Viewpoint: RIT Athletics stands tall on student-athlete welfare

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Lou Spiotti Jr.

There are many great stories to tell about intercollegiate athletics, but often it’s the negative ones that receive significant attention. Recruiting violations, academic dishonesty, illegal sports wagering, performance enhancing drugs and alcohol abuse often grab the headlines.

Risky behavior, including illicit drug use and alcohol abuse, are launching pads for further harmful outcomes, which carry consequences for the student-athlete, the university, the athletics programs, their teams and families. Realizing the need to address this issue, the RIT Center for Intercollegiate Athletics made a decision to be proactive.

In 2006, RIT developed a comprehensive drug and alcohol testing and educational program—subsequently, one of the most effective programs in all of the NCAA at the Division III level. Through the leadership of the RIT Sports Medicine Department, the Center for Drug Free Sport, coaches and administrators, RIT Athletics developed a testing policy and protocol—a thorough process that takes into consideration the issues confronted by student-athletes. While it appears that the drug of choice on most campuses is alcohol, there is a growing concern regarding the use of recreational drugs, which are harmful and habit forming, inhibit team and individual performance, and destroy relationships and academic careers.

The goal is to focus on the welfare of our student-athletes through this program, which features computerized random drug and alcohol testing and associated consequences or sanctions. At the start of the academic year, we meet with the members of the intercollegiate athletic program, including coaches and more than 600 student-athletes, to deliver our expectations, describe the testing and educational program and define their roles as representatives of RIT. Testing occurs three or four times a year. Student-athletes are tested 15 to 25 at a time, but occasionally, an entire team is tested. The reliability of the testing process is very high.

Positive tests are shared with the student-athlete, coach and athletic director. The student-athlete decides whether a second sample (taken at the time of the first sample) is tested. If that sample returns negative, the student-athlete is no longer considered in violation.

If testing is positive, he/she will be given a hearing with the head athletic trainer, their head coach, the RIT Athletics compliance officer and the Director of Intercollegiate Athletics. The hearing is an opportunity to understand the circumstances surrounding the violation and serves as a starting point in helping the student-athlete make better choices. If the student-athlete is found in violation, a sanction is implemented that ranges from temporary suspension to permanent loss of eligibility, dependent on the severity and frequency of violations.

In addition, if a student-athlete is found to be involved in or responsible for a conduct issue either on or off campus that can be attributed to alcohol abuse or drug use, it is considered equivalent to a positive test result and is sanctioned accordingly.

We happily report that this program has reduced violations and incidents by nearly 90 percent. In addition, we have yet to have a student-athlete commit a second offense.

With this program, policy and core values, we feel that we are doing our best to address the welfare of our student-athletes while instilling pride, discipline and healthy lifestyles for everyone who participates in athletics at RIT.

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