Close Ault’s law office

On Aug. 3, the Reno Gazette-Journal published an interview with University of Nevada, Reno coach Chris Ault. Ault said that, upon taking over as football coach on Dec. 3, he revoked the policy of suspending players accused of felonies until the charges against them were resolved. In its place, he imposed a policy of kicking players off the team merely for being accused of felonies.

Ault calls this “zero tolerance,” a discredited term that has been used to excuse crimes committed by drug enforcement agents. In Ault’s hands the policy would be better described as zero I.Q.

Under Ault’s policy, a player who is later cleared has an “appeals process” to use to get back on the team. In other words, an innocent person must apply for his rights. Quotes in the RG-J story made clear that Ault reacts emotionally to these incidents and considers an accusation equivalent to guilt. But this is the United States, and last we heard, there is still such a thing as innocence until guilt is proven.

There is no question that UNR has a problem with its players. Reviewing the last year and a half’s felony accusations against nine UNR players, San Francisco columnist Tom Fitzgerald on Tuesday called the team “a true wolf pack.”

That doesn’t excuse using rapacious, wolf-like tactics against the athletes. And the fact that former coach Chris Tormey recruited all the players doesn’t diminish the unfairness of the policy; in fact, it makes Ault’s motives even more suspect.

And it is well to remember that the university system has bigger problems than allegedly criminal athletes. Its biggest problem is a whopping pile of lawsuits—one of which has just been settled for $400,000. Ault’s rule is another lawsuit waiting to happen.

Beyond the disastrous rule Ault has put in place, it needs to be asked what business he has writing such rules in the first place. Chris Ault is not an attorney. This is a job for the university counsel and top administrators with less emotional stake in the situation. Ault will naturally grab the chance to do it if he is permitted to—coaches thrive on the disreputable old doctrine that a coach with a good record can make his own rules. But he should not be allowed within 10 city blocks of a decision like this.

Ault likes to call himself the “little general.” It’s time for a Harry Truman to curb Ault’s MacArthur complex.

It is outrageous that a coach is making decisions of this gravity. Ault is out of his league—but those above him who permit this state of affairs are worse.