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The Oklahoma Legal Group Blog

Can college athletes be fined for misconduct?

Adam Banner - Tuesday, October 13, 2015

When professional athletes are accused of misconduct on or off the field, they are frequently assessed a heavy fine. The NFL in particular seems to fine players at every turn. In fact, Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller says that he is repeatedly fined for flatulence during team meetings. And a list of 2015 NFL fines and suspensions shows that the league has fined players more than $15 million during the first four weeks of the season. These fines range from $5,787 for Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford's uniform violation (wearing blue cleats) to Miami defensive end Dion Jordan's nearly $5.27 million fine for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

Disciplining athletes is a little different when it comes to colleges sports. Currently, colleges and universities--including the University of Oklahoma--have come under fire for their handling of allegations against athletes. Disciplining athletes for being accused of a crime is a tricky proposition. For example, Sooner linebacker Frank Shannon was accused of sexual assault at an off-campus apartment. Although he was not criminally charged, the university was criticized for its handling of the case. Universities are expected to discipline student athletes for being accused of a crime, whether or not there is sufficient evidence that any crime took place.

So how should universities address discipline of student athletes?

Tommy Tuberville of the University of Cincinnati said that they will consider withholding "Cost of Attendance" stipends for college athletes who violate team conduct rules or fail to meet academic standards. Essentially, this would be a fine deducted from the student's scholarship money.

Virginia Tech actually put a plan in place to fine students by withholding COA stipends, but the university backtracked amid outrage.

So can college athletes be fined for misconduct? It doesn't seem to be a reasonable or ethical proposition.

Remember, college athletes, unlike professional athletes, are not paid for their performance. Considering a scholarship to be a form of payment would be unfair--after all, not all scholarships are equal, and not every university offers a COA stipend for its players.

And if we are considering scholarships to be remuneration for a job, then is it appropriate to fine athletes from their scholarship funds, but not students with non-athletic scholarships. For example, underage drinking is against the law and a violation of school and team policies. If a National Merit Scholar attends a university and gets drunk one weekend, is it appropriate to fine him or her by withholding a portion of the scholarship? If not, then it would not be appropriate to fine a scholarship athlete who did the same.

Remember, fines and criminal penalties are already in place through the judicial system. The kid with a drunk in public arrest will pay those fines through the justice system. Fining again through the university scholarship system seems to be akin to double jeopardy.

But what about conduct on the field? An NFL player might get fined $8,681 for unsportsmanlike conduct, but that player gets paid to do things right. Buffalo defensive end Jerry Hughes was fined $8,681 for unsportsmanlike conduct and $23,152 for verbally abusing a referee in a Week 4 game against the New York Giants. But he just signed a 5-year $45 million contract that gave him a $7 million signing bonus and an average salary of $9 million.

Withholding scholarship money from a player who works too hard on the field to get a job off the field seems to be unfair and unethical.   






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