By Dylan Manfre, Shaun Chornobroff and Stephen Neukam
Rider student-athletes were put on notice about their on-campus conduct in a stern meeting with top athletic officials on Sept. 29 after scrutiny of possible involvement in coronavirus policy infractions, according to individuals familiar with the meeting.
This reporting relies on the account of five current and former student-athletes who spoke on the condition of anonymity and are familiar with the meeting.
Athletic Director Don Harnum threatened athletes with canceled seasons, loss of scholarships and suspensions, according to three student-athletes who were on the Zoom call.
Harnum said the meeting was partly prompted by a publicized incident at Centennial Lake on Sept. 27 where individuals were filmed jumping into the water and congregating without masks. In the videos, a student is heard yelling, “we’re track people, baby, don’t f— with us.”
“It was a few incidents. That’s one of them that prompted another meeting with the athletes, whether they were involved or not,” Harnum said in an interview with The Rider News. “If you’re going to tell me you want to play, that’s the kind of stuff that cannot happen because that’s [not] going to work, whether I suspend you or not, it eventually could shut down athletics.”
Harnum said that the department had dealt with multiple individuals breaking university and athletics protocols, but declined to release any details.
Harnum also refused to disclose whether he knew if any student-athletes were at the lake and whether he shared that information with other university officials, including administrators who oversee the Student Code of Conduct. He also refused to say whether any student-athletes were disciplined.
One student-athlete on the call said that the lake incident was a main point of the meeting and that Harnum explained that he had to meet with administrators frequently in the semester to discuss how student-athletes were not following coronavirus protocols.
A Public Safety investigation was unable to identify any of the individuals at the scene, according to Public Safety Interim Cpt. Matthew Babcock. The investigation included an examination of video and card swipe records at residence halls, Babcock said.
Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Cindy Threatt and Director of the Office of Community Standards Keith Kemo said neither of their offices were made aware of the meeting within athletics or the outcome of the Public Safety investigation as of Oct. 19.
“It would be reasonable that any of our various offices would want to help reinforce policy if they believe that there is a particular population involved,” Threatt said.
Several student-athletes raised concerns about the behaviors of their peers, knowing the severity of the situation and hearing what Harnum said was at stake.
Other schools in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) have experienced spikes in COVID-19 cases that led to athletic workouts being postponed. At Monmouth University, because of a “super-spreader” off-campus party, the school temporarily suspended some athletic workouts in mid-October, according to Monmouth Associate Athletic Director for New Media and Communications Greg Viscomi.
As of Oct. 27, there have been 22 violations of coronavirus protocols involving approximately 66 students, according to Kemo.
Kemo explained that the university has been lenient with first-time offenses, saying that Rider has been “more educational, rather than punitive,” with many COVID-19 policy violations. Kemo emphasized that the severity of the punishment will depend on the egregiousness of the offense.
Threatt did explain that punishments can vary by situation and depending on the infraction, first-time offenses could be “very serious.”