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UW SPORTS

Review leads Wisconsin to add OWI to list of offenses that cause automatic athlete suspension

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The University of Wisconsin Athletic Board on Friday approved a change to its discipline policy for athletes to close what athletic director Chris McIntosh said was a gap relating to drunken driving offenses.

All citations for operating while intoxicated now will trigger the policy, which automatically puts the athlete on suspension while the department gathers facts on the case.

UW originally instituted the discipline policy in 2003 to remove coaches from the process of determining punishments for serious offenses but it left alcohol-related infractions out of the scope.

“I think the driving factor behind including it in this policy is to ensure that we have a consistent approach to what is a very serious matter,” McIntosh said Friday. “That was really illuminated by the events this last fall.”

McIntosh asked the UW Athletic Board and UW-Madison’s Office of Legal Affairs in November to review whether drunken driving offenses should be covered explicitly in the Student-Athlete Discipline Policy.

That was less than a month after the Oct. 17 citation of football offensive guard Josh Seltzner for operating under the influence didn’t automatically trigger a suspension under the policy.

McIntosh said after asking for the review in November that Seltzner’s citation “potentially highlights a gap in the policy.” Seltzner’s discipline was handled within the football program, according to a spokesperson.

“I think there’s a better, more centralized approach that could be pursued,” McIntosh said then.

In Wisconsin, first-offense OWI is generally a traffic offense and not a criminal one. But the new policy will apply to all OWI charges, McIntosh said.

The Student-Athlete Discipline Policy applies when a athlete is charged with or arrested for certain crimes and immediately places the individual under suspension from games and practices pending an investigation.

The crimes covered include those involving causing serious physical injury or creating a serious danger to another person; making a credible threat of serious injury to another person; delivery or possession with intent to deliver of controlled substances; felony theft or criminal damage to property; and allegations of sexual harassment or sexual violence.

Members of the Athletic Board questioned whether allowing athletes to use department facilities while they’re on suspension could lead to a negative public perception. McIntosh said he feared cutting off academic and medical support could lead to more damage.

Michael Moll, the assistant athletic director for sports medicine, told the board that athletes who have been suspended under the policy can get referred for treatment for an addiction after meeting with a physician.

Board member Jeff Mack, a former Badgers football player, questioned the public perception of athletes who are suspended under the policy.

“What I’m always afraid of is you’re guilty until proven innocent,” he said.

The policy gives the athletic director, the Athletic Board chair, an Athletic Board member and a designee of the chancellor’s office the power to impose punishments. The athlete can appeal the decision to a committee that includes the board chair, a member of the Division of Student Life, a coach, an Athletic Board student representative and a member of the chancellor’s office.

The group reviewing the potential policy change found that the inclusion of drunken driving offenses varies at other schools.

“I’m content with where we landed,” McIntosh said. “It was a unanimous vote by the board — I think they are, too.”

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