Dec. 6, 2004
By Michelle Brutlag Hosick
The NCAA News
In response to a challenge from NCAA President Myles Brand to promote better sportsmanship on the playing field, Student-Athlete Advisory Committee members from each division dedicated much of a July meeting to developing a strategy for encouraging positive sportsmanship and reducing instances of poor sportsmanship.
The representatives put together suggestions for rewarding student-athletes, teams, coaches and fans that display positive sportsmanship and proposed actions that could be taken to combat negative behavior. The resulting document is now available for student-athletes, athletics administrators and others to review by clicking HERE.
The student-athletes appear to have their work cut out for them. Their work was completed just a few weeks before the fracas among football players from the University of South Carolina, Columbia, and Clemson University during the closing seconds of Clemson's November 20 victory. Both schools have since withdrawn their teams from postseason play, even though both were bowl-eligible.
While none of the proposals in the plan put forward by the divisional SAAC members specifically suggest eliminating teams from postseason competition for such offenses, the plan does recommend that coaches and institutions develop their own rules and system of accountability for poor sportsmanship, up to and including dismissing a player exhibiting negative behavior from the game. The plan also encourages individual coaches, SAACs and athletics departments to design penalties for poor sportsmanship directed at opposing teams, coaches, fans and officials.
Rewarding good behavior
Penalties for poor behavior aren't the only avenue to advocate sportsmanship, several of the SAAC leaders pointed out. Rewarding positive behavior also is an integral part of improving the atmosphere at NCAA events.
Andrew Baldwin, chair of the Division III SAAC, said he supports suggestions that would force student-athletes to be more accountable for their own behavior.
"We need to be the leaders in promoting positive behaviors and reshaping the negative. The hope would be that this will influence the coaches and fans to follow suit," Baldwin said. "I really supported the majority of the suggestions we discussed. The hard part is just to implement these plans effectively."
Implementation is left up to each individual school or SAAC. The plan, available to anyone via the Internet, is meant to be a guide for people who want to do something to shape the behavior of their student-athletes, coaches and fans.
"I like the suggestions for the fans the best, especially the 'super fan on the couch' idea," said Division I SAAC Chair Katie Groke, a soccer student-athlete from the University of Wyoming. Groke was referring to a suggestion that a fan displaying positive spirit or sportsmanship during a game would be rewarded with a seat for the next game on a couch placed in a prime location.
"Though it seems like such a small idea to help a big problem, it is suggestions like that that will start to change the culture at sporting events. If fans know they can win close-up seats on a couch, they will behave better," Groke said.
The plan also suggests rewarding student-athletes who exhibit positive sportsmanship throughout the season by creating a "sports person/team of the year" to recognize the individuals or teams at institutional awards banquets. Ben Geiss, chair of the Division II SAAC, said he favors those ideas because they can involve many people in the pursuit of good sportsmanship.
All three SAAC chairs said that involving student-athletes in the process is vital to improving the atmosphere at games. However, Groke said that early in the process she felt that asking student-athletes to come up with the plan wasn't the best approach.
"I didn't think that the student-athletes should have to take the heat for the fans and the culture that has been created at college sporting events," she said. "Now, the more I think about it -- the more I realize that it isn't just up to the student-athletes, but everyone -- that is what is going to make the change."
Baldwin said student-athletes have the most important role, which is leading by example.
"We need to be accountable for our own actions and remember that we represent our school, our teammates and ourselves on and off the playing field. People watch us and look to us to play with integrity," Baldwin said. Upperclassmen should set the example for younger teammates and stress the importance of good sportsmanship, he said, and some teams might go so far as to create a "sportsmanship statement" to be posted in locker rooms or read before each game.
"This would show that we care, and having it come directly from the student-athletes makes it more powerful in its impact on coaches, fans and other student-athletes," Baldwin said.
Geiss said that if student-athletes exhibit negative behaviors before, during or after games, fans might get the idea that it's OK to follow that lead.
"Student-athletes have a very important role. We are the ones everybody looks to," Geiss said. "We need to model behavior in hopes that it will rub off on people in the stands. We set the tone of the game."
But student-athletes can only do so much and aren't the only ones who need to ascribe to the rules of good sportsmanship, Groke said. For the plan to work, people at every level need to believe that their behavior is important.
"We need the players to be positive role models, we need the coaches to take an active role in trying to change things, and we need the administrators to try and make change at events to foster a more positive culture for the fans. Once everyone is on the same page about improving the situation, the culture will start to improve," Groke said.
Baldwin said he hopes the plan is used as a springboard for institutions, SAACs and athletics departments to create their own ideas and apply them. The student-athletes agree that the plan will not solve the problem, but sportsmanship is something that everyone involved with college athletics needs to be constantly examining.
"The student-athletes can't do it alone. We need the support from the coaches, administrators and schools," Groke said. "Then we can start to make a difference."