or discouraging reporting of sexual assaults. Additionally, this Comment advocates for neutral government or academic agencies to handle these cases, thereby removing these kinds of investigations entirely from the hands of ill-equipped athletic programs and coaches.
Civil Conspiracy—Holding College Officials Accountable,
SMU L. Rev. F.