Boise State Cures the Booze Blues (and Orange) With Alcohol Diversion 

Program returns to campus (but the Broncos starting QB won't be participating)

Boise State University sophomore quarterback Ryan Finley is a rising star. As a redshirt freshman, Finley appeared in five games during the 2014-15 season, completing 12 out of 27 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns. Broncos Head Coach Bryan Harsin tapped Finely to be the starting quarterback in Boise State's season opener Sept. 4, when the team will face off against former Boise State Coach Chris Petersen and the University of Washington Huskies at Albertsons Stadium.

An arrest in the early morning hours of April 25 on misdemeanor charges of minor in possession of alcohol and resisting or obstructing officers could have jeopardized his status But Harsin chose not to suspend Finley—and the likelihood of suspension is slim unless new details emerge at Finley's pretrial hearing, set for Monday, Sept. 28.

As the highest profile Bronco in the heart of Bronco Nation, Finley's arrest attracted headlines far beyond the Gem State.

"Some people will never forget what he did or didn't do at this point, and others will forget it," said Jeff Caves, Boise-based KTIK sports talk show host and co-host of the popular afternoon drive sports talk program, "Caves and Prater," alongside Idaho Statesman Sports Editor Mike Prater.

Most Boise State students who receive underage drinking tickets don't end up in the headlines like Finley, but between February and May of this year, students who had been cited for alcohol-related crimes were given a new option other than court dates.

The Boise Police Department's Alcohol Diversion Program is designed "to give underage students a second chance if they're found with alcohol on campus." Six students have already taken part in the program, and a Boise police spokesperson said it has already been a "successful partnership between BSU and BPD." The pilot program will remain in place at least through the fall 2015 semester.

According to Boise State Dean of Students Chris Wuthrich, the origin of the diversion program came from students who received alcohol citations but wanted to resolve the issue through the school, rather than the courts. Last year, Wuthrich's office received approximately 150 reports of alcohol-related infractions, ranging from students found consuming alcohol in dry, on-campus dormitories, to driving under the influence.

Wuthrich's office investigates each report and takes disciplinary action based on how many Boise State code of conduct violations a student has accrued, whether violence or property damage occurred and other extenuating circumstances. The diversion program gives Boise State flexibility to deal with first-time offenders in house.

"What we don't want is for [students] complaining to fall on deaf ears," Wuthrich said. "They did break the law, but let's talk about that: It's an educational opportunity for the current generation. Reflections on personal behavior change over time."

His office integrated the program into its toolbox for dealing with alcohol issues on campus, even beyond first offences. Students who have committed a second alcohol-related offense must pass a longer substance abuse education class and speak with a mental health counselor, as well as fulfill community service obligations and potentially face probation and suspension.

A misdemeanor charge can entail a host of negative consequences, including the loss of scholarships. In some cases, that's the difference between receiving a college education and not; and criminal records follow students long after they graduate. "[Minor in possession of alcohol is] a very serious charge for a young person. There's the potential for a charge like that to stay with a person for the rest of their life, when they apply for jobs, for example," said Boise State University Director of Campus Security John Kaplan. "There was a sense that the city and the university wanted to explore other ways to combat this problem."

The diversion program gives underage students caught for the first time with alcohol a buffer against those consequences, provided the student is enrolled in classes at Boise State, has admitted guilt and the incident took place on campus.

Here's how it works: During initial contact with an underaged student in possession of alcohol—when a police officer would normally hand out a citation—the officer will explain the alcohol diversion program and hand the student a flyer with the details. The student has 48 hours to contact the BPD substation at Boise State to indicate whether he or she will participate. Students may also contest charges or opt out of the program.

If the student chooses to participate, he or she will be screened for eligibility by BPD's Boise State supervisor, then be directed to the dean of student affairs to schedule contacting the student's parents, conducting an alcohol evaluation and completing assigned work as part of the program and alcohol education courses—typically consisting of a behavior and substance abuse reflection essay.

The education course lasts fewer than two hours and, according to Wuthrich, the average student invests between six and eight hours in the program. The student must also pay a $300 fee to Boise State. Failure to complete the program reverts the student's case to BPD.

Alcohol education and work assignments are the time-consuming components of the program. According to Kaplan, the program is about helping usher students into the world outside the academy—preferably with clean criminal records—rather than punishing them for wrongdoing.

"We're looking at this as an opportunity to further the educational process and the developmental process about being good citizens," he said.

That might be more than Finley gets, in spite of the faith the Boise State football staff has placed in him.

"He'll always perhaps have to answer to it," Caves said.

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