A report by USA Today alleges that the NCAA and some top colleges have a history of helping athletes transfer to other schools and continue playing despite having been accused of — and in some cases criminally convicted of — sexual assault and rape.
An investigative piece by USA Today detailed the case of Tristen Wallace, who in 2016 signed on as a freshman wide receiver with the University of Oregon. Within his first fall term there, he was accused of raping two female students and was expelled — twice — once for each case of “unwanted penetration.”
Two years later, Wallace played his first game as a Division I athlete at Prairie View A&M outside of Houston, and he is still considered a top NFL draft prospect.
So how is Wallace still playing in the NCAA?
USA Today reports that much of the reason lies in the fact that the NCAA has no penalties for sexual, violent or criminal misconduct. Even when expelled from school for rape, the NCAA allows athletes to transfer elsewhere and keep playing.
However, Wallace’s case is exceptionally grievous, as the federal government played a role in expunging his record.
According to USA Today:
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) under Secretary Betsy DeVos facilitated a confidential deal between Wallace’s mother and the University of Oregon, in which Oregon agreed to change the athlete’s transcript to remove reference to the sexual assaults.
In part because of the “apparent predatory nature” of the acts, the university had marked Wallace’s transcript with a rarely used notation that would alert other schools to his actions, records show. “Expelled for sexual misconduct,” his transcript said.
But with the federal agency’s help, Loleta Wallace brokered a deal in which Oregon amended her son’s transcript to say simply, “Expelled for student conduct,” records show, a change that would make other schools more likely to recruit him.
Meanwhile, Oregon promised Wallace’s mother that the resolution agreement would “not be discoverable or releasable” under the Freedom of Information Act, but USA Today obtained a copy from a university source.
“The matter was resolved between the university and the former student’s mother, and OCR dropped its investigation shortly after it opened it,” Kyle Henley, a spokesperson for the University of Oregon, told USA Today. “At no time did OCR indicate to UO that OCR had concerns about the accuracy, adequacy, or fairness of our Title IX processes.”
The role OCR played in Wallace’s case represents a broader shift in policy by the organization, as it now is applying Title IX to a broader range of claims, including those made by male students — or their mothers — claiming reverse sex discrimination in disciplinary proceedings.
Wallace’s case is part of a broader culture in college athletics. The USA Today Network reported that it identified at least 33 current and former athletes since 2014 who transferred to NCAA schools despite being administratively or criminally disciplined for a sexual offense at another college. USA Today estimates that the real number is far higher, as most universities refuse to release records from disciplinary proceedings, even though federal law allows them to do so.