COLUMBIA, Mo. – Suspended guard Michael Dixon's sudden departure from Missouri spared school officials from a quandary seen on many college campuses: how to handle rape claims by students that fall short of criminal charges.
Dixon announced plans to transfer Thursday night after two sexual assault claims against him became public this week. He has not been charged in either case, and a brief statement issued on his behalf by the school made no mention of the allegations and a "challenging few months."
The Title IX federal gender-equity law is more commonly known for assuring an equal role on campus for women's sports. But a new, more stringent interpretation of the law issued by the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights requires schools to rely on a lesser standard of proof if sexual assault claims are found to deny equal access to education.
That "preponderance of evidence" standard is more commonly found in civil cases.
"The appropriate burden of proof in the university is not as high as the criminal standards," said Noel English, who manages the university equity office at Missouri. "To me that makes sense. Because in reality, we aren't determining whether there was a rape. We are determining whether there was discrimination."
English emphasized that she was only speaking in general terms, not specifically about Dixon's situation. Dixon's indefinite suspension was first announced by coach Frank Haith in late October, during the preseason. The senior averaged 13.5 points as Missouri's sixth man in 2011-12 and was a projected starter as the school prepared to enter its first season in the Southeastern Conference after leaving the Big 12.
Dixon, from suburban Kansas City, is a former Mr. Show-Me Basketball, an award given to the state's top high school player. He was suspended for two games in December 2010 for violating unspecified team rules under former Missouri coach Mike Anderson, who is now at Arkansas.
A 25-year-old Missouri graduate and former athletics department employee told The Associated Press this week that Dixon forcibly had sex with her in January 2010 after a home basketball game during his freshman year. The woman reported the alleged assault to campus police and was examined for signs of sexual assault at University Hospital, but said she declined to press charges to avoid a public airing of her sexual history as well as the scorn of Dixon and his teammates.
She asked that her name not be used because of safety concerns and the AP also does not generally identify alleged sexual assault victims.
The woman said she met with Anderson and executive associate athletic director Sarah Reesman afterward, and said both were supportive, to an extent.
"He was sensitive to what I was saying," she said of Anderson. "He told me, 'I assure you, this will be handled.'"
A current female student accused Dixon of sexual assault six days ago, disclosing the allegation in a Twitter exchange with former Missouri guard Kim English, now a Detroit Pistons reserve. The woman also filed a police report in August, copies of which were publicly released this week, but Boone County prosecutors decided on Nov. 16 to not file charges.
The absence of criminal charges in both cases prompted a groundswell of support for Dixon's reinstatement among Missouri fans, with some Twitter posts calling for the school to "Free Mike Dixon."
Alan Scher Zagier can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/azagier