How a Trump-Era Title IX Rule Helped Reid Mikuta Compete for Auburn Amid Rape Inquiry

by Riley Overend 68

September 21st, 2023 College, News, SEC

A Trump-era Title IX reform allowed Reid Mikuta keep swimming for Auburn University last season despite being accused of rape since December.

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Education implemented a rule change that prevented colleges from handing down “disciplinary, punitive or unreasonably burdensome” sanctions during sexual misconduct investigations. Removing an athlete from a sports team was among the actions that could be considered unreasonable under the new policy, sparking criticism that due process rights had been strengthened too much.

Last year, ESPN reported that several coaches were forced to keep players on their rosters against personal wishes due to Title IX guidelines. The rule doesn’t outright prohibit suspending a player following an allegation, but the school must show that the athlete poses an immediate threat to a personal’s physical health or safety — a high standard to achieve.

The Trump administration changes also narrowed the definition of sexual harassment, excluded sexual misconduct that occurs off campus from Title IX oversight (unless it is “in conjunction with an education program or activity”), and required live hearings to have an opportunity to cross-examine accusers. President Joe Biden vowed to overturn Trump’s policies during his 2020 campaign, but he has yet to deliver on that promise. His proposed reforms were supposed to take effect in May, but he missed that deadline and appears likely to miss the upcoming October deadline as well, meaning change might not come until next year. The delay is partly due to the fact that staff members must review and respond to nearly 250,000 comments regarding the draft rule.

Mikuta competed at the 2023 SEC Championships in February and NCAA Championships in March, more than four months after police received a delayed report that he had sex with a female “who was incapable of consent by reason of being physically helpless or mentally incapacitated” in October.

A 21-year-old breaststroke specialist, Mikuta helped the Tigers achieve their first top-10 finish at NCAAs since 2016 in March, then entered the transfer portal for the 2024-25 season in July after a planned Olympic redshirt year this season.

On Tuesday, Mikuta was arrested for first-degree rape in Lee County, Alabama, following a grand jury indictment earlier this month. An Auburn spokesperson said he is no longer a student at the university, but declined to offer any additional details. Auburn also denied SwimSwam’s open records request for more information on the university’s investigation into Mikuta, citing FERPA.

Lee County Circuit Judge Christopher Hughes reportedly recused himself because his law clerk is married to an Auburn Title IX investigator with knowledge of the case.

“Too many students have lost access to their education because their school inadequately responded when a student filed a complaint of sexual harassment or sexual assault,” former education secretary Betsy DeVos said back in 2020. “This new regulation requires schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct, without sacrificing important safeguards to ensure a fair and transparent process.”

One of Mikuta’s recent retweets on the platform formerly known as Twitter was a post by Andrew Tate warning that “nobody is safe” from false sexual assault allegations. Research has shown that rates of false reporting are actually low — between 2-10%, on par with false reporting rates for other crimes.

Leave a Reply

Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
2 months ago

Way to go Betsy! Least qualified Education Secretary EVER.

Basic Rights Advocate
2 months ago

The basis of this rule is that people are innocent until proven guilty. What people are forgetting in this entire process is that a grand jury indictment basically means nothing. Only that there is enough going on to warrant looking at. Almost no one (save for deshaun Watson by some miracle) doesn’t get indicted by a grand jury. There is no story here. If you could suspend people from sport based on nothing more than accusations, then anyone could have the entire NCAA suspended by the end of the week. Schools take these accusations very seriously (as they should) and look into all cases – regardless of how much evidence exists for or against a person. If you can suspend… Read more »

Reply to  Basic Rights Advocate
2 months ago

While there is some truth here, a grand jury does not “basically mean nothing” and being arrested and criminally charged is beyond “enpough going on to warrant looking at.” Implying that these are “wild accusations” or “baseless accusations” is pretty lame. Yes, Mikuta is legally innocent until proven guilty, but no one is required to suspend their opinion. It’s not “begging for clicks” to report a serious criminal allegation and it certainly isn’t “defaming” anyone. It’s a separate matter about whether Auburn or Auburn swimming should have handled this any differently. It appears they were legally obligated (it appears) to let him continue studying and swimming while the Title IX investigation played out, and IMO that’s fair enough. It’s yet… Read more »

The Original Tim
2 months ago

Man, talk about fishing for clicks with that headline.

From my layman’s legal perspective, the previous administration’s reinstatement of due process during Title IX investigations was sorely needed. Having a Title IX administrator be judge, jury, and executioner in a case without allowing the defendant the ability to see the evidence, question the accuser, or anything like that was a gross failure of jurisprudence and legal norms.

All that said, I maintain that Title IX itself is flawed. The idea of Title IX has merit, but the execution is flawed across the board, and specifically in regards to sexual assault cases. In many instances you have Title IX investigations carried out by administrators who don’t have anywhere remotely close to… Read more »

2 months ago

Good cop out for the coach, cheesus,

2 months ago

My only issue is – why not suspend him while they did the investigation? And then award him? Maybe it’s because things have changed – but other athletes at Auburn have been suspended for lesser charges more recently (an athletic department decision). As an alum I’m disappointed to say the least.

Reply to  Sarcastic
2 months ago

It does create an unpleasant dynamic. A coach can suspend you for being late to practice one time. But they can’t suspend you for being accused of rape. This rule sort of takes the decision-making out of the hands of the coach – and I can understand that motivator.

But it leaves everyone in a very difficult and awkward position.

SafeSport has dealt with these situations by creating sort of temporary in-between measures. Putting restrictions on what people do when an investigation is happening, and requiring a certain amount of “smoke” before that happens. SafeSport is an opaque process, but it *appears* that they won’t suspend someone just on the basis of an accusation, but instead will begin an investigation… Read more »

The Original Tim
Reply to  Braden Keith
2 months ago

I’m not a legal beagle, but I would think there’s a middle ground where there could be effectively a TRO during the investigation that’s applied to athletes who are accused.

From an administrative, not legal standpoint, think of employees at XYZ institution who are placed on administrative leave while accusations are investigated, something along those lines.

I don’t know what specific terminology or what specific legal maneuver would be needed to do something like that, but I think it should 100% be the wheelhouse of the actual justice system and not a college’s Title IX office. The Title IX office should be the ones applying it to the specific circumstances of the college, but the court should be the ones… Read more »

2 months ago

The Bottom G culture takes another one down with it

Me me meeee
2 months ago

“excluded sexual misconduct that occurs off campus from Title IX oversight” I don’t think is a true statement… most students live off campus and Title IX absolutely is part of any misconduct accusations

2 months ago

Let’s keep politics out of swimming.

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

Read More »