Colleges Prepare Athletes for Bad Behavior in the NFL

Pro football star Ray Rice is caught on tape punching his then-fiancée and casually dragging her unconscious body out of an elevator. Another one of the National Football League's biggest stars is indicted for beating his four-year-old son with a tree branch. Just days later, another player is arrested on domestic violence charges for assaulting his wife.

There are many troubling questions about each of these events: Did the National Football League try to cover up the Ray Rice incident? Are star athletes given special treatment when accused of a crime? Does the punishment always fit the crime?

The most recent - and the one that got most of the headlines - was the spectacle of Heisman Trophy-winning Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who has a history of bad behavior, jumping onto a table on campus and yelling obscene lyrics that were derogatory to women.

The school's original response to Winston's latest offense was to suspend him for the first half of Florida State's game against Clemson last Saturday night. School officials changed the punishment to a full game under pressure, but either way the punishment was absurd. Someone with Jameis Winston's history of transgressions should not have been suspended for half of a football game; he should have been suspended for half the season.

To me, as a college administrator, the underlying problem is that many big-sport schools fail to educate student-athletes on proper behavior, which leads to delinquency in the pros.

The NFL may be the subject of most of the upsetting headlines, but look closely and you'll see that their understudies in college don't shine in comparison. Winston was just the latest in a string of college football players to act inappropriately.

College athletics is a big business that in some schools outstrips academic achievements. At the very least, colleges that sponsor major athletic programs should ensure that they also educate student-athletes. Education also is about learning proper behavior and in these cases -- and many others like them over the years -- colleges are simply not doing enough.

We need to change the culture, best described by former Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Troy Vincent, who told ESPN two years ago: "By the time the player is drafted, there's a pretty good chance he's thoroughly spoiled and surrounded by enablers."

So how do we accomplish this? Some suggestions:

• Colleges should adopt a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate behavior, be it a violation of school rules, poor academic standing, offensive or derogatory remarks, misdemeanors or criminality. We need to send the message early on that such actions are will not be tolerated.

• We must apply discipline equally to everyone, from the star quarterback to a third-string lineman. This sense of entitlement evident in so many top players has to stop.

• Schools should implement mandatory counseling throughout the year to help athletes deal with the pressures of being in the public eye, give them an outlet to voice their frustrations and, hopefully, correct bad behavior before it manifests into something far worse.

Finally, punishments must fit the offense and take into account a player's past problems. For some that may mean a one-game suspension; for others it may mean getting kicked off the team.

Colleges have the responsibility of educating all of our students, whether they're star athletes or not. For athletics to be an appropriate part of a college's mission, it must also serve as a didactic tool. We need to start teaching the right lessons or our students will become adults who spend more time in courtrooms than on the field or at work.