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Oklahoma football: The Frank Shannon soap opera continues

COMMENTARY — By suspending the linebacker for one year, a decision that has been appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, OU is trying to avoid the kind of federal inquiry that Florida State faces in the Jameis Winston case.
by Jenni Carlson Published: August 12, 2014

NORMAN — A linebacker is fighting the university for which he plays, feuding with the name he wears across the front of his jersey.

That university is fighting back, petitioning the highest court in the state, asking to enforce a one-year suspension of the player.

The Frank Shannon situation?

Soap opera seems more like it.

Monday brought the bombshell that the University of Oklahoma had not only suspended the linebacker for one year after a Title IX investigation into an alleged sexual assault but that the school had also taken its efforts to enforce that punishment all the way to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The university took the action because a district judge ruled that Shannon should not be punished, continuing to practice and have keys to the crimson castle.

So, why does OU find itself in a stranger-than-daytime-TV situation, fighting to keep its leading tackler off the field?

A big one — Jameis Winston.

Yes, the Florida State quarterback led the Seminoles to the national championship last season, but he also led the Department of Education to open an investigation at the school. The department’s Office of Civil Rights is looking into Florida State’s handling of sexual assault allegations against Winston.

If Florida State fumbled it, the school could be guilty of violating Title IX. Fail to comply with that federal law, and the school could lose federal funding. Without federal funding, even major universities would have to lock their doors and shutter their windows.

So, this Florida State situation has administrators at every major university on edge.

Count David Boren in that group.

The OU president is no dummy. Fifty-one percent of the students who attend and pay tuition to his university are women. You don’t want more than half of your customers thinking your school is unsafe, a place where sexual assault is swept aside.

But this federal investigation at Florida State has to make Boren even more insistent about getting this right.

Of course, some folks are wondering why OU wants to punish Shannon anyway. Questions and comments via social media have indicated as much the past few days. The district attorney declined to press charges against Shannon, so how could the school suspend him for a year?

District attorneys must determine if they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime occurred. If they can, they press charges. If they can’t, they pass.

In the case involving Shannon, the victim didn’t want to press charges. That would make the district attorney’s job difficult.

But in the university’s Title IX investigation, the standard for punishment is lower. Where a court must be a hundred percent sure something happened to find someone guilty, a Title IX investigation must be at least 50.1 percent sure.

In Shannon’s case, OU determined that there was more reason to believe that a sexual assault had occurred than to believe one hadn’t.

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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