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Our Views: Student-athletes at UW winning at discipline, too

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January 13, 2014

In case you missed it, something remarkable is developing in that athletic complex known as UW-Madison.

Sure, the Badger men’s basketball team has won a school record 16 straight to start the season, and fans are optimistic that the winning will continue Tuesday at Indiana’s Assembly Hall.

And yes, Wisconsin enjoyed a strong fall season, led by the upstart women’s volleyball team, which reached the NCAA tournament finals. The Badgers had five of six fall sports finish in the national top 25. That helped the UW tie for sixth in the 2014 Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup Division I standings. The cup is awarded annually to the top athletic institutions in various collegiate levels. UW’s position was the highest since the Badgers tied for fourth in the 2006 fall standings.

While that success is commendable, we’d like to direct your attention to the lack of criminal activity involving student-athletes. You’d like to think scholarship athletes would stay out of trouble. That’s not always the case. You’d also like to think a hard-nosed guy such as Athletic Director Barry Alvarez wouldn’t put up with nonsense. During his football coaching stint, however, his players were not immune to problems. It’s a challenge for a coach to keep tabs on dozens of young adults and make sure all are avoiding mischief—or worse.

Alvarez unveiled a new student discipline policy soon after the UW announced he would succeed Pat Richter as athletic director in 2004. As Andy Baggot of the Wisconsin State Journal reported last week, UW saw 17 policy violations from 2004-2006. Players stood accused of crimes such as sexual assault, theft, battery and disorderly conduct while armed. Nine cases involved seven football players, but other sports were caught up in scandals, as well, including men’s and women’s basketball.

Dramatic improvements have come since then. Only three cases emerged in the next three years, and none since the start of the 2010-11 academic year. Social media might be a factor—players know that a misstep could be a tweet or smartphone click away from exposure.

The discipline policy—revised in 2006—is playing a role. It defines the process and repercussions. Alvarez told Baggot he’d like to think the coaches are also recruiting better types of student-athletes, and that notion seems to have merit.

The UW also is cultivating its culture. As Baggot reported, teams are pushing community service, led by dynamic models such as Chris Borland, J.J. Watt and Russell Wilson.

Coaches who don’t put up with troublemakers deserve credit. Teams have rules that supplement the discipline policy. New football coach Gary Andersen dismissed two players this fall after repeated violations of team rules.

It would be nice if coaches could somehow keep players from closing bars and running into late-night trouble. Recall how thugs jumped and assaulted football star Montee Ball—now of the Denver Broncos—more than a year ago.

Sure, the next crime involving a UW student-athlete could occur any day. The lack of problems the past few years, however, suggests a cultural change at the UW that deserves acknowledgment and applause.



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