JonChristopher Collins – Evangel University
Hypothetically, campus buzz spreads that an athlete displayed inappropriate behavior contrary to Evangel University’s rules; some people even criticize the punishment decided on as unfair. Do critics really understand how the process works?
Dennis McDonald, director of athletics, said reports of athletes violating Evangel conduct rules is low; according to statistics provided by EU administration, as of March 5. 2019, 2.8% of students were on Probation Level 1 [P1] discipline status or higher (as defined by the Evangel University Student Handbook) and 42% of that 2.8% were athletes.
Evangel is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). Within NAIA, Evangel is a Division I school in the Heart of America Conference (HOA). Phillip Dowden is Evangel’s assistant athletic director. Dowden said the NAIA is the governing body for Evangel athletics; it is a large umbrella that houses conferences. NAIA member schools must follow NAIA guidelines and the guidelines of their conferences; for Evangel, that conference is HOA. “The majority of their [NAIA] institutions are private, religious affiliated schools,” Dowden said.
Dowden said that what athletic misconduct is and how it is handled is partially governed by the NAIA. Dowden said it depends on the violation; while the NAIA and HOA have rules, it is Evangel’s rules that restrict social behaviors like drinking alcohol. The NAIA does not govern those kinds of actions; instead NAIA deals with competition behavior and ethics. The Evangel University Student-Athlete Handbook reflects the NAIA’s rules but also includes more in conjunction with the Evangel University Student Handbook. On top of that, all 14 Evangel intercollegiate teams have their own rules regarding discipline; those rules can add to the discipline outlined in the student handbook.
McDonald oversees Evangel’s intercollegiate athletics. He said that EU’s Student-Athlete Handbook is probably more restrictive than the NAIA and HOA rules. “Our handbook needs to be completely consistent with the student handbook of Evangel University,” McDonald said. McDonald said he links the student handbook to the athletic handbook to promote consistency with Evangel’s expectations regarding certain conduct behaviors. McDonald said reports of athletes violating Evangel conduct rules is low. However, if athletes are reported and found to be in violation, disciplinary action is taken. McDonald said in a situation like this, university administration works with his office and the coaches involved. “We can never give a lesser consequence than what the institution would require,” he said. McDonald said that he or the athlete’s coach can provide a stronger consequence. If McDonald learns of any athlete’s conduct that needs to be investigated, he reports to EU administration and vice versa. The investigation is a team effort involving multiple parties.
Sidebar – A Player’s Perspective and Critique
Evangel Senior Garrett Bills played football for four years. He said he appreciates the discipline that Evangel football offers. Bills said that in his time playing for Evangel a player was suspended at least once every year. He also said he remembers a time when a player was suspended for half a season. “Honestly, I fully believe all this discipline is because most of our coaching staff loves each and every single one of the players,” Bills said. He credits Football Head Coach Chuck Hepola for providing healthy discipline. “He [Hepola] does an amazing job of making sure everything is taken care of the proper way,” he said. Bills said he does not see Evangel Athletics personnel playing favorites when it comes to punishing misconduct; team captains and top players get treated like all of their teammates.
Aside from EU’s disciplinary polices, Evangel coaches have their own methods to deal with team discipline. Bills said the five strike program that football has can be improved. “The way things currently work, is that if a player is on his fourth strike, but the team has accomplished something or is in a transition time, the coach can choose to clear the board,” Bills said. While Bills has completed his EU Football career, current EU Football athletes, Junior Micah Daniels and Senior Andrew Poppen said that clearing the board still happens. Daniels said that when Hepola clears the board he does it for every player on the team. “He usually does it twice a semester so four times total,” Daniels said. He added that it usually happens after breaks like Spring Break. Daniels said it is a way to show grace and mercy.
Bills said he thinks this practice needs to be reformed to remove one strike rather than all of them. “Although this keeps players on the field, it can be very frustrating sometimes to players who never get strikes because often times they are disciplined for the actions of their teammates. With that being said, I feel as though the policy should still be in place to reward players for their hard work however I think they should change it to where it is not fully cleared,” he said.