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An Iowa State University “Sport Clubs Review Committee” formed after two students died in a Crew Club accident a year ago has developed a list of recommendations aimed at improving club safety — including new rules expected to reduce the number of “high-risk” clubs.
“Sport clubs that are permitted to engage in high-risk activity would be required to satisfy a number of additional risk-mitigating measures, most importantly associating closely with an affiliating department that would knowingly and voluntarily assume enhanced oversight and risk management responsibilities over the affiliated club,” according to the committee’s report, made public Thursday.
Sport clubs deemed “unreasonably risky” and unable to satisfy new “enhanced risk mitigation measures” would be required to transition into “enthusiast student organizations.”
Those enthusiast groups would serve as forums for “like-minded and passion-sharing students to come together.” But they wouldn’t be allowed to engage in the actual high-risk activity.
“It is expected that the implementation of the ‘High-Risk Sport Clubs Policy’ will result in a significant number of current sport clubs being required to transition away from the active engagement in their sport to the enthusiast-organization model,” according to committee report.
Iowa State has about 50 clubs the committee projects would be deemed high-risk.
The university formed the internal committee following two independent reviews of the March 28, 2021, crew tragedy — one conducted by the U.S. Council for Athletes’ Health and another by ISU personnel “with specific knowledge and experience in areas relating to the operation of student sport clubs.”
The incident that sparked the reviews occurred on a windy day last spring when an ISU Crew Club boat capsized on Little Wall Lake. According to the reviews, club leadership “failed to follow critical health and safety procedures,” like allowing the students to go out despite wind speeds above acceptable limits.
The group also didn’t use a safety boat and didn’t have a Crew Club team member or coach on shore or in a “safety launch” to respond to an emergency. ISU freshman Derek Nanni, 19, of Normal, Ill., and sophomore Yaakov Ben-David, 20, of Washington, D.C., died in the accident.
Iowa State then suspended the Crew Club’s activities until developing a broader risk-assessment plan for its student clubs and organizations.
Iowa State is in the process of arranging meetings with student government leaders, the Sport Club Council, and club participants to discuss the proposed recommendations — with plans to have a new sport clubs operation plan in place by fall.
The committee’s recommendations include:
- Iowa State should implement a high-risk sport clubs policy outlining a new university risk-assessment process for all current and proposed clubs. Groups deemed high-risk must take further steps to be recognized. If they can’t, those clubs will be labeled “an enthusiast student organization.”
- The university should form a permanent committee charged with implementing the new high-risk sport clubs policy. The committee will assess clubs for recognition, among other things.
- High-risk clubs must take additional measures to achieve recognition, like affiliating with a university department; appointing club-level health and safety officers; establishing a club safety committee; adopting a club safety policy; and developing club-level safety training.
- Iowa State should mandate annual training for all club members, advisers, and coaches, and Recreation Services will provide CPR and first-aid training for club health and safety officers.
- The campus should establish a student club reporting hotline that accepts concerns — including health and safety worries.
- Departments affiliated with clubs will take on enhanced responsibility and health and safety risk management — including through department advisers, appointed coaches, constitutions and policies, equipment, funding, and training.
High-risk sport clubs that can’t meet health and safety requirements or have dangers that can’t be “reasonably remediated” will have to “modify their focus.” Such a modification will involve shifting away from actually doing the activity to creating a forum where members can gather to talk and learn more about it.
“The University will not support or facilitate any engagement in the high-risk activity,” according to the committee recommendations. “Under this model, individual students could still explore engaging in activity through an external established local, state, regional, or national club.”
Current clubs deemed low-risk can transition to a new “student sport club organization” designation that no longer falls under the auspices of Recreation Services but rather Student Engagement — freeing up the recreation department to focus on higher-risk clubs.
Club risk level will be evaluated based on the following questions:
- Does participation require physical contact, especially contact that could inflict serious injury?
- Does participation require extreme or prolonged physical exertion?
- Do participants need protective equipment — especially specialized gear?
- Does the activity involve mechanical or electrical equipment or hazardous substances that are flammable, combustible, or toxic?
- Does the club engage with animals or involve contact that could result in serious injury?
- Are participants exposed to hazardous environments, including dangerous weather, heights, water, or enclosed spaces?
- Do participants use weapons or firearms?
- Does participation require insurance or waivers?
- Do participants need a license to engage in the activity?
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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