LSU Athletics spent $128,000 on misconduct prevention as reports of misconduct stacked up

Firm hired to conduct training is supposed to be judged on ‘low number of complaints’

By: - February 8, 2021 11:39 am
Derrius Guice

Louisiana lawmakers have made it easier for victims of sexual assault to access police reports related to their own cases. The incoming law was inspired by a lawsuit brought by former LSU student Samantha Brennan, who had difficulty getting access to a police report she made about former LSU football star Derrius Guice back in 2016. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

LSU Athletics — using money provided by the nonprofit Tiger Athletic Foundation — spent at least $128,513 on training to prevent sexual misconduct, bullying, discrimination and other bad behavior within its department from 2016 to 2020, the same years at least nine  members of the football team were reported to police for sexual misconduct and violence against women.

Since 2017, the NCAA has required all college athletics departments to go through sexual violence prevention training annually. It recommends four educational programs in the NCAA’s sexual violence prevention tool kit, but it doesn’t require any specific training, and LSU offiicials have not chosen to spend money on any of those four. 

Instead, the university hired a private firm owned by former Big 12 Conference commissioner Dan Beebe to provide “human relations risk management,” which includes sexual misconduct prevention. The university also gave athletes access to Game Plan, an online educational platform that provides programming that discusses stalking, sexual consent, sexual violence and healthy relationships. 

The football team also gets some additional programming. LSU has brought in at least four speakers who specialize in talking about sexual misconduct and violence against women to address the team, according to information provided Saturday by the athletic department. 

In November, the Louisiana Illuminator requested records about outside groups hired to conduct sexual violence prevention training with the LSU athletic department between 2016 to 2020. In response to that request, the university provided the contracts with Beebe’s organization, now called PFA Consulting, totaling $128,513. 

Officials have not said how much additional money is being spent on Game Plan, the online educational platform, or the speakers hired to talk to the football team. LSU only mentioned the existence of those efforts Saturday, weeks after the public records request for relevant contracts was made. Saturday’s acknowledgment of Game Plan and the guest speakers didn’t include copies of any contracts or details about cost. 

The powerful Tiger Athletic Foundation pays for Beebe’s firm’s services, even though the LSU Board of Supervisors signs off on the work. Tiger Athletic Foundation is a private nonprofit that helps pay for LSU sports. It raises millions of dollars to construct athletic facilities, pay for athletics’ personnel, fund sports scholarships and finance player recruitment. 

PFA Consulting provides the bulk of LSU athletics training on sexual misconduct, even though athletes and athletic staff still have to go through wider campus training as well. Employees of the athletic department take the same online sexual harassment prevention class required of every university employee. Athletes also go through the MyStudyBody health and wellness course required of all LSU students.

LSU Athletics’ current approach to sexual violence prevention and human relations risk management has been under scrutiny since last fall following a well publicized USA Today investigation. There are LSU football players who not only were accused of sexual misconduct and violence over the last four years, but they were also accused of victimizing women associated with the athletic department. In at least five instances, the woman accusing a football player of wrongdoing was an employee of the athletics department or an athlete herself.

Tiger Stadium
LSU’s Tiger Stadium (Photo by Julie O’Donoghue / Louisiana Illuminator)

LSU did not make athletic department administrators available for interviews, but, in written statements, the athletics department said it has started to make changes to its sexual violence prevention efforts. It’s created three full-time positions within the athletic department and plans to hire two new contractors to provide additional training.

These actions are a step in the right direction, however we recognize the need to continually do more to combat sexual assault, improve reporting and education, and support victims,” athletics spokesman Cody Worsham wrote in a statement. 

Beebe, in an interview Friday, also said he is open to changing PFA’s approach to misconduct prevention. “I’m always up for better ways to do things,” he said. 

LSU’s problematic track record on sexual misconduct, domestic violence

The USA TODAY investigation detailed the ways in which employees in the athletic department and elsewhere at the univeristy ignored sexual misconduct and domestic violence incidents.

USA TODAY discovered that since the beginning of 2016, at least nine football players were reported to the police for sexual misconduct or violence against women– the same year Beebe’s firm started to work with LSU.

Of those players, five were accused of rape; three were accused of domestic violence; and one allegedly recorded a woman during sex without her knowledge and shared the video with others. Most of the accused have denied the allegations. Some players were kicked off the team as a result.

In at least two of the cases, an LSU football player was accused of violence by more than one woman, according to USA Today

Two women say former LSU star Derrius Guice raped them in 2016. A third woman, Samantha Brennan, said Guice took a naked photo of her without her permission in 2016 and passed it around the athletic department that same year. Two of the three women had connections to university athletics — one was a LSU tennis player, and Brennan was a department employee.

Why a former student accusing Derrius Guice of misconduct sued LSU over police records

The three women told USA TODAY that athletic officials knew about their problems with Guice — who holds LSU’s single-game rushing record — though Guice was never arrested or disciplined by the university before he left in 2018 for the NFL. After multiple domestic violence charges were made against him in Virginia, he was kicked off the Washington Football Team. 

Guice’s attorney, Peter Greenspun, suggested to USA TODAY that his client’s arrest in Virginia prompted women who knew him at LSU to make up allegations. “At no time were allegations of physical or sexual assault brought against Derrius during his years as a student athlete at LSU,” Greenspun wrote in a statement to the newspaper. “To bring up such assertions only after the Virginia charges were initiated certainly calls into question the credibility, nature and timing of what is being alleged years later.

“Such speculation and innuendo should not be the basis for Derrius to be required to make any comment at all. But he wants to be absolutely clear. The allegations in this story are just that and have no basis in fact.” 

Two other women who dated LSU wide receiver Drake Davis told several LSU athletic officials that Davis had attacked them. Those women were also connected to the athletic department: one was  a student worker and the other was a tennis player.

According to USA TODAY,  the tennis player, her father and her teammates told tennis coach Julia Sell and other athletic officials about the abuse when it was occurring in 2017 and 2018. Later, Davis sent a text message confessing that he’d hit the tennis player to athletic official Verge Ausberry, though Ausberry told The Advocate that Davis recanted his confession.

Davis’ behavior wasn’t reported to university police until August 2018, when he strangled the tennis player. He was eventually kicked off the football team and expelled from LSU. He pleaded guilty to domestic violence charges.

Drake Davis #14 of the LSU Tigers catches the ball for a touchdown during the second half of a game against the Syracuse Orange at Tiger Stadium on September 23, 2017, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

In the wake of USA TODAY’s reports about the women’s allegations, the U.S. Department of Education is investigating the way LSU handles the reporting of crimes on campus, the university confirmed Friday. LSU previously reported that it has hired law firm Husch Blackwell to conduct a review of how the university has handled investigations into sexual misconduct and violence against women. The law firm’s report is due by the end of the month. 

LSU Athletics said it isn’t waiting for those reports to make adjustments, though. It created two new human relations positions to deal with “education, department culture, and work environment.” It has also added a third position to the Tiger Life team — which helps athletes with personal development and oversees athletics’ cultural inclusion efforts.

PFA consistently rehired to provide athletic misconduct training 

PFA provided training to LSU athletes and athletic staff that was supposed to prevent sexual misconduct and violence in the years that these problems with football players occurred. 

The firm is expected to help LSU athletics “limit bullying, harassment, discrimination, etc.” and “learn how to properly handle any HR claims regarding the above mentioned issues,” according to its contract language. 

Beebe admitted that PFA training is “not perfect” and doesn’t always prevent misconduct.

“There are going to be things that are missed. People — after they sit in the training — some people are still not going to be comfortable,” coming forward to report misconduct, he said in an interview Friday. “We’re just trying to do the best we can.”

Beebe intends to read through Husch Blackwell’s report on LSU’s approach to sexual misconduct when it’s released to see if there’s a way his organization can improve its services.  Before the USA TODAY  stories accused the university of looking the other way regarding allegations of its athletes’ misconduct, LSU appears to have been satisfied with PFA Consulting’s work. 

It rehired the firm yearly between 2017 and 2020 because of the “continued low number of HR complaints from staff and student-athletes,” according to contracts.

Ernie Ballard, an LSU spokesperson, explained in an email that the “low number of HR complaints” refers to complaints beyond those that have been publicly discussed regarding sexual misconduct and domestic violence, though the university indicated it might set a new standard for PFA Consulting moving forward.

“For future contracts, we can change this language,” Ballard wrote in an email. 

Catering to athletes and athletic departments

As PFA’s owner, Beebe brings a lot of expertise to the table when it comes to athletes and top-tier sports programs who find themselves in trouble. Prior to being the Big 12 commissioner, he ran the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference and served as the NCAA’s director of enforcement. 

He worked on the investigation that led to the famous “death penalty” sanction at Southern Methodist University, where the college football team was completely shut down in 1987. The NCAA punished SMU for allowing donors to pay football players to come to the school — not for any problems related to sexual misconduct or violence against women. 

PFA specializes in working with professional and college sports teams. Almost every staff member at the firm was a college athlete. It works with about 20 university athletic programs in addition to LSU, including Clemson, Auburn and Alabama. 

“We get the athletics world,” Beebe said.  

Beebe decided to work in misconduct prevention in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State. A court found Sandusky guilty of molesting several boys while he worked on Penn State football’s coaching staff. Beebe said he was struck by reports that Penn State employees had seen Sandusky molesting boys at the school’s  football facilities, but didn’t seem to know where they could anonymously report him.

While captain of his college football team, Beebe was in a similar situation. He said he became aware of sexual misconduct affecting the football program, but he wasn’t sure what to do with the information. He said he remembers thinking he’d be risking his football scholarship if he talked to the wrong person. He wants other college athletes to feel confident reporting misconduct and crimes. 

Beebe’s college sports experience is a big part of what drew LSU to hire PFA, which stands for “Protection For All.” The contract wasn’t competitively bid — meaning that no other organizations were vying with PFA to do the prevention training — and no other pitches were solicited. 

“PFA was selected for training our staff and student-athletes because of their experience with managing risks, athletics specific knowledge and legal background of the staff,” Ballard wrote in the email explaining the university’s contract with the company. 

Of the 15 motivational speakers LSU Athletics hired to talk to the football team in recent years, six were former college or professional athletes. Three of the four speakers that talked specifically about sexual misconduct and violence against women had ties to the sports industry.

They included Lisa Friel, a former New York City prosecutor who works for the NFL on sexual misconduct investigations, and Chamique Holdsclaw, a former WNBA star who was indicted in 2012 for smashing her ex-girlfriend’s car with a baseball bat and shooting into the vehicle. Holdsclaw, who has been outspoken about her mental health struggleseventually took a plea deal after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. 

One of the additional vendors LSU Athletics plans to hire to deal with sexual misconduct also has extensive experience with sports programs. The university signed a contract with A Call to Men — an organization that examines how the socialization of men has led to gender inequity. 

According to his biography, Tony Porter, the head of the organization, has worked with most of the major professional sports leagues in North America.  

Not all of LSU’s vendors have come from the sports world, though. The Baton Rouge police chief and East Baton Rouge sheriff and district attorney are among the speakers brought to address the football team. The athletics department is also working on executing a contract with STAR, a Louisiana advocacy group that works with victims of sexual misconduct. STAR had stated previously that the athletic department had ignored its offers of assistance in the past

How PFA Consulting does its work 

LSU spent $30,000 to $34,500 annually to bring PFA to LSU facilities in Baton Rouge three times per academic year. Each trip would last two or three days, typically with one or two consultants.

Most staff members and athletes attend one session per year, which lasts an hour and includes time for questions and discussion. To encourage participation, some sessions are limited to 25 or 30 people.

Beebe’s firm asks that supervisors attend separate sessions from the people they manage. It also requests that coaching staffs meet separately from each other so “customized education” can be provided. Teams are supposed to attend sessions without coaches and are separated by gender. Additionally, a small group of “diverse” employees from the athletics department who deal directly with misconduct are given extra training.

During the third trip of each year, the consultants meet with the athletic department’s leadership. In 2018, they also offered extra sessions to “any Athletics Department unit, Sports Team or group of employees that has experienced human relations problems.” 

“We want to create the best environment possible for them to bring up the issues,” Beebe said.

A crucial part of PFA’s approach to handling misconduct is its independence from the university. The firm believes that people in athletics feel more comfortable talking to an outside party about potential wrongdoing than authorities on campus.

“Engaging an independent provider for these services further strengthens LSU’s protections against human relations risks in part because people in less-powerful positions (whether employees or students) who may know of illegal or improper behavior may be too intimidated to avail themselves of internal athletics or campus resources,” reads the agreement signed in 2017.

The comfort of athletes and staff is also the reason that PFA asks to talk to team members without coaches, employees without supervisors and men and women athletes separately. PFA doesn’t believe people will be forthright if they feel a supervisor or coach is monitoring them during the training. 

If an athlete or coach notifies PFA of a problem within LSU Athletics, Beebe said his organization tries to direct them to appropriate officials on campus — or law enforcement organization — to handle the allegation. PFA does not automatically take the reports made by athletes or staff members to athletics administrators, he said. 

One woman who went through the training said this strategy made her feel safe. She said PFA emphasized repeatedly that they were an independent party and that athletes and staff could reach out to them if they had a concern about LSU athletics.

She had no reason to use their services, she said, but she said she would have felt more secure about using them than talking directly to an LSU administrator about a problem. The woman didn’t want to be identified because she works for the athletics department and didn’t want to get in trouble for talking to a reporter without authorization.

LSU complying with at least some NCAA recommendations

Experts on campus sexual violence prevention programs couldn’t comment on the effectiveness of PFA Consulting’s program because they weren’t familiar with it. 

“I’ve never heard of that group,” said Connie Kirkland who has worked with the NCAA for almost 10 years on sexual assault issues. 

“I have not heard of this program in particular,” said Howard Kallem, who worked on sexual misconduct issues and Title IX enforcement at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University. 

Kirkland and Kallem are two of the six authors ofthe NCAA’s sexual violence prevention toolkit, designed to help sports administrators navigate sexual misconduct issues.

PFA does helps LSU comply with some of the NCAA recommendations on sexual violence prevention, though.

In its toolkit, the NCAA recommends that expectations of conduct are “clearly written and communicated to all student-athletes and staff.” Starting in 2019, all students and staff were required by PFA to sign a form indicating that they know that LSU doesn’t tolerate — among other things — bullying, sexual misconduct or physical abuse.

The NCAA also requires that athletes and athletics’ employees know whom to contact if they want to report misconduct. In its 2020 training, PFA provided handouts that include contact information for athletic department staff and other university employees who handle misconduct.

Through its tool kit, the NCAA also suggests that athletic departments work collaboratively with other campus entities on sexual violence prevention — and that both athletes and staff participate in groups and wider events meant to combat sexual misconduct at the university. 

To that end, Kirkland said it’s unnecessary to hire a private firm for sexual misconduct training within a college athletic department, as LSU has done. 

“If you’ve got a sexual assault educator on your campus, use that person. You don’t need to bring in an outsider,” she said. “That person who provides the training should be someone outside the athletics department. Somebody who is either from the community or from the university at large has a more well-rounded picture of all the issues.”

LSU Athletics does try to handle some misconduct allegations internally. PFA’s handouts during the 2019-2020 school year prominently lists the seven members of the LSU Athletics Grievance Team among the people to contact. All the members of the team are LSU Athletics administrators.

LSU put together the grievance team in 2017 at the recommendation of PFA. It is used “as another avenue to address student-athlete and staff concerns. … Depending on the issue reported, the concern may be forwarded to another campus entity (ex. Human Resources, Police, Title IX, etc.),” Ballard wrote.

Some athletes are going to feel more comfortable reporting a concern or complaint to people in the athletic department because they will feel the athletic department will understand them better than another official at the university, Beebe said. 

Among the grievance team members are Ausberry, the LSU administrator who did not report football player Drake Davis’ text that he was violent with his girlfriend.

LSU Athletics also said it “may utilize an outside third-party investigator to help resolve allegations of harassment, discrimination, retaliation, bullying, emotional abuse, hazing, physical abuse, sexual misconduct or other misconduct,” on the form athletes and staff members have sign acknowledging they’ve gone through PFA’s training. 

The form mentions a third-party investigator, but LSU has never actually used one for athletics investigations, Worsham said Saturday. If LSU were to use a third-party investigator, it would not be PFA, Beebe said, because that would create a conflict of interest.

No clear path forward for athlete sexual misconduct training

The NCAA requires that coaches, staff and athletes go through sexual violence prevention programming each year — but doesn’t define what that programming has to include.

“The specifics of the program offered are not dictated by the NCAA (i.e., athletic departments are able to host a variety of trainings to satisfy this requirement),” wrote Elizabeth Taylor, a professor at Temple University who studies sexual harassment and sexual assault with sports programs.

In its sexual violence prevention toolkit, the NCAA suggests athletic departments teach athletes about respectful communication, acquiring consent for sexual activity, active listening and how to intervene in misconduct when witnessing it as a bystander. But without the NCAA mandating what’s in the training, it’s unclear to what extent schools are engaging in this type of programming, Taylor said.

“We might not be educating on what sexual harassment looks like. We say if you see something, tell someone,” she said. “But I wonder if the student athletes understand that if someone is too drunk to drive that they are too drunk to give consent to have sex.”

Kirkland and Kellam said most schools also need to talk about sexual violence and misconduct more with athletes and staff in order to have an impact. In their experience, universities often limit such training to once per year, partly for financial reasons. 

“It’s not enough to have a program once per year for a half hour or an hour,” Kellam said.

Beebe suggested the timing of his program may be a limiting factor on its impact at LSU.

“We think we are doing the best that can be done with such a large department and such a limited time,” he said. “I don’t know what else would work better than what we do, unless you want to take up a heck of a lot more time out of busy schedules, and even then I don’t know that would guarantee that people would come forward.”


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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press. Julie covered state government and politics for | The Times-Picayune for six years. She’s also covered government and politics in Missouri, Virginia and Washington D.C. Julie is a proud D.C. native and Washington Capitals hockey fan. She and her partner, Jed, live in Baton Rouge. She has two stepchildren, Quinn and Steven.