Depth charts have lost a little depth this year. In the fall sports season, 10 Lancer athletes were kicked off their respective sports for behavioral misconduct involving drugs or alcohol. That’s four from football, two from tennis and four from cross country. The punishments are intended to prevent the use of illicit substances, but dismissing students from sports and other activities on account of alcohol or drug use is pointless from a disciplinary standpoint, and accomplishes nothing in the prevention of alcohol and drug use among students.
Sure, these kids knew the risk they were taking. They signed an athletic participation contract when they made their teams saying that they wouldn’t drink or use drugs. The punishments for violating these rules vary. A first-offense student will be kicked out of their sport for the remainder of their season. Upon the school administration’s confirmation of a second offense, the student will be prohibited from participating in any extracurricular activities for an entire calendar year.
While these rules display the honorable intentions of the district, the consequences for breaking these rules are counterproductive to the overall goal of the prevention of alcohol and drug use among teens.
Involvement in extracurricular activities, be they athletic or academic in nature, plays a big part in deterring students from experimenting with drugs and alcohol, according to John Hoffmann, a sociologist at Brigham Young University. Yes, athletes’ fear of the season-long suspensions may be what keeps some athletes from drinking, but the actual punishments don’t prevent drinking because removing athletes from their sports also removes the fear of suspension that kept them from drinking more often.
Since the prevention of such illicit activities is one of the main goals of the district, removing students for extended periods of time from such activities is counterproductive. A student who is kicked off their team or activity after getting caught drinking is much more likely to drink more afterwards, especially if the only things previously preventing that student from drinking regularly were the restrictions set by the district.
At the heart of the problem are the lengths of the suspensions. Suspending athletes for the remainder of their seasons creates a drastic inconsistency in how long athletes are suspended. Depending on when the punishment is enforced, a convicted athlete can face anywhere between a week to three months of suspension time. This inconsistency in punishment is unfair to the athletes who are caught and punished earlier in their seasons. They end up serving longer suspensions than others who are caught later than them.
In most cases, the lengths of athletic suspensions are too long. A student who is suspended for a two-month remainder of their season is likely to give up on coming back. The more time they spend away from their sport, the more likely they are to not return to it, and the more likely that they resort to drinking more frequently.
The solution to these problems is to have shorter, consistent suspensions. It’s not beneficial to avoid punishment all together, but the current system isn’t either. To discipline students who violate drug and alcohol rules and to prevent substance abuse among athletes more effectively, the district must set a consistent length for all athletic suspensions.
In order to limit substance abuse, this set length must be short, too. A universal two-week athletic suspension should be sufficient. It’s long enough to force a student to reconsider their ways, but short enough to ensure that they don’t give up on returning to their sport and start drinking or using drugs more. Additionally, students should be required to attend all practices and games during their suspensions, which will keep them away from the party scene during their time off.
The district’s goals are honorable in their alcohol and drug policies for athletes. But the inconsistent and excessive punishments it has set for violating these rules must be amended in order to meet its goals. Without reform, the system will continue to do nothing for the problems it intends to prevent.