College athletes with abusive coaches more likely to cheat

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If your coach is abusive, you might be more willing to cheat in order to win.

That's the finding of new research published Monday by the American Psychological Association, which examined 20,000 student athletes at more than 600 college athletes. The study is particularly applicable after the high-profile abuse accusations against College of Charleston basketball coach Doug Wojcik last week and former Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice in November.

“Ethical behavior of coaches is always in the spotlight,” said lead researcher Mariya Yukhymenko, PhD, a visiting research associate at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Our study found several negative effects related to abusive coaches, including a willingness by players to cheat to win games.”  

The study found that men were more willing to cheat than women and that football, basketball and baseball teams were the most likely to consider cheating to get a competitive advantage.

Also, a willingness to cheat coincided with what was at stake. At Division I universities, where an athlete's performance in college can make or break their career prospects, athletes were most likely to cheat.

Another interesting discovery was that men's and women's basketball teams were much more likely to report that they had abusive coaches. About a third of male basketball players and a quarter of female basketball players reported that their coaches had "put them down in front of others."

There were 11 men's and 13 women's sports considered in the report, which comprised of questions added to the Growth, Opportunities, Aspirations and Learning of Students (GOALS) survey conducted in 2010 by the NCAA.

Abusive coaches have been in the spotlight recently.

College of Charleston's Wojcik has been accused of berating his players, using derogatory and sometimes expletive-ridden language to demean them. Rutgers' Rice was fired in public fashion last November after a video surfaced of him verbally-abusing his players and throwing basketballs violently at them.

A statement from Wojcik's attorney to ESPN says that he will not step down voluntarily and has not been fired.

"It's not true that coach Wojcik is quitting," wrote attorney Scott Tompsett. "He has three years remaining on his contract, and he intends to fulfill that contract. Coach Wojcik very much wants to be the head men's basketball coach at the College of Charleston."

The report said that players felt happier about their college choice if they also felt like they had ethical coaches. Athletes with strong academic honesty standards were found to be less willing to cheat.

Those findings seemed to show that despite what critics may suggest, an ethical environment really can make a difference for how college players and employees conduct their work.

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