The reputation of Pennsylvania State University will forever be marred by Jerry Sandusky. Michigan State University may never escape the looming shadow of Larry Nassar. The prominence of Ohio State University has been tainted by Richard Strauss. While most prestigious universities find themselves headlining articles because of the success of their sports teams, more and more institutions have found their athletic programs at the top of the news wire due to reports of sexual assault and abuse pervading their departments. As survivors muster the courage to come forth to speak out against their abusers, universities must take responsibility for their actions—or lack thereof. These powerful institutions are not immune from liability and neither is the NCAA.
The NCAA, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, is the national organization in which thousands of colleges are members. The NCAA is dedicated to student-athlete well-being and success. In recent years however, the NCAA has been under fire—primarily for its notion of “amateurism”—which it touts to justify a plethora of its decisions in “protecting student-athletes.” The NCAA has been in a range of legal battles from antitrust violations to concussion litigation to television rights. Now, the infamous association is adding another category to its lawsuit list: sexual assault.
On Wednesday, April 29, 2020, seven women, including three former athletes, filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan against the NCAA for failing to protect them from alleged sexual assaults by male college athletes. The lawsuit includes counts of negligence, fraud, and breach of contract. The institutions involved include Michigan State University, the University of Nebraska, and an unnamed Division I college from the America East Conference. According to the lawsuit, the NCAA had a duty “to supervise, regulate, monitor and provide reasonable and appropriate rules to minimize the risk of injury or danger to student-athletes and by student-athletes,” yet they failed to do so. One of the named plaintiffs, Emma Roedel, was a sprinter at Michigan State who stated that she was raped by a male teammate in March 2017. Another named plaintiff, Capri Davis, began her volleyball career at Nebraska, but she took a medical leave of absence and transferred to Texas. She stated her decision to transfer was driven, in part, by how the university failed to adequately respond to a report about a groping incident involving two Nebraska football players at a party.
At one point, it appeared that the NCAA was somewhat committed to protecting students from on-campus sexual assaults. In 2016, the NCAA’s board of governors created the Commission to Combat Campus Sexual Violence. By August 2018, the commission had been disbanded.
The pending sexual assault lawsuit against the NCAA presents the organization with another opportunity to show whether it is truly committed to student-athlete well-being. From an eagle’s eye view, however, that commitment seems speculative at best. The qualified attorneys at Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis, and Overholtz are committed to bringing justice for survivors of sexual assault. Please contact us to receive more information.