The University of Wisconsin athletic department established a player punishment policy in 2003 to investigate and hand out discipline when Badgers athletes face criminal charges.
It was under the Student-Athlete Discipline Policy that receiver Quintez Cephus initially was removed from the football team in 2018 as he faced sexual assault charges. The document was updated a year later after Cephus was acquitted and reinstated at UW.
But the dismissal of Loyal Crawford and the suspension of Antwan Roberts from the Badgers football team, announced Tuesday, weren’t accomplished through the policy. Coach Paul Chryst instead handed down the punishments, athletics officials said, using the broad disciplinary latitude given to UW coaches that can conflict with the athletic department procedures.
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An inquiry into Crawford was underway when Chryst kicked him off the team, an action that senior associate athletic director Justin Doherty said in an email rendered “moot” the rest of the process.
The departure from allowing UW’s investigation into potential charges against Crawford to continue raises the question of whether the manner of his dismissal left UW open to legal challenges.
Crawford and Roberts, both of whom were in training camp as freshman running backs, initially were suspended from the team under the Student-Athlete Discipline Policy after UW was made aware of the details of an Aug. 21 altercation between the two in a UW residence hall, Doherty said.
The UW-Madison Police Department hasn’t released reports on the incident but said in a statement Tuesday that an Aug. 22 investigation determined Crawford armed himself with a knife. The altercation resulted in minor injuries, none of which involved the knife, according to police.
Crawford was cited for disorderly conduct and disorderly conduct with a weapon, according to the police department.
The athletics discipline plan, officially Policy UW-605, lays out a series of events that are triggered by a player being charged with or arrested for certain crimes, or when there’s credible information that suggests a charge or arrest is imminent. The first is suspension, then a prompt inquiry to determine a course of action — reinstatement, reprimand, counseling, suspension and dismissal are among the options.
Doherty said Roberts had been reinstated to the team under the discipline policy after a police investigation. His suspension came later from Chryst.
A player facing an inquiry through the Student-Athlete Discipline Policy has the right to provide information and to respond to details provided by others. But Crawford didn’t get that opportunity because Chryst removed him from the team.
Doherty said coaches are allowed to impose discipline up to dismissal from the team under a separate athletics document. But Policy UW-604 says the punishments from coaches are for incidents “separate and apart from proceedings under the Student-Athlete Discipline Policy.”
The athletic department’s discipline policy doesn’t allow coaches to make the initial decision on suspension, but they’re allowed to be part of the group that hears an appeal of the punishment that’s handed down by the athletic director, the chair of the Athletic Board, a board member and a representative of the chancellor.
Having coaches involved in disciplinary actions is “a very difficult balancing act,” said Matt Mitten, the executive director of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette.
Incidents involving suspension or dismissal attract media attention and a school’s public perception comes into play, he said.
“Coaches typically do want to have as much control as possible,” Mitten said. “But you can see on the other side, from the perspective of particularly a public university, you’ve got to make sure there’s consistent treatment here and there’s not any bias either way.”
Mitten hadn’t reviewed in depth the dismissal of Crawford. But he said such punishment can raise legal questions involving federal constitutional law, equal protection and due process.
Madison attorney Christopher Van Wagner, who is representing Crawford, said neither he nor Crawford ever was allowed to provide information for UW’s inquiry before it ended.
“What I don’t know is what they looked at, what they investigated, who they spoke with,” Van Wagner said. “I can tell you that they never asked for any input from me or from my client. I find that to be unusual. I think that if a school makes a commitment as firmly and as sincerely as they did to Loyal, there should be a parallel commitment to hear him out before making a final decision.”
In a subsequent statement issued Friday morning, Van Wagner said Chryst did try to reach out to Crawford to discuss the incident but he said the coach had the wrong phone number. There was no indication whether another communication method was attempted.
There is no appeal process afforded to an athlete punished by a coach.
After his dismissal was announced Tuesday, Crawford sent tweets claiming that Roberts attacked him in his dorm room.
“I was treated so unfairly in all of this,” Crawford wrote in a tweet that later was deleted. “I want everyone to know that. They didn’t even want to hear my side. he literally broke into my dorm room and tried to jump me while I was sitting on the couch with my back turned to him he started it all.”
In another tweet, which also was deleted later, Crawford wrote: “What would you do if someone broke into your living space and attacked you saying he wants to kill you?”
Crawford was a three-star recruit from Eau Claire who was one of the first commitments to the 2021 recruiting class. Neither he nor Roberts, a three-star 2021 recruit from Hendersonville, Tennessee, was expected to play much this season, which begins at 11 a.m. Saturday when the No. 12 Badgers host No. 19 Penn State.
Van Wagner said Crawford is “grateful to have had the opportunity to come to Wisconsin” and is looking for another school to attend and play football.
Waiting for report
The report of the UW-Madison Police Department’s investigation into the incident between Crawford and Roberts at Ogg Residence Hall isn’t expected to be released until after a charging decision is made. That might not happen until October.
UWPD has athletic liaison officers who serve as conduits between it and the athletic department, police director of communications Marc Lovicott said. They work alongside Badgers coaches and players during games and practices and in off-field situations for personal safety.
“If a coach is looking for information about an incident, we don’t typically information-share like that,” Lovicott said. “We’re a police department, so we treat it as such.”
In a contradictory statement, however, Doherty said in an email that the facts UW athletics officials obtained about the altercation were from UWPD’s investigation. The police involvement wasn’t disclosed publicly until after the punishments were issued.
An athlete can be suspended under the Student-Athlete Discipline Policy for charges or arrests involving sexual assault; causing serious physical injury or endangering the safety of another person; making a credible threat of serious physical injury; drug possession or delivery; felony theft or felony criminal damage; stalking; or other repeated criminal violations.
The 2019 amendment after the Cephus case allowed for suspension when charges were imminent.
Suspended athletes continue to receive financial aid and training opportunities during the inquiry, but they’re barred from practices and games. Players who are dismissed from a team can have their scholarships revoked under NCAA rules.
Colten Bartholomew contributed to this story.