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Sports Illustrated is Overstating Claims About College Football Crime

Sports Illustrated and CBS News released their report about arrests in college football.  They ran criminal background checks on last year’s Preseason Top 25 and the results are shocking, if you frame them the right way and make sure to use THE SERIOUS FONT on the cover.

Reporters looked at 2,837 players and found records of 277 criminal incidents from 204 players.  Taking those raw figures one could conclude that more than seven percent of college football players at those 25 schools are dangerous miscreants rampaging their way across campuses. You would think universities are fostering a criminal element to promote success and that you should lock your doors and fasten your chastity belts. But, take a closer look.

The report lumps all forms of crime together. Of the 277 offenses, 105 (38 percent) were drug and alcohol related.  These “included” DUI, drug possession and intent to distribute cocaine. I don’t doubt that the offenses did “include” those crimes but how many were hardened drug dealers?  How many were popped for underage drinking? Should I throw the stones there or at the kids experimenting with pot? Most of us did both those things. DUIs are inexcusably reckless by individuals. A university should react appropriately when they happen, but how does one predict them?

SI and CBS list players “charged with or cited for” a crime, not convicted or arrested. Only 60 percent of the offenders “were guilty or paid some penalty.” It’s customary in domestic abuse cases to make charges initially, then figure out what happened and throw them out.  See LaMichael James. According to the reporters 40 percent of the criminal charges were “serious,” which means 60 percent were “not serious.”

So that’s 111 “serious” incidents from 2,837 players, which, assuming one serious incident per player, is 3.8 percent of players. The national average of adults, convicted for a crime not just “charged” or “cited,” is 3.1 percent.  At worst the average rate of criminality at those 25 football programs coincides with the national average. Even granting them the problem exists, they don’t prove that there’s active neglect from schools or a tangible way to prevent it.

Reporters charge the football programs with neglect for not running background checks on juvenile records.  The Florida Department of Law Enforcement makes those records available for a fee.  Most states do not.  There’s a reason for that.

Separate juvenile and adult courts exist because children often don’t have the same decision-making capacity as adults. In most states those records are sealed.  Courts and law enforcement officials have access in recidivism cases, but the general population does not.  The courts believe kids who make a mistake and reform should not face a lifelong stigma.

Running those background checks is a “simple step” to take in theory, but for a university it’s problematic. It is the school’s responsibility to accept an incoming student, not the football program. A scholarship offer doesn’t guarantee admission. Rich Rodriguez offered Demar Dorsey a scholarship at Michigan despite a juvenile criminal past. The University overruled him.

Many schools have policies mandating prospective students self-disclose criminal incidents beyond minor traffic violations when applying.  With the number of recruits who are quasi-public figures, it’s hard to believe schools wouldn’t be aware.

Universities have to be fair. They don’t have the resources to run juvenile background checks on every prospective student from states that allow it.  Is it fair to do it just for athletes? Just athletes from the high-profile sports where an incident would be embarrassing? They can’t have a special “face of the university” clause to put scholarship football players (often poor black kids) through a grueling, invasive admission process while trusting everyone else.

Even if you get those records, how do you interpret them? Let’s say a wealthy lacrosse player and a poor football player both are arrested for marijuana possession in high school. The lacrosse player’s family hires an attorney who specializes in those cases and gets it expunged. The football player probably doesn’t have the same resources. The former gets into school.  The latter does not.

Even if a university could do this, recidivism isn’t a given. Many players with a past overcome it. Many players without a past are charged with crimes. Many crimes are impossible to predict based on a players’ past.  A background check can’t tell a school that Offensive Lineman A is going to be the guy who becomes a complete asshole while drunk, pick fights with half the bar and assaults a police officer while resisting arrest? Every school is going to have kids who get drunk and do stupid things. That’s different than actively recruiting a criminal element.

Any crime occurring is too many.  There are disturbing individual cases, however, given this reporting, it’s not apparent that crime is epidemic in college football or that schools are actively or passively facilitating it through admissions.

[Photo via Getty]

 

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