Illustration for The Intercollegiate by Arielle Trenk

Policing College Athletes, in Big and Small Ways

As we anticipate a very strange college football season thanks to the pandemic, the reporters at The Intercollegiate are back with another massive public-records project that digs into the parts of college athletics that get a lot less attention on game days. They gathered team rulebooks and conduct policies from 236 college sports teams at more than 50 Division I schools.

Luke Cyphers and Daniel Libit point out that team rules are nothing new. Making a pledge of individual sacrifice for the good of the team is pretty much baked into the whole idea.

And plenty of the rules seem very reasonable: don’t show up hung over for games, don’t trash the locker rooms, don’t throw punches at your teammates. But some of these policies, they write, are part of a system that “invades, inspects, lords over, stereotypes, discriminates, and pronounces judgment on multiple aspects of players’ personal lives.”

Some examples:

  • Colorado’s women’s basketball rules frowned on all sorts of romantic interactions. “Examples of relationships that are NOT healthy for your TEAM: Dating the same person as a teammate, dating a teammate, dating a teammate’s ex, dating a teammate’s family member, dating a professor/staff member, managers, interfering in a teammate’s relationship/love interest.”
  • East Carolina’s women’s soccer program went so far as to suggest its players were responsible for managing their blood relatives’ emotions: “Your family should not be negative towards the program, if you are being a good team member and focusing on the positives that should be the way they look at our program.”
  • The Kentucky women’s basketball team rules had 16 separate bullet points about social media, including how players could post no more than four times a day during the season. (Oh, and a retweet counts as one of the daily allowance.)
  • At Prairie View A&M, men’s basketball players have to get any new tattoos cleared with the head coach. They also can’t wear hats backwards while on campus because as the policy explained: “Our team will not look anything less than a student athlete.”

After you ponder what precisely a student-athlete looks like you might also wonder why do these extensive conduct rules matter? Does it make players into employees? Are they professionals? Are they amateurs? Who knows. What we can be certain of is that they’re not like other college students. You know the ones — those undergrads who can recklessly show off their belly buttons, get whatever tattoos they want, and date their friend’s ex-boyfriend. The craziest ones might even tweet five times in a single day.

We’ve republished The Intercollegiate story at our website this week. Daniel Libit, one of the site’s co-founders, has also joined Open Campus as an editorial adviser to help our growing network of local reporters. Interested in more about college athletics than what gets covered on the sports pages? Sign up for their daily newsletter, Extra Points.

— Scott Smallwood

+ A bonus college sports and coronavirus story. Check out this fascinating set of maps from ESPN, which used anonymized cellphone tracking data to illustrate how big-time college football games are “mass mixing” events.

Here, for example, is where people who attended last fall’s Alabama vs. Mississippi game were the day after the game.

Cellphone locations of spectators 18 hours after kickoff
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Town-Gown Fault Lines

Colleges are economic engines and cultural touchstones in cities across America. The fates of the two, town and gown, have always been intertwined, but never more so than now.

New fault lines are developing and power dynamics are shifting as campuses and their communities navigate the pandemic. Through a fellowship from the Education Writers Association, I’ll be examining these changing relationships and what’s at stake.

Right now a lot of attention is focused on iconic college towns with large residential campuses, places like Iowa City and Chapel Hill, that face public-health threats if students come back and big revenue hits if they go home. But I’m interested, too, in the roles of regionally oriented universities and community colleges, the places that enroll the largest number of American college students and that mostly serve people close to home.

How well are those colleges meeting the changing needs of their residents? How can these campuses, financially challenged themselves, help their regions recover when we get to the other side of all of this?

As I dig into the reporting, I’d love your ideas. Which towns should I visit? Which mayors or civic leaders should I talk to? Which college leaders are trying something innovative in managing town-gown relations right now? You can reach me here.

— Sara Hebel

A New Partner in California

Photo by Peter Gonzalez on Unsplash

We’re excited to announce that we’ll be working with CalMatters — a nonprofit news organization focused on covering how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. Through our partnership, we’ll be working with their higher education reporter, Mikhail Zinshteyn, and will be helping to lead a team of student journalists as part of CalMatters’ College Journalism Network.

Through that network, CalMatters trains and pays student fellows, selected through a competitive application process, to cover college issues across the state. We’ll be working with a group of these fellows to produce in-depth, data-driven, and accountability-oriented journalism about higher education in California.

“Student journalists are the experts on their colleges,” Felicia Mello, the editor of CalMatters’ College Journalism Network, wrote when she launched the network this spring. “And with the number of local news outlets shrinking, their work increasingly informs not only students but nearby communities.”

College Dreams Deferred

For wealthier families the idea of a “gap year” might seem fun or even cute, a constructive escape from a maddeningly atypical year. But for lower-income students, a gap year can derail a life. Deferring college now puts them at high risk of never earning a degree.

When college students from first-generation backgrounds take a break from school, two out of three never finish college, Jason Gonzales reports this week in his story for Chalkbeat Colorado, our partner newsroom.

Jason tells the stories of low-income and minority students who decided to defer college because of the pandemic, when real-life pressures intervened. They are students who struggled with classes when they moved online, who spiraled into depression when isolated from family and friends, who opted to work at Safeway to save money before taking on college costs.

Read Jason’s story here.

Keep in Touch

Interested in covering higher education? Sign up for our job alerts, add yourself to our talent pool, and see our latest openings with partner newsrooms on our Jobs page.

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