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College athletes are used to having their actions scrutinized on the field — but players’ choices off the field can result in the most attention.
Consider Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. In June 2012, Manziel was arrested for being involved in a fight, and pleaded guilty for improperly identifying himself to police resulting in a misdemeanor.
Manziel also generated controversy online when he tweeted “Bullshit like tonight is a reason I can’t wait to leave college station…whenever it may be,” in June of 2013.
Many universities have chosen to implement codes of conduct for their student-athletes in order to prevent such PR nightmares. They range from simple documents that asks students to adhere to basic NCAA rules to detailed policies that restrict players’ social media use and even their dating life.
Despite the growth in more stringent codes of conduct for student-athletes, Cal Poly Athletics has chosen to trust its players to make the right decisions rather than develop a detailed set of conduct policies.
“Our student-athletes are adults, they certainly know right from wrong,” Athletics Director Don Oberhelman said. “They don’t need to hear a laundry list of don’ts.”
Cal Poly does have a basic code of conduct all student-athletes are asked to sign. The document describes 14 areas they are expected to follow. It reflects NCAA guidelines, for example, prohibiting players from gambling on games, playing for a professional team, hiring an agent or accepting gifts.
The document also outlines consequences for student-athletes who are charged with, or commit, crimes. Athletes must report charges to the athletics director and their head coach. If athletes are convicted of felonies, they can face suspension, dismissal or expulsion from Cal Poly.
The rise of social media has found many college athletes getting themselves in trouble on social media website. Despite this, Cal Poly has not chosen to create an overall social media policy. Oberhelman said he has not seen a need.
“I think our student-athletes are typical of the rest of the student population at Cal Poly, they’re pretty smart about how they govern their lives,” Oberhelman said. “I really don’t want to get in the middle of how they’re governing something that is off campus, that in many ways is a personal choice of what they’re going to post and how they’re going to communicate.”
These basic policies are only one part of athlete conduct expectations at Cal Poly. Coaches can create their own sets of policies for their players. Coaches are in the best position to set expectations, Oberhelman said.
Chris Eversley, a former Cal Poly men’s basketball player, said the team does not have a written conduct policy, but coaching staff expects players to make good decisions.
Eversley, who is active on Twitter, said these expectations extend to basketball player’s online personas. Coaching staff remind players that things posted online can’t be taken back.
When the men’s basketball team made it to the NCAA Tournament, increased attention meant players had to be more aware of what they were posting online, Eversley said.
“You had to make sure you weren’t giving the wrong first impression,” Eversley said.
Coaching staff didn’t issue any specific social media guidelines for the tournament. All players did their part to present themselves well, Eversley said.
Cal Poly’s baseball team is currently ranked in the top 10 in all major Division I college baseball polls. Despite this recognition, head coach Larry Lee said he hasn’t asked his players to behave any differently.
The baseball team has had a dry season policy since 2009. Players are forbidden from doing any drinking, even if they are 21. Lee said the policy was created in response to instances of alcohol use in the team.
“It’s a commitment they make to the program,” Lee said. “Athletes that want to be great want structure, they want guidelines.”
The baseball team does not have written conduct policies for its players. Lee also noted that the leadership of senior players is an effective way to convey team expectations.
The Cal Poly’s women’s basketball team, on the other hand, has a written conduct policy. The policy includes rules about being on time, not using cell phones at team dinners and not drinking alcohol during the season.
Assistant coach Kari Duperron said their conduct policies go beyond athletic goals and help players prepare for graduation and their careers.
The women’s basketball team has chosen not to create a policy governing social media. The team’s coaching staff tells players to remember they are always representing Cal Poly and themselves, and to be smart about what they post on social media, Duperron said. The team has not had any problems with social media, she said.
Other teams handle social media differently. Cal Poly’s women’s soccer team has a written social media policy.
The policy reminds players that social networking sites are public spaces, and tells players to remove anything representing themselves or Cal Poly Athletics in a negative manner.
“Any material deemed inappropriate or illegal (underage drinking, etc.) is punishable by suspension and/or removing you from the Cal Poly Women’s Soccer team,” the policy states.
Women’s soccer head coach Alex Crozier said the policy was created in the early days of Facebook. Some players posted inappropriate material on the website, and the policy was created in response.
The women’s soccer team also has a written hazing policy. The policy defines hazing and says, “The Cal Poly Athletic Department and the Cal Poly Women’s Soccer Program will not tolerate any form of hazing.”
The hazing policy was not created in response to incidents at Cal Poly, Crozier said. Athletics staff were aware of hazing at other universities and created the policy to prevent hazing at Cal Poly.
The women’s soccer team does not have a written policy outside social media and hazing, as Crozier said he expects his players to act responsibly.
“They have the freedom to prove us wrong, and then we deal with that,” Crozier said.
Inappropriate conduct is dealt with on a case-by-case basis, Crozier said. Discipline can range from suspension to having to sit out of games, depending on the circumstances.