The Big Sky Conference has announced implementation of its so-called Serious Misconduct Rule, which prevents athletes with a history of convicted violence from receiving athletic financial aid or participating in practices or competitions.

The rule is the result of months of collaboration between conference officials and individuals from member schools, including Title IX office representatives, general counsel, university presidents, faculty athletic representatives, student affairs directors, athletic administrators and student-athletes.

The Serious Misconduct Rule reads as follows: A current or prospective student-athlete who has been convicted of or pled guilty or no contest to a felony or misdemeanor involving Serious Misconduct, or has been subject to official University or athletic department disciplinary action at any time during enrollment at any collegiate institution (excluding limited discipline applied by a sports team or temporary disciplinary action during an investigation) due to Serious Misconduct shall not be eligible for athletically-related financial aid, practice or competition at a Big Sky member institution. For purposes of this provision, "serious misconduct" is defined as any act of sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, sexual exploitation, or any assault that employs the use of a deadly weapon or causes serious bodily injury.

"The Serious Misconduct Rule aligns with the Big Sky's mission to provide a quality collegiate experience for our student-athletes while focusing on their safety," stated Big Sky Commissioner Andrea Williams on the conference's web site. "This rule sets the tone and expectations the conference has for its institutions. The Big Sky is taking ownership and accountability for the culture we create and reputation we project on campus, within our community and in our conference. We are most proud that this step supports the commitment that our Student-Athlete Advisory Committee has already taken to address and end violence on campus."

Added Justice Littrell, a Northern Colorado University football player and the Big Sky's SAAC president, "The Big Sky Student-Athlete Advisory Committee believes in the Serious Misconduct Rule because we know that sports and the opportunity to be a student-athlete is a privilege, not a right. Athletes who take part in actions that jeopardize this privilege should not be allowed to continue on in college. We are taking a stand as student-athletes against this violence."

The rule is effective for all prospective student-athletes beginning with the December 19, 2018, signing period. It will go into effect for all other student-athletes beginning with the 2019-20 academic year.  In unique and compelling cases, an institution may request a waiver of the Serious Misconduct Rule. If a waiver is requested, an institutional panel of individuals outside of the athletic department will review the request and determine if it warrants approval.

The Big Sky has been proactive when it comes to ensuring a safe environment for student-athletes, including the stating of a health and wellness symposium over the past five years with topics that addressed mental health needs of student-athletes, stress management, mentoring those who have alcohol and drug issues, bystander intervention, and sexual assault prevention. Conference officials indicated that they hope the establishment of the Serious Misconduct Rule inspires other leagues, institutions and the NCAA to follow suit.

Paul Steinbach is Senior Editor of Athletic Business.