Deregulation and legal action. Out-of-control training and recruiting practices. These were topics that drew much of our readers’ attention in 2017. AB Today has compiled a list of the top stories that broke in this space over the past year. Here are the 10 that garnered the most page views, in ascending order:
In February, Michigan State University athletic director Mark Hollis had to cancel a trip as NCAA Tournament selection chair to address matters affecting his department in East Lansing. Not only were three football players suspended from team activities and evicted from campus housing, but two department staffers were under suspension — one within the football program, and the other being the Spartans’ women’s gymnastics coach, ensnared in the sexual abuse scandal swirling around former USA Gymnastics and MSU team doctor Larry Nassar.
On the eve of this college basketball season came the bombshell that the U.S. Justice Department had unsealed indictments against four Division I coaches for accepting bribes from shoe-and-apparel manufacturer Adidas, as families of recruits were paid as much as $150,000 to help influence their decision to attend Adidas-sponsored schools.
Practicing in April’s recently unfrozen waters, the Northwestern University crew club tragically lost a member after he fell out of the boat he was helping to row and disappeared. His body was later recovered in the North Shore Channel in suburban Chicago. Two teammates who attempted to rescue Mohammed Ramzan were treated for possible exposure.
To say these are trying times for Baylor University would be the understatement of the decade. In February 2017, seven university officials filed a lawsuit accusing former head football coach Art Briles and members of the athletics administration of covering up multiple cases of misconduct within the football program. The lawsuit, filed a day after Briles dropped a libel suit against the school, sited text messages dating back to 2011 proving Briles had knowledge of the misconduct.
We reported in January on a University of Wisconsin study released the previous month by the National Federation of State High School Associations that added some hard numbers to an open secret — sports specialization is not healthy. Of 1,544 athletes studied, 41 percent of females and 28 percent of males were found to specialize in one sport, and in so doing those athletes were found to be 70 percent more likely to sustain lower-extremity injuries.
The health risks of workout intensity reared their head again in January, as a strength and conditioning session held after the semester break at the University of Oregon sent three football players to the hospital with symptoms of rhadomyolysis. The Ducks’ football strength and conditioning coach was subsequently suspended for one month.
Race in America was among the most volatile news topics of 2017, in turn touching nearly every level of sport. The high school football season had just started for Creston/Orient-Macksburg in Iowa when a photo emerged on social media of five players dressed in white hoods posing with a burning cross and a confederate flag, prompting the players’ dismissal from the team.
Among the most troubling items of the past year came to our attention in August, when an anonymous video showed a freshman cheerleader at Denver’s East High School being forced into a splits position by coach Ozell Williams as teammates held her arms. A visibly distressed Ally Wakefield can be heard in the video pleading, “Please, stop!” nine times. Backlash from parents led to the suspension of Williams and four others, including the school’s principal, as an investigation ensued.
Parents can be overprotective, too, as evidenced by a different story that came to light in August. A former Los Altos (Calif.) High School student-athlete and his parents filed a $150,000 lawsuit against the school district and its head baseball coach Gabriel Lopez, alleging that the coach’s decision to not play Robbie Lopez, a three-year starter prior to Lopez’s arrival, during his senior season displayed a “pattern of harassment and bullying” and intentional “abuse of the coach’s discretion.”
Rule No. 16.5.2 proved the most popular topic of 2017. What’s Rule No. 16.5.2, you ask? It’s how the NCAA had regulated what percentage of calories from protein (in this case, no more than 30 percent) student-athletes were permitted to consume through dietary supplements. That is until January, when the association’s committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects successfully proposed that institutions be permitted to provide student-athletes with additional calories and electrolytes in the form of permissible “carbohydrate/electrolyte drinks, energy bars, carbohydrate boosters, protein, and vitamins and minerals.” Such deregulation is regarded as a major victory by the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association, which provided the NCAA with research on the importance of proper student-athlete nutrition.