Two women separately accused University of South Florida football player LaDarrius Jackson of sexual assault in 2017, saying the 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end forced himself on them in their own homes.
Yet one year later, Jackson played before a crowd of nearly 30,000 fans as Tennessee State University took on Vanderbilt in Nashville. Jackson, who declined through his attorney to comment for this story, played six games for TSU in 2018, transferring there while facing the possibility of decades behind bars in Florida.
It’s not unusual that his expulsion and ongoing criminal case posed no obstacle to his collegiate football career.
An investigation by the USA TODAY Network identified at least 28 current and former athletes since 2014 who transferred to NCAA schools despite being administratively disciplined for a sexual offense at another college. It found an additional five who continued playing after being convicted or disciplined for such offenses through the courts.
Locally, offensive lineman Logan Tuley-Tillman transferred to the University of Akron in 2016 despite accepting a deferred prosecution deal for illegally capturing an image of an unclothed person at the University of Michigan the same year. He transferred again in 2017 to the University of Texas at El Paso. Due to the agreement, he no longer has a criminal record.
Additionally, defensive lineman Se’Von Pittman transferred to Akron in 2013 after being found responsible for rape at Ohio State earlier that year, Ohio State officials confirmed. He was not charged criminally.
Pittman did not respond to messages left seeking comment, and Tuley-Tillman also didn’t respond after asking for a list of questions.
UA Director of Athletics Larry Williams said privacy laws prohibit him from discussing details about the two athletes. However, he did say both “went through the process just as any other student, be they athletes or otherwise.”
In a prepared statement to the USA TODAY Network, Williams said UA’s transfer process asks applicants if they have been dismissed or suspended from another school or if they have been convicted of a crime. The committee considers the nature of the offense, time since the offense, rehabilitation by the applicant, the nature of the academic program and other factors.
The NCAA notoriously metes out punishments to student athletes for bad grades, smoking marijuana or accepting money and free meals. But nowhere in its 440-page Division I rulebook does it cite penalties for sexual, violent or criminal misconduct. And unlike the pro leagues, the NCAA has no personal conduct policy and no specific penalties for those who commit sexual assault.
The NCAA’s highest governance body, a group of university presidents, chancellors and athletic directors known as the Board of Governors, has resisted calls by eight U.S. senators and its own study commission to fix it.
The NCAA declined to comment for this story.
The list of 33 players identified by the news organization — which operates 261 daily newspapers — is by no means an exhaustive count.
The USA TODAY Network filed public records requests for campus disciplinary records at 226 public universities in the NCAA’s highest echelon, Division I, but 5 of every 6 universities refused to provide the records, even though federal law gives them explicit permission to do so. The investigation also involved combing through hundr of pages of police reports, court filings and other documents, and speaking with dozens of school officials, victims, lawyers, researchers and advocates.
Among the investigation’s other findings:
• Approached by the USA TODAY Network about athletes on their rosters previously disciplined for sexual misconduct, many athletic departments claimed no knowledge of the past offenses. Most schools lack formal background check policies, instead relying on former coaches’ words and a questionnaire called a “transfer tracer” that often fails to capture past disciplinary problems.
• Players regularly exploit the NCAA’s own loopholes to circumvent its one meaningful penalty for those who transfer while suspended or expelled — a year of bench time. Athletes can go to a junior college for a minimum of one semester before returning to a Division I school. Or they can transfer to another NCAA school before the discipline takes effect.
A handful of the NCAA’s nearly three dozen Division I conferences have adopted their own policies banning athletes with past behavioral problems. But their definitions of culpability vary, and some problematic athletes have slipped through the cracks.
The records provided by 35 public Division I universities show they disciplined NCAA athletes for sexual misconduct at three times the rate of the general student population since 2014, and football players were disciplined the most. No news organization, university or athletic institution, including the NCAA, has ever done such a comprehensive study of athletes found responsible in campus conduct investigations.
Campus disciplinary proceedings often are criticized as unfair toward the accused. Some students have complained that schools violated their due process rights and won favorable rulings in court. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is working to allow schools to increase the recommended evidentiary threshold in those cases.
Some also argue that athletes disciplined by their schools are innocent until proven guilty in court and should not be disqualified from competing. However, athletes convicted of sex crimes and registered as sex offenders are also among those who’ve received second chances.
Others criticize colleges for creating the sense of entitlement that can translate into sexually violent behavior. Athletes routinely receive exclusive access to multimillion-dollar facilities, free food, clothing, tutoring, training, medical treatment and equipment, priority registration in classes, full-ride scholarships and even monetary stipends.
The USA TODAY Network reached out to nearly 100 coaches, athletic directors and athletes for comment for this story. All but two coaches and one athletic director declined interviews. Others provided statements instead. Those sources said their schools scrutinized the players thoroughly, believed they were safe for campus and so far haven’t received subsequent sexual misconduct reports involving them.
But that approach may expose universities to what California civil rights attorney John Manly called a “ticking time bomb.” They could be liable for legal damages if the transfers hurt someone there, and in most states, so could administrators and coaches, Manly said.
“If that time bomb goes off while that person’s at school, that university has full liability,” said Manly, who represented the victims of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor sentenced to prison for sexually abusing young athletes in his care.
For survivors of campus rape, the issue is not one of legal liability or policy consistency. It’s about the moral and ethical implications of re-elevating the perpetrators of their traumatic assaults to positions of prominence while leaving the aggrieved to pick up the pieces.
“It blows my mind how transactional it is, and how they don’t think about the consequences for the student body or for the school,” said Daisy Tackett, a former University of Kansas rower who in 2015 reported being raped by a KU football player.
In that case, KU found long snapper Jordan Goldenberg responsible for engaging in “non-consensual sex” with Tackett and sexually harassing another rower in a separate incident, documents show. He was banned from campus, only to resurface on the Indiana State University football team a few months later.
There should have been rules to stop Goldenberg from joining another team, Tackett said.
“There are probably millions of other people that they could recruit,” Tackett said. “I don’t get why it’s so hard for the NCAA to say, ‘Rape is bad.’ “
Williams, UA’s athletic director, said awareness about the issue has increased in recent years.
“I would say there isn’t anything codified that has us be more careful in our admission standards, but indeed in view of all the things that have happened across the country, we are far more sensitive to these issues and analyze them much more closely as we go forward.”
Williams told the Beacon Journal that UA has been “more careful in the hiring of our coaches relative to their sensitivity to these types of subjects.”
Terry Bowden, who was the University of Akron’s football coach from 2011 through 2018 and now works as an assistant coach at Clemson University, did not respond to numerous requests for comment via phone and email.
Beacon Journal staff writer George Thomas contributed to this report.