Background Checks for College Football Players: Right or Wrong for NCAA?

Sports Illustrated ran an article this morning detailing the results of background checks into all college football players who play for the Top 25 ranked schools in the country.


The results are unsurprising: some college football players have criminal records.

In fact, SI found that 7 percent of all college football players had criminal records, a total that rose to 8.1 percent amongst scholarship players.

What's interesting in the report is its conclusion that few schools are doing all they can to weed out criminal athletes. According to SI, only two schools (Oklahoma and Texas Christian University) performed criminal background checks on all players -- and none checked juvenile records.

The University of Arizona and Arizona State University are not Top 25 programs so they were not included in the magazine's study. New Times contacted both schools to ask if they perform background checks on their student-athletes. Their response probably won't shock you.

"No, not normally," answers University of Arizona Associate Athletic Director for Compliance Bill Morgan. "Under normal circumstances during the recruiting process our coaches are going to have an idea if there's something like that in [the player's] background.

"If you're paying attention, you're going to know if there's something there," he adds..

Morgan defends his school against any suggestion that coaches might not want to know if the player has a record.

"I was a football coach for 20-something years, been a compliance director for 20 more. None of the people that I've ever been around in coaching wouldn't want to know," says Morgan. "Some would want to know because they don't want that kind of kid on the team. Others would want to help the kid."

He says enough problems make their way onto the team even when coaches do their due diligence, although he acknowledges that talent can make a difference in the assessment of a player.

"There's a little Father Flannigan in most football coaches," Morgan says. "The flipside of the coin is, if he can really run, it's worth the gamble."

Arizona State University Athletic Director Lisa Love's office directed New Times to Mark Brand, an Associate AD for Media Relations, who wrote in an e-mail that ASU recruiters get to know players through a recruiting process that includes extensive interviews but do not pay for background checks. Edit: Brand wrote New Times after this blog was published to say, " I am told that our coaches/staffs do that online."

As Sports Illustrated notes, some programs -- like the University of Pittsburgh's -- have had major problems with players. NCAA President Mark Emmett expressed alarm to the magazine about their statistics.

"Seven percent, that's way too high," Emmett said. "I think 2 percent is too high. You certainly don't want a large number of people with criminal backgrounds involved in activities that represent the NCAA."

It's almost laughable that the NCAA does not mandate criminal background checks into its athletes, considering how sanctimonious the league is about making sure its competitors are squeaky clean on the surface. The NCAA is an organization that vacates entire seasons for acts of cheating and erases Heisman Trophy winners from its history on a whim. But they don't mandate background checks?

New Times does not know whether a college football team should run a background check on every athlete it signs, not just because winning is everything but because coaches deserve the right to decide whom they want to accept on their teams. We're sure there are people who disagree, especially at public schools.

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Gregory Pratt
Contact: Gregory Pratt