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Penitentiary State University?

Posted By Stephanie Geosits On Mar 3 2011 @ 12:37 pm In Penn State | 2 Comments

The latest “College Football and Crime” (dunt dun dun) headline screaming from si.com touts an article detailing a six-month SI/CBS News “investigation” in which criminal background checks were run on the Top 25 teams. The shocking or not so shocking results showed that of 2,837 players, 7 percent had records and 8.1 percent of scholarship players were “in trouble.”

According to the study, only two of Top 25 schools did background checks and none checked juvenile records. Not specified was what constituted a “criminal record.”

Penn State was tied for fourth with 16 players “charged,” so does this mean that the Nittany Lions should change their blue and white duds for prison stripes? Not at all. This smacks of some bad math and sensationalism.

According to an article last February in “The New Hampshire,” a MyBackgroundCheck.com study revealed that 1 in 29 (3.4  percent)  college students have a criminal record. From that report, the percentages of convictions were  driving violations (60 percent), disorderly conduct (9.5 percent), theft (8.8 percent), drug possession (7.4 percent), sexual abuse (5.2 percent), assault (4 percent), fraud (2.7 percent), and child molestation (2.4 percent), ie a relatively small number of the awful stuff.

Yes, the rate for football players is twice that of the co-ed population on the whole, but the authors’ premise that “The number of players with criminal histories turned up by the SI/CBS News investigation reinforces a pervasive assumption that college coaches are willing to recruit players with questionable pasts to win. More surprising, however, is just how little digging college coaches do into players’ backgrounds before offering them a scholarship” is flawed.

If a player has a questionable past he can’t put behind him, then he will be a problem in the program and ultimately should be dismissed. That’s not a “win” for a coach by any stretch when they’ve invested time, a roster spot, and maybe even a scholarship in someone. 

Additionally, in most states, juvenile records are sealed, so even if a coach wanted a look, he couldn’t have one.

Any college program worth its salt, and basically I mean all D-I programs, do check out players’ backgrounds extensively, but the recruiters turn to schools and coaches for insight. Lest we forget, folks, applying to college is not the NFL combine. This is the process by which 18 year-olds, more or less, are continuing their educations and playing careers. It’s pretty likely that teenage boys will have screwed up at some point in their past. Would programs be more “right” NOT accepting any players with criminal records? In this sample, that would exclude 200 young men from playing and possibly getting an education.  The US military a few years ago relaxed its restrictions for accepting recruits with records, so why not college football teams?

What about the players already on the teams when they break the law? If coaches aren’t disciplining them for their transgressions, then they are not doing their jobs. Not too many people would accuse JoePa of being lax on his guys. How many players haven’t travelled to bowl games, or got cut during the year for breaking the law, or even a *team* rule? How many weren’t cut but were called on the carpet after a screwup? Quite a few, actually.

My point is not that college football players shouldn’t be subject to the same rule of law as everyone else, but rather that they shouldn’t be denied the opportunity to go to school and play because of a youthful transgression. If you do the crime, you do the time, but if it’s in the past (especially high school), people should have an opportunity to move on.

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