Home Pro Ethical Dilemmas in Collegiate Athletics: The Role of Coaches and the Codes of Ethic

Ethical Dilemmas in Collegiate Athletics: The Role of Coaches and the Codes of Ethic

Ethical Dilemmas in Collegiate Athletics: The Role of Coaches and the Codes of Ethic
Photo: http://sportsnaut.com/

Competitive sports have a tremendous impact on our culture, influencing the values of millions of participants and spectators. It has been said that “Sport is too much a game to be a business and too much a business to be a game” (Hums, Barr, & Gullion, 1999). The sport industry is growing at an incredible rate of speed. Estimates by Financial World magazine of individual professional team sport franchises list an average National Football League’s team’s value as $174 million dollars. The 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games saw licensed products sales in the billions (Brecke, 1997). In April 2010, The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced a new 14-year television, internet, and wireless rights agreement with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting. The agreement will cover Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship beginning 2011 through 2024 for more than $10.8 billion. The games will be shown on CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV all four national networks (NCAA, 2010).

In society today, there is a greater concern about the moral and ethical conduct of those in leadership (Jordan, Greenwell, Geist, Pastore, & Mahony, 2004). In particular, rules violations within intercollegiate athletics have risen, which has led to increased pressure on administrators to encourage positive ethical behavior within the realm of their influence. One result of this greater concern about moral and ethical conduct has been the establishment of codes of ethics by intercollegiate conferences (Jordan et al., 2004).

Ethical problems can be understood as difficult issues requiring a moral solution (Aitamaa, Leino-Kilipi, Puukka, & Suhonen, 2010). The problems may be new and unfamiliar, but they can also be recurring day-to-day issues. When solving ethical problems we need to make choices on the basis of our beliefs and feelings about what is fundamentally good or right (Aitamaa et al., 2010).  The concept “ethical dilemma” is used to refer to circumstances when choice has to be made between two equally unsatisfactory alternatives (Thomspon, Melia, & Boyd, 1994). In the literature, the terms “ethical challenge” and “ethical  distress” are also used to denote problems or issues with an ethical dimension but with no exact definition. The concept “moral problem” is defined as a situation in which a problem or dilemma is experienced between your own values and norms and those of other people: a situation which by your own account is not correct or should not occur (Van der Arend, 1999).

The world of intercollegiate athletics is certainly not without its share of ethical issues. Examples of ethical issues within intercollegiate athletics include, but are not limited to:  1) whether student-athletes are being exploited by not being paid for their athletic endeavors; 2) the courting of amateur student-athletes by professional player-agents;  3) gender equity;   4) diversity issues;  and 5) improprieties by intercollegiate coaches and administrators (Hums et al., 1999). Today, unethical behavior displayed in the area of coaching is diminishing the public image of coaching and sports (Tuncel, 2002-2010).

There are several NCAA institutions that are currently under investigation or on probation for unethical behavior. Violations involved include improper academic certification of student-athletes, playing ineligible student-athletes, recruiting violations, providing extra benefits to student-athletes, lack of institutional control, and unethical conduct by head and assistant coaches (Hums et al., 1999). A recent case that has garnered extensive publicity involves the Ohio State University football program.

A chronological examination of the alleged unethical behavior is warranted. Ohio suspended five players for the first five games of the 2011 season due to prior NCAA violations.  The violations included selling memorabilia and awards of improper benefits.  The five players were identified as Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron, DeVier Pusey, Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas.  The university made a decision to allow all players to participate in the 2011 Sugar Bowl given their unethical practices; Ohio State went on to win the Sugar Bowl by defeating Arkansas 31-26.  One may question if the win was more important than the noted violations.  In March of 2011, the Head Coach was suspended for two games and fined $250,000.  It was alleged that Tressel knew of his players unethical behaviors and subsequently resigned as the Head Football Coach.

In June, Pryor announced that we would not play his senior season and enter the NFL Supplemental draft.  Tressel resigned amid reports first reported in Sports Illustrated about further wrongdoing going back almost 10 years. Representatives of the program and university are scheduled to meet with the NCAA infractions committee in August.

The lack of ethical behavior seems to be a common theme among recent D1 players and institutions.  The University of Oregon, another top D1 football program, has been recently cited for unethical behavior. The rap sheet for this program is an embarrassment for any athletic program. Kiko Alonso, a former OU football player was charged with DU1 and additional traffic offenses. Rob Beard, an OU player was charged with assault after an altercation with a woman that left her unconscious and in ICU.

Other unethical headlines dealt with players such as Mike Bowlin being involved in a fight; Garrett Embry and Jeremiah Masoli charged with stealing computers and other electronics from Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house; Jamere Holland, an OSU player, being cited as having vulgar and disparaging comments posted on Facebook; LaMichael James becoming involved in a fight with his (ex) girlfriend and pleading guilty to physical harassment; Josh Kaddu, indicted on a  minor possession, breaking into an SUV while drunk; Matt Simms charged with assault; LeGarrette Blount punching Boise State’s Bryon Hout in the 2009 season opener  (OregonLive.com, 2010).

These are just a few headlines that made huge ripples in the sea of athletes.  A “win at all costs” attitude still dominates intercollegiate athletics. As such, this attitude pressures coaches and administrators to violate NCAA rules in an attempt to have any competitive advantage.  Other major schools such as Cal, LSU, Connecticut, North Carolina, Auburn, Boise State and Oklahoma State are currently dealing with NCAA investigations.

Increases in unethical behavior in intercollegiate athletics and a wide range of ethical dilemmas  provide the framework for the development of a Code of Ethics. These codes are designed to identify appropriate behaviors expected of administrators, coaches, student-athletes, and others. In order to provide members with a clear understanding of ethical standards of an organization, codes of ethics are generally published and distributed to an organization’s membership.

Constant and consistent referral to a code of ethics often allows for the standards within the code to be incorporated into the culture of the organization. The ability of a code of ethics to influence member actions and decisions is often predicated upon this immersion of the code into organizational culture.

In addition to the code of ethics, the literature suggests that coaches should incorporate ethical decision making models when making athletic decisions. An widely utilize decision making model is Zinn’s (1994) ethical decision making model.  Zinn’s Model incorporates the following:

  1. Identify the correct problem to be solved.
  2. Gather all the pertinent information.
  3. Explore codes of conduct relevant to one’s profession or to this particular dilemma.
  4. Examine one’s own personal values and beliefs.
  5. Consult with peers or other individuals in the industry who may have experience in similar situations.
  6. List decision options.
  7. Look for a “win-win” situation if at all possible.
  8. Ask the question “How would my family feel if my decision and how I arrived at my decision were printed in the newspaper tomorrow?”
  9. Sleep on it. Do not rush to a decision.
  10. Make the best decision possible, knowing it may not be perfect.
  11. Evaluate the decision over time.

Through the evaluation of this model, various programs who utilize this technique and others have shown positive results.  The development of an ethical decision-making model for coaches is obviously an area ripe for additional research and thought.  Coaches need to be current with the ethical issues they may confront, so they may be proactive rather than reactive in their approaches (Hums et al., 1999).  With the incorporation of various models, the unethical practices in sports may lead to the decrease in unethical behavior within the sports arena.

Stephanie Harrison-Dyer is a graduate student at the United States Sports Academy.  She works as the Head of Compliance for the athletic department at Albany State University, a Division II school that is a member of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.  She deals with NCAA rule issues on a daily basis.  She is representative of many of the masters and doctoral students at the Academy.  For more information on Academy programs please go to http://www.ussa.edu.



  • Aitamaa, E., Leino-Kilipi, H., Puukka, P., & Suhonen, R. (2010). Ethical problems in nursing management: The role of codes of ethics. Nursing Ethics, 17(4), 469-482.
  • Brecke, T. (1997). USOC Grows UP, Ready for the Future. Team Licensing Business, 9, 41-45.
  • Hums, M. A., Barr, C. A., & Gullion, L. (1999). The Ethical Issues Confronting Managers in the Sport Industry. Journal of Business Ethics, 20, 51-66.
  • Jordan, J. S., Greenwell, T., Geist, A. L., Pastore, D. L., & Mahony, D. F. (2004). Coaches perceptions of conference codes of ethics [Electronic Version]. The Free Library. Retrieved July 04, 2011 from http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Coaches perceptions of confernece code of ethics -a0125303910.
  • Thomspon, I., Melia, K., & Boyd, K. (1994). Nursing Ethics. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
  • Tuncel, S. (2002- 2010). Ethical Code for Coaches [Electronic Version]. The Sports Digest.
  • TV Sports: The 3.5 Billion Ticket. (1996). Broadcasting and Cable, May 13, 34-39.
  • Van der Arend, A. (1999). Moral problems among Dutch nurses: a survey. Nursing Ethics, 6, 468-482.


  1. Good morning.
    With reference to the beginning of the training course and the subject under study, referred.
    Ethical code for coaches. The Sport Digest. http://thesportdigest.com/?s=ethical+code+coaching
    I believe that the awareness of administrators, coaches and student athletes and others, who only think about winning and winning, is the cultural feeling of all these abuses, HAVING AS DIRECT RIVAL, those who really work and strive in the training camps, means, scientific / technological support, to reach the competition, with arguments, psychological, physical, technical, tactical, strategic and administrative / sports support, with effective, efficient, effective management, with results of quality and awareness.
    I believe that THE EFFECTIVE APPLICATION AND ADJUSTMENT to the code of ethics, those who violate the rules and who create an ethical dilemma, should be sanctioned with exemplary legal rigor.
    Because unfortunately the human being, acts as a function of what it sudede or what happens in the environment, this will significantly help the sport base, specialization, trecnificacion, and high performance to have more respect and greater awareness in all directions, without violating the HUMAN SPACE OF HOPE THAT EACH PERSON HAS WITHOUT DISTINCTION OF RACE, GENDER, SOCIAL CONDITION, IS ILLUSTRATED BY PROJECTING IN YOUR SPORTS CAREER, within many years of perseverance and overcoming.
    Which related, to the violator of the codes of ethics, as a common criminal, that I steal, kill, mistreat other similar, that is living filtardo in the sport of the different dimensions and categories, as of individual sports specialties as of collective practice .
    I express this analysis, with experience, training and for being a professional of the sport with 25 years of continuous work in the field, competitions and educator in my Country Ecuador, now in the United States with the permanent Recidencia, waiting for an opportunity to work and contribute in the personal, professional and advice.
    Edwin Cozar
    I hope your understanding, because my English is not very good.

  2. Ethical Dilemmas in Collegiate Athletics: The Role of Coaches and the Codes of Ethic | The Sport Digest | Ethics in Sports {=7=} | Scoop.it

    […] This reminded me of one of the readings from my textbook.  […]


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.