When their teams gather for this first time this year, Hobart College coaches will put extra emphasis on appropriate behavior and sexual assault prevention, Athletic Director Mike Hanna says.
“We have outstanding student-athletes who are dedicated to leading a life that’s guided by respect and loyalty and teamwork and trust, which are the values of Hobart and William Smith athletics, and we are always striving to get better,” he said, adding that athletes at HWS do not get treated differently than other students.
Hanna spoke to the Finger Lakes Times Thursday in response to the recent New York Times article detailing sexual assault allegations made last year against three football players.
The Colleges’ on-campus adjudication panel cleared the players, and police filed no charges. However, The New York Times story questioned the effectiveness of both the on-campus process and the police investigation.
Hanna declined to discuss any details of that case, including the appropriateness of the Athletic Department’s response, how it applied its procedures to the accused players and the reaction among student-athletes. Nor would he comment on a locker-room meeting between the accused players, a witness, two of the football team’s captains and coach Mike Cragg that The New York Times said took place following the alleged assault.
However, Hanna did discuss in general terms how the Athletic Department responds when someone makes allegations against a student-athlete, as well as the efforts he said his department will make to prevent sexual assaults.
Hanna said the department and the Colleges’ student athletes will be able to make improvements and move on successfully as the school year starts, despite the impact of the case and the publicity generated by the article.
“It’s easy to move on because we have great people here, and we’re committed to one another,” he said. “We have a special mission within the educational mission of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. It’s not a job for our people. It’s a calling. With that level of commitment, whether it’s a Hobart basketball game or a Hobart lacrosse game or daily life, there will be adversity. We get knocked down, but we always get up, and we get better — and we will do that in this case.”
Codes of conduct
Student-athletes have been subject to a code of conduct for decades. A Student Athlete Advisory Council consisting of one athlete from each team maintains the code. While the Council itself does not address code violations, it does create expectations and guidelines.
Hanna said each coach also has his or her own set of expectations, which team captains help to shape each year.
“We have a number of guiding processes here, but certainly the Colleges’ Community Standards Handbook is the overarching handbook,” Hanna said.
When violations occur, the process depends on the specific case.
“It’s situational,” Hanna said. “First and foremost, student-athletes are students at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, so the normal process ... the Colleges use for reviewing any case is what’s followed, and then we cooperate and communicate.”
The Athletic Department can generally impose sanctions on a student-athlete outside of or in addition to that adjudication process, Hanna said. Coaches in the past have taken students out of the lineup to allow them to focus on academics even when the Colleges did not place them on academic probation, he said.
Coaches also talk among themselves to see how their peers have handled a given situation in the past, Hanna said. That helps ensure consistency.
Hanna said the Athlete Advisory Council reviews the code of conduct each year. Coaches and the Athletic Department also review their policies and procedures. All of that will happen again this year, with the recent assault allegations in mind.
Hanna said the Colleges’ larger-scale review of its own policies and procedures will play into what his department does going forward.
“A lot of what’s in [the Athletic Department manual] is taken from the [Colleges’] Community Standards Handbook, so we’ll follow the Colleges’ lead on that to make sure we’re complying with the Colleges’ policies,” Hanna said. “It’ll be a very collaborative effort. It already is across campus.”
Hanna said the Athletic Department is willing to act quickly when it needs to make improvements. He cited its self-reporting of NCAA violations at the start of the 2008-09 academic year; the NCAA eventually penalized the Hobart football and lacrosse programs in January 2011.
He said the Colleges hired a full-time compliance officer, which he believes put them at the forefront in compliance-related issues.
“I think that’s an important telltale, that when we do have situations, we know how to handle them,” he said.
Hanna also cited the Athletic Department’s existing efforts to ensure that athletes behave appropriately, including the Napier Life Skills Seminar.
“It’s a very highly regarded life skills program,” Hanna said. “We use a combination of outside speakers, upperclassmen. It’s a very comprehensive program. In the last two years, our two points of focus have been respect and accountability. So we work hard at that. When families hand their sons and daughters over to us, it’s a big deal. It’s a huge responsibility.”
The Napier Seminar has been in place since 1996. Hanna said Colleges athletes also volunteer at Happiness House, at Relay For Life and for other causes.
Hanna said he and the coaches have been talking with student-athlete leaders, by phone and in person, since The New York Times article appeared.
“What they do realize, and what is a common thread in my conversations with them, they know that the core of what we do is dedicated to being a place of high character,” he said. “ ... This situation flies in the face of that feeling and the conviction, and whether [the situation is] losing a game or not getting the major gift for a stadium project, you hope to get it in the past and you have to move on and get better at whatever it is that has to be improved.”
The response to The New York Times article has included online posts suggesting that athletes get away with things other students would not.
Hanna acknowledged that perception, but said it does not reflect the reality at a Division III school.
“The life of a student-athlete at a liberal arts, Division III school like Hobart and William Smith is considerably different than the life of a student-athlete at a Division I scholarship institution ... I think, unfortunately, most of our society doesn’t realize that there is true amateurism in sports in America, and it’s on the campus of Division III colleges,” said Hanna, who started coaching college sports in 1971.
Hobart’s lacrosse team plays at the NCAA Division I level, though it does not award athletic scholarships. The rest of its teams — along with all of the William Smith teams — play at the Division III level.
Hobart and William Smith athletes do not receive special treatment, Hanna said, whether it’s in registering for classes or in disciplinary procedures.
“I could be athletic director to 2071, and we’d still be facing that perception of student-athletes being favored,” he said. “All I can say is, I have great confidence in what we’re doing, the leadership of our coaches, the quality of our young men and women who are coming to these Colleges. We strive to uphold what’s right regardless of the popularity of the position. I think that’s a pretty good definition of being a Statesman.”