DUI Penalties for College Athletes Extend Far Beyond Sentencing


The impact of a DUI conviction on the life of an individual person is readily apparent. But when it comes to college athletes and coaches, the effects of a conviction can spread much farther. Recent news coming out of our nation's colleges and universities has been full of DUI arrests involving NCAA athletes and coaches alike, and those arrests often result in suspensions and dismissals, it is easy to see their negative results. From college freshman on the verge of their sports careers to Hall of Fame coaches, these arrests and convictions illustrate the drastic effects that a DUI can have on anyone.

One of the unique aspects of a career in college athletics is the amount of media publicity when things go wrong. The dismissal of an athlete or a coach for driving under the influence can tarnish the reputation of an otherwise vaunted sports program and hurt a team's chance of success, not to mention the impact on the careers of the individuals involved. In recent weeks and months, several high-profile athletes have faced the consequences of their actions to the detriment of their schools and programs.

Just recently, the Auburn University football program dismissed or otherwise penalized several of its players following incidents involving alcohol and operating a vehicle. Head coach Tommy Tuberville has taken a hard line with those violating Auburn's policies. Linebacker Kevin Spears faces an as-yet-undetermined suspension period after an arrest for driving while intoxicated, leaving the scene of an accident, and public intoxication. What makes his penalty so harsh is the fact that he was already suspended for one game at the end of last season, and his new suspension will cause him to miss the important match-up between Auburn and LSU this season.

Following Sears' incident, another Auburn football player, defensive back Montavis Pitts, left the team following his own DUI arrest. Under scrutiny from fans and media, Tuberville has chosen to deal strongly with DUIs on his team, and the impact will be felt both on the field and off of it.

Another football player at a distinguished college program is also dealing with the consequences of a DUI. University of Tennessee freshman tight end Lee Smith was charged with DUI, and was subsequently dismissed from the team. Smith was arrested after he was found driving on the sidewalk along the university's campus. Coach Phillip Fulmer made the decision to dismiss Smith, telling the Sporting News that he had "embarrassed this great university and not presented [himself] in a manner that appropriately represents our program."

The Duke University lacrosse program has also had its share of controversy recently, and the actions of one the team's players not involved in the widely reported sex scandal will not help matters. Mathew Wilson, a senior lacrosse player, pleaded guilty to DUI and was suspended from the team, drawing increased scrutiny to the team's conduct.

DUI consequences are not restricted to the athletes themselves, however. Earlier this year, well-known and respected Oklahoma State basketball coach Eddie Sutton was stopped for driving under the influence. While technically Sutton left the team for medical reasons, his departure closely followed his involvement in a car accident. Sutton later admitted he had been drinking before the accident. Sutton was six games away from reaching 800 wins as a college basketball coach. Shortly after Sutton's DUI, the University of Delaware withdrew a job offer to coaching candidate Kevin Willard, after learning that Willard had plead guilty to a DUI in 2004.

If there is a lesson to be learned from these highly publicized and well-documented DUI cases, it is that the consequences of a DUI conviction can not only have an impact on your life, but on those around you as well. While you might not play football or basketball on a national stage, you will still have to face the repercussions of a DUI conviction in ways that you might not realize now. The consequences go far beyond those direct penalties imposed by the court.

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