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Criminal charges and college athletes: 5 important FAQs

It is an honor to compete as a college athlete. You love your sport, and you have put in years of hard work to get to the level you're at today. If you're on scholarship, you may save tens of thousands on tuition while others can fall into massive student debt. You understand the incredible benefit that provides, as you may be able to get out of school with a financial freedom that others may never have.

If you are accused of a crime or find yourself facing charges while in college, you need to know exactly how those charges will affect your life. Your concerns go beyond legal ramifications. What types of school-related problems could you face? Below are a few helpful questions and answers to consider.

1. Does the school take steps that go beyond the legal case?

Yes, it probably does. Colleges and universities have their own rules and administrative processes. In most cases, student-athletes have to agree to a code of conduct when they accept a scholarship. If your alleged actions violate that code of conduct, the school may have the power to take action, whether or not your guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The standard of proof in a criminal case is incredibly high, but colleges are only bound to their own policies, not that high legal standard.

2. Can the school suspend you before your guilt is legally determined?

Yes, possibly, as long as the alleged offensive behavior is noted in the aforementioned code of conduct. Many athletes feel frustrated or outraged to be suspended while maintaining their innocence. This is not, however, a violation of your rights. In many cases, the school can suspend a student immediately and then waits for the results of the case to decide if they should be expelled.

3. Why do schools use a code of conduct?

The reasoning is that you, as an athlete, represent the school. They may have offered you a free or reduced-cost education believing you would represent them well. If you bring negative press to the school, they may want to cut ties quickly.

4. Will allegations hurt your reputation?

They certainly can. Many cases, especially at schools with major sports programs, can become high-profile stories that sit in the endless online news cycle. As soon as the allegations come out, whether you did anything wrong or not, your reputation can take a hit. This can get worse if you are suspended or removed from a team.

5. Do you need a lawyer?

In many cases, having legal representation is essential. An attorney can help a student-athlete protect their rights in a criminal matter and often in administrative hearings, too.

It is important to understand all your legal defense options. Your athletic and scholastic future may well hang in the balance.

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