Vanderbilt draws the line between 'tradition' and hazing, punishes two teams

Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 8:39am

When David Williams received word last week from a third party about improper conduct occurring with one of Vanderbilt’s athletic teams, the athletic director didn’t take the tip lightly.

It also didn’t take Williams long to realize hazing had occurred.

On Wednesday, Vanderbilt announced it was imposing sanctions on the women’s tennis and lacrosse teams for separate events characterized as hazing. No one was harmed in either situation but after an internal review by the athletics department, both teams will receive sanctions, including missing one scheduled contest.

Every member of both teams was interviewed last week by Williams and director of compliance Candice Lee, with all but one admitting that she participated in the events. Williams said for one of the teams the act was a new “team-building” event while the other team described their ritual as traditional. Freshmen were on the receiving end of the hazing, which Williams described as “more of an initiation into something but it was very clear to us that it rose to the level of hazing.”

“I don’t want to characterize something as serious or less serious,” Williams said. “I think it is important to realize that these young ladies really did not understand fully what hazing is. I think they understood if you’re doing team building and you don’t want the coach to know about it you probably have done something you shouldn’t be doing. In both cases the coaches knew nothing about it.

“… After we talked to them, [the players] did realize, ‘Yeah, I see your point.’ Because hazing can start off as something very low level and can escalate pretty quickly to something very high level. So we wanted to get in the middle of it.”

Parents of each student-athlete were notified. On Wednesday morning, Williams met with all his coaches in the athletic department to reiterate the importance of looking out for any signs of hazing and stressing the seriousness of the issue.

The coaches of the teams, Williams said, may impose additional team and individual sanctions. Williams added that he has informed university officials, including those involved in student conduct.

In addition, Williams has asked each player to write a paper on what hazing is and how her acts fit that definition.

“The one thing we found in this was this was a team event,” said Williams, who also teaches law at Vanderbilt. “You may write your paper from a different perspective. ... We said to them, ‘You have an obligation to come forth and tell us when something like this happens.’ I made that analogy that, ‘If the seniors came to you and said let’s do this, this and this and it’s an NCAA violation, you have to feel comfortable that you got to come and tell us that.”

The women’s tennis season was supposed to begin last weekend but the Commodores did not compete in the Furman Fall Classic in Greenville, S.C. They now open the season on Monday at the Riviera All-Americans in Pacific Palisades, Calif.

The women’s lacrosse team has withdrawn from the Navy Fall Invitational, which was scheduled for Oct. 13 in Annapolis, Md. The tournament was one of four events scheduled for Vanderbilt’s fall exhibition season. The punishment keeps seven players from playing in their home state of Maryland.

The Commodores start at home on Saturday with games against Cincinnati and Louisville before wrapping up the fall with the Penn Play Day in Philadelphia on Oct. 20. Their 16-game regular season begins on Feb. 3.

The coaches of the teams, Williams said, may impose additional team and individual sanctions. Williams added that he has informed university officials, including those involved in student conduct.

1 Comment on this post:

By: joe41 on 9/27/12 at 10:24

This is a stark difference from other schools penalties. I mean writing a paper on the offence is a terrific way to get the message across. Can you imagine a football player at Tennessee or Florida being asked to write a paper on why they abused their girlfriend?

Joe