Athletes caught cheating or plagiarizing do not often receive a heavy sentence for first-time offenses; repeat offenses, however, receive less leniency, according to university officials.
The various punishments are academic sanctions, ranging from receiving an F on one assignment to expulsion from school. First-time offenders, almost exclusively, are assigned F’s for their misconduct. Students can appeal and take their case to an academic hearing.
Joyce Ester, the assistant vice president for judicial affairs and division planning, said “99 percent” of the instructor’s reports of cheating or plagiarism that make it to her office are for first-time offenses. Ester said no student under her tenure, two and a half years, has been expelled from Fresno State.
“Students have been suspended, which means that they have to stop out for a semester or more,” Ester said.
The rules around cheating and plagiarism apply to every student across the board, Ester said. Students’ extra curricular activities are not directly affected from a first-time offense.
For example, a student-athlete caught cheating for the first time would receive the same academic sanctions as another student. However, the student-athlete’s playing and practice times would not be affected in anyway. The student-athlete’s coach is not informed after a first-time infraction.
“The cheating and plagiarism forms [from instructors] come to me,” Ester said. “Therefore, the only way the athletic department would know about it is if the student told [the athletic department].”
Ester said student-athletes caught cheating often inform their coaches.
“I think that they’d probably rather their coaches hear bad news from them than somebody else,” Ester said. “But I don’t know that for sure.”
Susan Gutkind, the assistant athletics director for student-athlete services, said she may never know that a student cheated if the student doesn’t report it to her. All reports of cheating and plagiarism are confidential under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
Gutkind said her first priority is to support the university and academic integrity. Student-athlete services teaches good study skills, time management and pride in one’s work, she said, in an effort to keep students from cheating because they backed themselves into a corner and “panicked.”
“We try to do all those proactive things,” Gutkind said.
Gutkind said student-athlete services could become included in the appeals process if informed of the report of cheating or plagiarism by the student-athlete or professor involved.
There is not a finite list of what will happen to student-athletes who admit that they cheated, according to Gutkind. They are handled on a case-by-case basis.
Gutkind said when a student-athlete admits to cheating they take the consequence that the professor gives them.
“In that moment, they are acting as students on campus” Gutkind said. “They fall under the campus code of conduct. We help to enforce the campus code of conduct.”
Gutkind said, in such a case, she would inform the student-athlete and his or her coach that such behavior is unacceptable. However, a first-time infraction rarely affects a student’s practice or playing time.
Gutkind said student-athletes are in the same developmental stage as the other students on campus. So, student-athletes don’t deserve any harsher punishment, such as lost playing time, than the student sitting next to them.
“Our 18-year-olds are the same 18-year-olds that are on campus,” Gutkind said. “They’re 18.”
Gutkind said first-time offenses are handled from a developmental standpoint, and need to learn that actions have consequences. The student-athlete is expected to figure out what went wrong and how to prevent it in the future.
Repeat offenders are on a separate level, according to Gutkind. Repeat offenders are choosing to no longer represent student-athletes and the university in a way that is appropriate.
Gutkind said in her four years at Fresno State, she could not recall any cases of widespread cheating. There were, however, cheating problems before the overhaul in the athletic department.
The cheating problems took place in 2000 while Jerry Tarkanian coached men’s basketball. In an article that ran in February 2003, a former statistician for the team told The Fresno Bee he was paid $1,500 by an advisor, who confirmed the story, to write 17 pieces of course work for three players in 2000.
A member of the honor code committee, biology professor Jim Prince, would not be so lenient on student-athletes, even after a first-time offense.
“I know what I would do if I were the coach,” Prince said. “They’d be gone.”