Investigation finds universities dismiss recruits’ past crimes

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A special investigation published earlier this month found that 7 percent of players from top college football teams in the NCAA have criminal records. Sports Illustrated and CBS News conducted a joint six-month investigation into the criminal backgrounds of the top 25-ranked college football team players. Of the 2,837 players checked, about 200 had criminal records. UT’s football program has two players charged with criminal offenses, making it the program with the third-fewest players with criminal records in the top-25 ranking. The reporters found only two football programs that conducted background checks, and none of them looked at juvenile records. UT does not conduct background checks. “The first thing that our coaches look for in recruiting is character,” said UT football spokesman Bill Little. “And in a school like Texas, you have to achieve academically.” Little said the most important contact UT football recruiters has is with the high school coach, and then with the school counselor and principal and, finally, with the family. In this way, he said, the recruiters get a good sense of the family atmosphere and quality of life of the player. Both the football team and the university have rules based on behavior, Little said. The team can suspend a player for violation of team rules or the university can take action against any student that violates its rules. “But as far as our football team is concerned, we have very definite team rules and each case is handled on an individual basis,” Little said. The University of Oklahoma is one of the two schools that conducts background checks on its players, yet ranks seventh highest, with nine players charged. “What the article leads people to believe is that all of those offenses occurred prior to the time these players arrived on campus,” said Oklahoma football spokesman Kenny Mossman. “People have asked me, ‘If you saw that these players had offenses then why did you accept them?’ The truth is they had clean records when we accepted them.” Mossman found other faults with the article, such as the way in which all offenses — including simple police actions — were lumped together and compared with a felony assault case involving a Pittsburgh player. Radio-television-film sophomore Brittany Reeber said a football player’s criminal record does not matter to her. “Every student deserves an equal opportunity to prove themselves and make better lives, especially if they have talent. And if they screw up, they should have to deal with the consequences just like any other student,” she said. Rex Grayner, president of Student Athlete Showcase, a company that helps market high school athletes to college coaches, said the firm would consider taking on an athlete with a criminal record if they are athletically and academically qualified to play at the college level. “While there may be some college coaches who elect not to recruit an athlete with a criminal past, our goal would be to facilitate ongoing dialogue with those coaches who, based purely on the student’s athletic and academic credentials along with the coach’s individual recruiting needs and admissions criteria, might consider giving this athlete a second chance,” Grayner said.