EKU rugby team to appeal suspension over hazing

Eastern Kentucky University's men's rugby team plans to appeal its suspension over allegations that new members were paddled with a piece of wood nicknamed "Betsy."

Tyler Farrell, the team's treasurer and immediate past president, said a committee's findings that the team violated the school's hazing policy by doling out spankings with a two-by-four are incorrect.

"The information that the Hazing Committee based their decision on is false and misconstrued and we are trying to make that known in our appeal," Farrell said in an email Friday.

On Thursday, the university announced that the team was suspended until Aug. 18, 2014, for hazing. During that time, members may not hold practices, meetings or games. All members must attend an educational session on hazing.

The practice of paddling students with Betsy was brought to the university's attention Oct. 23. According to the hazing committee's report, a freshman rugby player was paddled to the point of bleeding.

"He was drunk at the time and says it wasn't a big deal because everyone does it to be a part of the group," the report said.

The hazing committee found evidence that rugby players "can ask or be asked" to be paddled by Betsy.

Farrell acknowledged Friday that a rugby player was in possession of the two-by-four, but he said it wasn't used as a hazing tool.

"It is not a rugby related thing and definitely not an initiation activity by any means," he said.

The two-by-four started out "at a bar as the prize of a tournament of sorts," Farrell said. A rugby team member eventually obtained it, but people who are not affiliated with the team also use it, he said.

Tyler said the team was troubled by the committee's findings in part because they don't know who the accuser is.

"Every single member of my team would swear up and down that they have never been a part of or witnessed anything remotely close to hazing on this team," he said. "What happened was somebody heard or saw something related to us and felt that they should report it without even knowing the whole story."

Mike Reagle, associate vice president for student affairs, said EKU's policy on hazing does not require the accuser's name to be made public.

"We do that so students will feel free to come forward if things are happening," he said.

The hazing committee — a panel of one faculty member, one staff member and one student — said in its findings that it has been common practice since at least spring 2010 for rugby players to be paddled in order to be considered "part of the 'brotherhood.'"

"Members who are paddled have the option to keep their pants up or pull them down and sign 'Betsy' following the paddling," the report said.

The punishment handed out by the committee includes other measures, such as two-year probationary period once the suspension is lifted. The team also has to pay for hazing training out of its own funds.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader