GRIZ GRIT: Investigating College Athletes

By Beacon Staff

There’s nary a sports page these days that doesn’t publish investigations on misdeeds or report on the overnight stupidity of an athlete or coach.

It paints a dark and puzzling picture of the current state of sports, but is it an accurate depiction?

As is the nature of the business, it’s the stories about questionable or illegal activity that get the largest headlines instead of the huge majority of people, yes, including sports people, who are doing great things.

Part of the reason is those people prefer to work in anonymity and do such work not for publicity but to actually do good deeds.

But with the recent surge of criminal activity among college athletes, CBS News and (Sports Illustrated) conducting an investigation indicate that 7 percent of players on the nation’s 2010 pre-season top 25 football programs had police records before entering college.

That represents 204 athletes among the 2,837 players, according to a March 3 USA Today story.

What the study does not differentiate is the seriousness of the charges indicated in the police records. It also does not document how that percentage compares to the general student body entering college.

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention numbers provide some insight. It shows that 6 percent of every 100,000 youths ages 10 through 17, a total of 6,318, were arrested in 2008.

The SI/CBS News investigation is attempting to quantify, I suppose, whether there is an increase in the number of criminal incidents at major collegiate institutions because the players they recruit have criminal backgrounds.

I guess you have to start somewhere, but where are comparative numbers and how can you not separate incidents by their seriousness in order to determine what the percentages indicate?

Few universities conduct criminal background checks as part of the recruiting process and access to the criminal records of juveniles is difficult.

The majority of the information about a potential recruit is taken at face value from their coach or maybe an administrator. And the impression a college coach gets in the recruiting process weighs heavily on whether a scholarship offer is forthcoming.

The study concluded further that in 60 percent of the cases where an outcome was known, there was a guilty plea or some penalty assessed and that 40 percent of the alleged incidents involved “serious offenses.”

Now keep in mind, some of what we are talking about is minor in possession of alcohol and other drinking offenses, marijuana possession or even drug paraphernalia, shoplifting and I assume even moving violations.

Now don’t think I am condoning any illegal activity among our youth or anyone for that matter. But this study paints a pretty wide brush in trying to quantify a relationship between the aforementioned stories dotting the sports page and an institution’s responsibility in the recruiting process.

The University of Montana and Montana State University have received their share of bad publicity in recent years over unlawful and serious incidents involving their student athletes. And both institutions have pledged to take a harder look, perhaps seeking more input, at athletes during the recruiting process.

Maybe a complete background check – like what is required for entrance into the military – should be instituted at college athletic departments.

But where is the line that disqualifies a prospective recruit from a scholarship offer and just who makes that decision?

I want no part of that one.

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