AS A BASKETBALL player at Northern Colorado eyeing a future law career, Cody McDavis (right) was familiar with the NCAA's labyrinthine rule book, which includes limits on the size of envelopes for letters to high schoolers and restrictions on student-athlete hosts buying keepsakes for visiting recruits. As a sexual-assault prevention advocate, what he could not believe was that there were no bylaws linking an athlete's eligibility to a history of sexual- and gender-based violence. Allowing someone who has been found guilty of sexual assault to compete in the NCAA does not break any of its rules. This, McDavis decided, needed to change.
If signatures on an online petition are to be believed, more than 214,000 people agree with him. McDavis, now a 25-year-old third-year law student at UCLA and a managing editor of the school's law review, launched the campaign in October with support from Brenda Tracy, a prominent activist and rape survivor who runs the nonprofit Set the Expectation. The petition calls on the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) to create and adopt rules banning athletes with histories of violence—positive findings from schools or judicial bodies—from competing for its member schools.
McDavis hopes this will force athletic departments into a proactive approach while evaluating recruits or transfers. While right now they might stand by as another university department handles the matter—be it an active complaint or a past transgression—or claim ignorance without consequences, the petition's proposal would make such inaction unacceptable. As with athletes who receive impermissible financial benefits or who fail to meet academic standards, schools would face penalties such as vacated championships and forfeiture of revenue. "So the athletic department has a very clear mandate," McDavis says. "It must have athletes who are free and clear of these issues."
This is not McDavis and Tracy's first push for such a change. The two met while serving from 2016 to '18 on the NCAA's Commission to Combat Campus Sexual Violence. The commission's proposal was to incorporate conduct as a criterion for eligibility, the way that grades and amateurism are. Last August the NCAA said it would continue to monitor such issues but did not move to take more action. The NCAA disbanded the commission that month, saying its mission had been completed.
Its members were frustrated. "It seemed like, yeah, we have an opportunity to do good work here, but when push comes to shove, nothing's really changing," McDavis says. In October he and Tracy devised an alternative approach: to advocate for change at the conference level, where there might be less bureaucracy. They are focusing on the Power 5 with the hope that other schools will follow suit.
So far the message is catching on. In addition to the trove of online cosigners, a group of eight senators, led by Ron Wyden of Oregon, recently sent a letter to the Power 5 commissioners calling for their leagues to address issues of sexual violence and explore policies that would prevent athletes with violent pasts from playing. McDavis's goal is to get a congressional backer in each of the 35 states with a Power 5 school.
One benefit of the conference-level strategy is that it allows for a flexible approach to varying local laws, which was one reason cited by the NCAA for not pursuing nationwide rules. Defining disqualifying behavior can be tricky when statutes differ from state to state.
There is one conference McDavis can already point to as a model. Last summer the Big Sky—in which he played—instituted its Serious Misconduct Rule. It bans from competition athletes who have been found by the judicial system or a university body to have committed a range of violations, including any act of sexual or domestic violence, stalking or use of a deadly weapon. But it also gives schools some autonomy with regard to local laws and allows a system for appeals and exemptions. The rule is set to be implemented by fall. "This is the right thing to do," Big Sky associate commissioner Jaynee Nadolski says, "and we should lead and let people know this is doable."
The larger goal, McDavis says, reaches beyond a rule book. "Changing the rules," he says, "are a means of changing the culture."
"ALLOWING SOMEONE WHO HAD BEEN FOUND GUILTY OF SEXUAL ASSAULT TO COMPETE IN THE NCAA DOESN'T BREAK ANY OF ITS RULES. THIS, MCDAVIS DECIDED, NEEDED TO CHANGE."
A LIFE REMEMBERED
FACES IN THE CROWD
SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
POLICE ACCUSED A NEW YORK MAN OF FAKING HIS OWN KIDNAPPING TO AVOID PAYING OUT A $50,000 SUPER BOWL SQUARES BET.
THEY SAID IT
"I'M ACTUALLY GOOD ON TV, SO I'M JUST GONNA STAY HERE."
NFL NETWORK ANALYST STEVE SMITH, who retired from the league in 2017, after Jason Witten left his broadcast job on Monday Night Football to return to the Cowboys.