Bill Manny

Does U of I get it now? Bungling football player’s misconduct case hurt other students.

University of Idaho President Chuck Staben addresses the student government in March.
University of Idaho President Chuck Staben addresses the student government in March.

After getting through the acronyms and policy points in the 21-page investigation report, the question we want answered about the Jahrie Level/Rob Spear debacle is this: Do they get it? Does the University of Idaho understand how it hurt its female student-athletes? Do officials get that overlooking a football player’s misconduct in 2012 and bungling another warning sign in 2013 led to women being abused and feeling ignored and marginalized, until it all came out in the #MeToo cleansing of 2018?

President Chuck Staben says yes, he gets it.

“Your question gets at a point of concern,” Staben told the Statesman on Wednesday. “In 2012, we had a concern about a student-athlete on our campus, Jahrie Level, and had at that time the university taken a different course with him, it is possible that all of the 2013 incidents could have been avoided.”

Bingo.

That’s easy to see in hindsight, yes. But understanding how one misstep contributed to the next that magnified the next is the way that we start to see how to fix problems and prevent repeats.

“That’s very much the tenor of what we’re taking from this review,” Staben said.

Diver Mairin Jameson raised a similar question when she spoke with the Statesman’s Chadd Cripe about the report, which the Statesman obtained Tuesday. Does the school truly understand how it screwed up before she and her mother raised a ruckus about how her case was handled? How the school contributed to anguish that could have been eased or even prevented?

RELATED: We still let abusive college athletes quietly leave town. Shame on us.

RELATED: Here’s how Idaho can help stop athletes accused of sexual assault from repeating on new campuses.

In 2012, Level was charged with providing an underage woman with alcohol and investigated for possible assault. It’s not clear when or how Moscow police notified the athletic department, but that information and suspicion didn’t go high enough. In April 2013, runner Maggie Miller reported to police and athletic department staff that she’d been threatened and harassed by Level. But Athletic Director Rob Spear says he didn’t know that when Jameson reported being harassed and groped by Level two weeks later. Spear then wrongly told Jameson that the university couldn’t investigate off-campus cases.

Had her case been properly referred to the dean of students, she would have gotten advice and referrals to campus resources to help her heal and decide promptly how to proceed. Instead, by the time police finally gathered the evidence to determine a crime had been committed, Level was in another state. He wasn’t charged. He got to play two more years of football at Stony Brook in New York.

It’s no secret that football programs and football players can get preferential treatment and protection in college towns large and small. Or that star athletes get second and third and fourth chances. Staben says “there were issues” with how the university handled that 2012 case, and questions about how the police department informed the school.

“You don’t want too cozy a relationship between the police department and athletics,” said Staben. “You want there to be an objective relationship between the university and the police department.”

So that, too, is changing. Police cases involving U of I athletes will be kept at arm’s length from the players’ protectors in the athletic department.

“The Moscow Police Department has at times followed the policy or procedure of notifying (the athletic department) of student-athlete misconduct, and we are making clear to them that we expect that they will always notify the dean of students of that kind of misconduct,” Staben told us. “That’s important because we need the objectivity outside of athletics in order to ensure we respond properly as a university.”

That’s not in the report; Staben volunteered details of the handling of the 2012 case that were redacted from the version released publicly. Which might explain why we and Jameson felt it failed to answer some basic questions.

To Staben’s credit, he’s not making Spear a lone scapegoat. He says other university officials could have done more and better, and that he’s created a task force to recommend changes.

Staben’s candor is a good sign. As are the reviewers’ conclusion that football coach Paul Petrino “has completely transformed the culture” of the football team, and that the university has improved its processes for handling allegations of sexual misconduct since 2012 and 2013.

But Staben is leaving the university next year, a mutual parting of the ways with his bosses at the State Board of Education. Spear remains on administrative leave, and it’s hard to see how he returns, given the damage to him and his department. So the real test will be for the next president and athletic director to demonstrate to victims like Mairin Jameson and others who have yet to speak publicly that they truly get it, and that the lessons of 2012 and 2013 stick.

Bill Manny is the Statesman’s community engagment editor: bmanny@idahostatesman; 208-377-6406; Twitter/Instagram: @whmanny.

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