Open-records report | Inside UI athletics’ ‘Conduct Expectations’ guidelines, covering everything from profanity to practice protocols

By Chicago 10 Min Read

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Attached to every multi-year coaching contract and applicable to everyone on the payroll of Illini athletics is a five-page, seven-section “Conduct Expectations” guide that covers every imaginable do and don’t, from profanity to practice protocols.

Originally created for Illini coaches in 2015, during Mike Thomas’ time as athletic director, and broadened to include all department staffers in 2018, Year 3 of the Josh Whitman era, it’s been edited and expanded several times.

No one physically signs it, but everyone from the assistant equipment managers to Bret Bielema must adhere to its rules.

Ryan Squire

Ryan Squire

“While most employees at this level would know their boundaries as far as grounds for potential termination, having expectations on paper sets the table for productive conversation and education,” says Ryan Squire, UI athletics’ chief integrity officer. “Also, if an employee does step out of line intentionally or unintentionally, it is important for due process purposes to have published and communicated standards to point to.”

With the past three months bringing the firing of one Big Ten head football coach over allegations of team hazing (Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald), the three-game suspension of another for not playing by the NCAA rules (Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh) and the suspension without pay of a third over sexual harassment allegations (Michigan State’s Mel Tucker), now seems like a good time to detail what’s expected — and forbidden — at Illinois.

Here’s a summary of 25 of the shalls and shall-not’s among the UI’s professional guidelines, a copy of which was obtained by The News-Gazette via open records request.

— Employees SHALL “conduct themselves with dignity and respect” when on the job or representing the university in other ways, including when engaging the media or attending public events.

— Employees SHALL NOT “demean or belittle” UI student-athletes, department colleagues, university representatives, employees or student-athletes of other institutions, refs, other officials, fans or members of the public.

— Employees SHALL “model fair play” and, to use a Big Ten term, “sportslike behaviors” for all student-athletes.

— Employees with authority over, or direct service relationships involving, student-athletes SHALL NOT enter into “sexual, dating or romantic relationships with any student-athlete, as long as that student-athlete remains a member of a varsity athletic team, regardless of the age of the student-athlete or whether such a relationship may be considered consensual.”

— Employees SHALL “avoid using excessive profane language or vulgar gestures.”

This is the one that generates the most questions, including: What is excessive?

Says Squire: “We advise our coaches that we understand profanity may be used to get a point across to a student-athlete in practice and competition. What we discourage is directing profanity at a student-athlete in a personal way via name-calling or other personal attacks.

“For example, there is a big difference between saying ‘That was a (expletive) pass’ and saying ‘You are a (expletive).’

“Violations of some provisions in the document are much more egregious than others and would lead to different disciplinary outcomes. Using excessive profanity, in isolation, is likely never going to lead to serious disciplinary action.”

— Employees SHALL NOT “discriminate against or harass any student-athlete because of that student-athlete’s race, religion, age, disability, gender, sexual orientation or any other category protected” by the federal government, state or UI.

— Employees SHALL “only engage in physical contact with student-athletes when such contact is necessary for instructional purposes, medical treatment, or in occasional appropriate supportive or congratulatory situations.”

— Employees SHALL NOT “engage in threatening, abusive or demeaning physical or verbal conduct towards student-athletes.”

— Employees SHALL NOT “require student-athletes to perform physical acts that are not relevant to” their sport but are, instead, “intended to embarrass or degrade the student-athlete, or compromise the health and safety of the athlete or conflict with restrictions or guidelines established by the medical or training staff.”

— Employees SHALL NOT “excessively single out a student-athlete through negative interactions” or “isolate a student-athlete by ignoring him or her.”

— Employees SHALL NOT “discuss individual student-athlete personal circumstances, medical history or disabilities with the media, other student-athletes, parents, friends or others outside the DIA, except to the extent the student-athlete designates in writing a person or persons (e.g., health care provider) who may receive particular information for a specified purpose (e.g., medical treatment or physical therapy).”

— Employees SHALL NOT “retaliate against any student-athlete(s) who raise(s) concerns about an employee’s compliance with these conduct expectations or any NCAA or Big Ten rule or DIA or university policy.”

— Employees SHALL NOT participate in “sports wagering activities” or “provide information to individuals involved in or associated with any type of sports wagering activity concerning collegiate, amateur or professional sports.”

— Employees SHALL “respect and maintain the confidentiality” of student-athlete academic, medical and personal information.

— Employees SHALL NOT “share such information except as necessary in the performance of job duties and with explicit student-athlete consent.”

— Employees SHALL NOT “exert pressure on any (UI) employee to give a student-athlete special consideration regarding any aspect of the student-athlete’s admission standards or academic responsibilities or requirements.”

— Employees SHALL NOT, except in the cases of team physicians and sports medicine staff members, “provide medical advice to student-athletes, including but not limited to any attempt to influence a student-athlete’s return to participation after illness or injury.”

No, this document was not written in response to allegations against Tim Beckman, who was fired in August 2015 amid accusations of deterring injury reporting and pressuring players to avoid or postpone medical treatment.

Squire reports there were early drafts of the conduct expectations guide circulating in January 2015.

— Employees SHALL NOT refer student-athletes to medical providers “without consultation with team physicians and/or sports medicine staff.”

— Employees SHALL, when conducting practice activities and workouts, “adhere to sound safety, hygiene, conditioning, and hydration principles” and “consider weather and facility conditions when planning and conducting such practices and workouts.”

— Employees SHALL NOT, ever, use exercise “for punitive purposes.”

— Employees SHALL, in cases where “an employee has concerns regarding an activity’s impact on a student-athlete’s health or safety,” suspend the activity until the advice of a team physician can be obtained and considered.

— Employees SHALL NOT attempt to “improperly influence any member of the medical or athletic training staff regarding the medical treatment or playing/practice status of a student-athlete.”

This, and “other provisions that prohibit employees from exerting undue influence in sensitive areas such as medical, academic and disciplinary decisions are particularly important,” Squire says.

“Being clear that we do not tolerate employees attempting to inappropriately exert influence in areas that they should not reduces risk and benefits everyone involved.”

— Employees SHALL “take an active role in preventing and addressing drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse by student-athletes.”

— Employees SHALL, in every instance, “report any incident or conduct by an employee that the staff member reasonably believes is a violation of these conduct expectations” — and in a timely manner, so the department and university can take steps to address it. Such reports must be communicated to the athletic director, chief integrity officer, applicable sport administrator, faculty representative, university counsel or Office of Ethics and Compliance.

— Employees SHALL NOT “retaliate against any individual who raises concerns about their compliance” with the department’s conduct expectations or any other rule or policy. The DIA and UI “do not tolerate retaliation under any circumstances against a person who makes a reasonable allegation or complaint in good faith.”

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