When student athletes and coaches get arrested for driving under the influence, they face more than criminal sanctions. In South Carolina, a Coastal Carolina senior guard was dismissed from the team after being arrested for driving under the influence. However, some schools are less restrictive. A volleyball coach at Florida Gulf Coast University was recently suspended after an arrest for the same offense; the standard punishment for first-time offenders is to miss 10 percent of the season. A student athlete in Maryland recently suffered the same punishment for the same offense.
Repeat offenders may be treated more harshly, but first time offenders suffer little in the way of academic consequences. With such limitations in punishments, are schools doing all they can to prevent athletes from driving under the influence?
The Case for Leniency
When discussing the ramifications of driving under the influence, it is important to remember that scholarly consequences occur in addition to the specified civil and criminal penalties. Individuals convicted of driving under the influence will suffer the punishments demanded by society and our legal system for their actions, including jail time, court fines, and increased insurance rates. Some may feel that capable athletes who attract fans should not be burdened with additional punishments.
In most cases, coaches and universities are not criminally or civilly liable for the actions of inebriated athletes who get behind the wheel. College students are normally legal adults, and hence, need not be supervised like minors. Coaches have no duty to prevent adult athletes from driving under the influence of alcohol beyond the duty that any other individual would have.
The Case for Aggressive Enforcement
This is not to say that coaches or colleges should sweep the incident under the rug. When the police arrest an athlete for driving under the influence, the athlete and the school can face a variety of potential penalties.
There are certain circumstances in which a coach or academic institution may be held liable for an athlete’s misconduct. For instance, according to our Virginia dui lawyer, if a coach or any other vehicle owner handed the keys to a vehicle to a clearly intoxicated individual and if that intoxicated individual injured someone, the coach would have negligently entrusted that vehicle to the intoxicated driver. Thus, the owner would be liable for negligence.
Underage drinking is another problem. Many college athletes are under the legal drinking age. If the school encouraged or provided underage athletes with alcohol, the provider will not only have violated the law, but will also be civilly liable for any consequences that arise from that illegal conduct. These consequences can include medical bills, fines, and attorney’s fees.
Athletes who drink can also suffer consequences on the field. Athletes feeling the effects or aftereffects of intoxication will exhibit poor judgment and reduced reaction times, which will adversely affect their performance. Having athletes who engage in dangerous and irresponsible conduct such as driving under the influence can also be a public relations nightmare for the school. Between a reduced performance on the field and a negative public image, academic institutions have a vested interest in keeping athletes from consuming excessive amounts of alcohol.
Academic institutions have significant amounts of leverage when it comes to student athletes. Student athletes are often on scholarships and granted special schedules by professors. When a student athlete is convicted of driving under the influence, the school may withdraw the scholarship or remove the student from the team. In such situations, the student may be unable to continue his or her education at that particular institution. This may seem like a harsh approach, but a strict zero tolerance policy will encourage the students to avoid excessive drinking.
In all cases, students accused of driving under the influence of alcohol should obtain legal counsel as quickly as possible. A conviction for driving under the influence can cost the athlete more than a fine and jail time; it can actually affect the athlete’s education.
Ann Bailey is a former journalist and contributes this research of college athletic drinking policies for the benefit of athletes in all levels of their careers. The Wilson Law Firm represents any students, athletic or not, who may be arrested for drinking and driving and need a Virginia dui lawyer to help them sort out their best defense.
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