Friday, May 11, 2007

Pre-emptive Strike

More from the land of press releases in my mailbox...


May 11, 2007

Dear Friend of Maryland Athletics,

One of the types of interactions that occur routinely in intercollegiate athletics is communication with various media outlets, both print and electronic. The majority of those interactions result in balanced and fair reporting of competitive, academic and civic-related activities of our student-athletes.

Today, I write to share with you the intentions of the Baltimore Sun to print an article about the University of Maryland student-athlete population and their violations of the “Student Code of Conduct” and the “Student-Athlete Code of Conduct” that have occurred between 2004 and 2006.

Our concern is that the report of such activities be provided in the proper context. Since we ultimately have no control over which facts will be selectively presented or the fairness with which they will be presented, it seemed prudent to share some information with you ahead of time.


Our Culture

One of the goals of our Athletics Department is to support a culture for student-athletes and staff whereby we pursue victory with honor. In order to achieve this goal, we vigorously promote character development, leadership qualities, sportsmanship and academic excellence in our student-athletes, as well as competitive excellence. Toward that end, our student-athletes are expected to engage in appropriate behaviors and to be disciplined remedially, when appropriate. Attached, for your information, is a document that reflects this philosophy. It was also provided to the Baltimore Sun writers and is discussed often in our monthly coaches meetings.

No system or policy can guarantee that there will be no isolated instances of inappropriate choices by student-athletes. As such, the University has in place a specific process for reporting and managing any alleged violations of the “Student-Athlete Code of Conduct” and the “Student Code of Conduct” to insure that any inappropriate behaviors are addressed with integrity. This plenary process is implemented in concert with the University’s Office of Student Conduct, the University Legal Office and is shared with the Faculty Athletics Representative, the President’s Office, the Vice President for Student Affairs and the head of the University Health Center, when appropriate. Our consistent goal is to be interdictive, educational and remedial in our response to inappropriate behaviors.


The Request

Violations of such campus policies and corresponding disciplinary actions are maintained in individual student-athlete files, which are protected by law. However, we are expected to share that information with a few individuals who provide campus oversight to the Athletics Department. This checks and balances system has been in place for many years. One of the campus individuals serving in this role requested a list of such violations/discipline for review last Fall (subsequent to a highly publicized issue on another college campus).

During this brief period of time, the individual was interviewed by a Baltimore Sun sports reporter, who asked whether or not such information was shared on campus, to which he innocently replied that it was and that he had seen the list of violations/disciplines quite recently.

Within 48 hours of that conversation, the campus received a formal request for the list from the Baltimore Sun. The campus legal office ultimately provided it, with appropriate redactions to protect the identity of the student-athletes.

This request occurred in September 2006. Over the next eight months, we graciously agreed to multiple interviews as requested by the Sun, to speak with coaches, Athletic Council members and athletics administrators. Later, we discovered that a Sun reporter had tracked down two student-athletes to interview, without going through the Media Relations office of the Athletics department.

The results detailed below reflect the high and consistent standards to which we hold our student-athletes, the consistent levels of appropriate discipline we administer when those standards are not met, and, most importantly, the overall concern all of us on campus have for the well-being and personal development of our student-athletes.


Results

1. Drug Testing

The article will include the number of positive drug tests from 2004 through 2006 for student-athletes.

· Out of 1,833 tests conducted by our University Health Center for student-athletes, 39 tested positive (29 first positives; 8 seconds; 2 thirds). As our general student population is not subjected to drug tests, there is no data for comparison. Although we believe that the 2.1% rate of positive tests is not indicative of excessive use among our student-athletes, we take this very seriously and have made the following improvements to the drug testing policy for the benefit of our student-athletes’ health and well-being.

· We have dramatically increased the number of tests administered (113% increase); decreased notification times, implemented 100% direct observation of testing and made improvements in identifying masking agents from 2005 to 2006.

· Even with more stringent testing procedures in place, the rate of positive tests decreased to 1.5% in 2006.

· Our student-athletes across all 27 varsity sports are also randomly tested for steroid use. Additional testing is in place for sports that have nationally reported an increase for steroid use – football, wrestling, baseball, track and field, and men’s lacrosse. Also, all student-athletes are subject to random drug tests conducted by the NCAA, including the screening of steroids. From 2004-06, we have had only one case of a positive steroid test. That individual never participated in any collegiate competition for Maryland.

· These results make it clear that the campus drug testing policy is effective in limiting the use of drugs among our student-athletes.


2. Misconduct

For the period of 2004-06, our 647 student-athletes comprised about 2.8% of Maryland’s total undergraduate student population.
During this same time period, the Maryland student-athlete rate of misconduct was less than that of the general student population rate. This includes Academic Misconduct, Non-Academic Misconduct and Residence Hall Incidents, as listed below.
Total # of Academic Misconduct Cases 594
Student-athlete Cases 11
% of Total for Student-athletes 1.8%

Total # of Non-Academic Misconduct Cases 1027
Student-athlete Cases 12
% of Total for Student-athletes 1.1%

Total # of Residence Hall Incidents 2663
Student-athlete Cases 12
% of Total for Student-athletes 0.4%

The information above represents a true “apples-to-apples” comparison. Maryland Athletics also tracks violations of team rules, like a fight in a locker room, which violate team rules established by our coaches. That type of incident is not a violation of the “Student Code of Conduct.”
Per the “Student-Athlete Code of Conduct,” a student-athlete is required to immediately (within 24 hours) notify his or her head coach when he or she has participated in any activity that violates the “Student-Athlete Code of Conduct.” Failure to do so can result in more serious discipline.


Summary

It is important to note that an overwhelming majority of our student-athletes have never been cited for misconduct cases or residence hall incidents. There are other positive indicators regarding the conduct of our student-athletes:

· Over the same three-year period, the total campus-wide number of misconduct cases and residence hall incidents was 4,284. Maryland student-athletes comprised just 0.8% of these infractions, despite representing 2.8% of the total student population.

· The University’s long-standing health education-first drug policy is administered independently by the University Health Center and features mandatory counseling for all first positives. In addition to continued counseling, a second positive drug test results in a mandatory two-week suspension from all team-related activities. A third positive results in an indefinite suspension and potential expulsion from the University.

· As part of our culture of accountability, Maryland Athletics regularly shares all such information with appropriate individuals, including the Faculty Athletics Representative, the President’s Office and the University Legal Office.

Over the same three-year period of 2004-06, many of our student-athletes have been outstanding examples of good behavior and model citizenship:

· For the first time ever, Maryland has the greatest number of ACC Honor Roll selections of any public institution in our conference;

· Our recent graduation rate of 76% is the highest of any public institution in the Atlantic Coast Conference;

· Josh Wilson (Football) was recently awarded the ACC’s James E. Tatum Award, given annually to the top senior student-athlete in the conference in any sport;

· Over the past three years, Maryland student-athletes have served over 140,000 hours of voluntary community service, including projects with the Capital Area Food Bank, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the American Cancer Society and various local elementary schools.

· The student-athletes in Field Hockey and Competitive Cheer celebrated National Championships in 2006 – for a total of six championships in the past two years alone;

· Almost 61% of our student-athletes carry a grade point average over 3.0.

Maryland Athletics is focused on reinforcing a culture of integrity in all competitive, academic and civic areas, with our coaches and staff members, as well as our terrific student-athletes.

Hopefully, the Sun will provide a fair and balanced characterization of our student-athletes, though in the interview process, some of the reporters have focused a great deal on any possible negative issues, while showing minimal interest in the many strengths of our student-athletes. If these facts are not cogently and fairly presented, it would seem reasonable to share those concerns with the Sun’s managing editor. Rarely do we respond as we are doing now by sending you this information in advance of the printing of the article. But, we are genuinely concerned about the possible mischaracterization of our student-athletes as a whole. They are simply terrific people, by and large. What they deserve are articles about their many academic and community service achievements, all of which make us very proud indeed.

For those who fall short of what is expected of a Terrapin student-athlete, we pledge to continue to work with the campus to implement remedial actions appropriate to the offense.

Being a Terrapin student-athlete is a privilege. We are here, in large part, to help guide our student-athletes in making wise choices during their period of growth and exploration, hopefully culminating in graduation from one of our country’s best public institutions of higher education.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of the contents of this letter and for your support of our coaches and student-athletes.


Go Terps!

Deborah Yow
Director of Athletics


Sorry for the long post here, but I find it interesting that an article that hasn't even been published yet is getting this kind of rise out of the Athletic Department. Either the article they're seeking to refute is a true hatchet job or they're attempting to defend the indefensible. By looking at some of the weasel wording and the admitted preemptive strike, they're clearly on the defensive here and that really makes you wonder.

If what the Sun was trying to do is on the level and balanced, a preemptive strike like this wouldn't be needed. Heather Dinich doesn't have anything up on her blog yet.

I (and the UMD Athletic Department) could sink into the fever swamps and start listing the transgressions of other schools but when UMD lacks a clean record themselves, that isn't a valid defense and I am glad to see that they did not do that.

Student-athletes are not angels, they are going to make mistakes and think that they can get away with more than other students because of their status but the reverse is actually true. If the Sun could somehow prove though that there are bigger problems with the student-athletes at UMD than in other comparable institutions, then they might have a point. But they've clearly got the Athletic Department on the defensive so we'll have to see what comes out when it comes out.

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