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Monday, May 20 2013 11:00 PM

SONYA CHRISTIAN: Sanctions against BC's football team are inappropriately harsh

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    When Sonya Christian became Bakersfield College's 10th president last year, she returned to a school where she had previously worked from 1991 to 2003 because it had a sacred mission, she said.

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On Dec. 8, 2012, Memorial Stadium had a magical moment. With 16,000 exuberant fans supporting them, the Renegades played brilliantly and won the California community college football championship. The Bakersfield College program has been an integral part of the community's identity for the better part of a century, and to be state champions heading into the centennial year seemed absolutely fitting.

On May 14, five months later, we received the letter from the Southern California Football Association voiding the wins of the previous two years, followed at 1 p.m. by a letter from the California Community College Athletic Association voiding the championship. What a turn of events.

Except that's not the end of the tale.

Let the punishment fit the crime is a principle that serves as bedrock for justice. Penalties are unfair if they punish those who are not guilty; and remedies are not just if they are harsher than the violations they're for. Yes, there were violations of the CCCAA regulations, but the penalties imposed by SCFA and CCCAA are inappropriate. Put the college on probation, but do not take away the championship from the students who were eligible and won fair and square.

The violations were of a technical nature in that the processes that were followed were outside the institutional process for all students. The students on the football team had a meal every Thursday and they were aware of the availability of housing. However, none of these procedural violations gave the students or the team a competitive advantage.

Our student athletes performed real work that they were paid simple wages for. They lived in unprivileged housing that they paid fair market rent for. It was the mere existence of work and housing specifically supporting a few football student athletes and the free meal on Thursdays that broke the rules.

It might be harder to say what is proportional, but it's easy to say what isn't. The opportunity for a few students to do honest, relatively low-level work and to pay market rent does not provide either special privilege or incentive for a competitive advantage. Neither does it provide a recruitment incentive -- in fact, the team's out-of-area students made up a minuscule 17 percent of the total team, far less than other teams.

But what did make this team special and what did provide incentive for a competitive advantage was focus, a belief in themselves, team spirit and hard work -- a lot of hard work. These student athletes weren't just champions on the field; they were champions in the classroom. The 2012 Bakersfield College Renegades football team had strong GPAs; 25 members of the team had a 3.0 or higher, and four of them had a 4.0 GPA.

The college respects the role of the athletic associations responsible for maintaining fair play. Rules are rules, and however it happened, and for whatever reason, appropriate sanctions are called for that both punish the wrongdoing and make it visible to all that breaking the rules will not be tolerated. But a worse injustice can be created by imposing sanctions on students who were legitimately eligible, and by imposing sanctions that are far more extreme than the technical infractions they are supposed to address.

The community can continue to trust this great institution both in our character as we deal with adversity, and in how we serve you in doing what we do with excellence and integrity. In the face of a complicated and seemingly unfair situation, whatever our sense of distress, whatever response we make, and whatever its outcome, our focus and priority must remain the students. At all costs we must not become a house divided.

The college is grateful for our community's support. Even the initial shock and outrage is in itself a testimony to the depth of community support. Since 1913, Bakersfield College has stood strong as a beacon for this community; an institution of excellence that through all of our programs transforms the lives of students and our community. Today especially though, we celebrate our football program that is a source of Renegade pride that has been here for most of the previous 100 years and will be here for all of the 100 years to come.

Sonya Christian, Ph.D., is the president of Bakersfield College. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.

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