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Crime, college football and perspective

3/3/2011

Sure many of you are aware of Sports Illustrated's story, "College Football and Crime," which was published Wednesday. Kudos to SI for spending the time and money on an important topic.

But Bruce Feldman talked to a few insiders -- coaches and administrators -- who provided a compelling critique.

"There is one big problem with this -- there is no control factor to it," one Big Ten coach said Wednesday. "You could take a house full of 50 fraternity guys and 10 percent of that group may have criminal records with DUIs and assaults from getting into fights. We don't know. If college football is at 7 percent, we might be doing a hell of a job, especially if you factor in the socioeconomics of many of the high schools we're recruiting from. My guess is more than 7 percent of the males from many of those schools would be considered to have criminal backgrounds. Do we wish there was 0 percent? Of course. But they put this out there to shock everybody, but what are we comparing it to?"

Bingo.

In fact, seven percent doesn't sound terribly high to me.

You'd, of course, like it to be zero, but that's just not going to be the case if you consider demographics: 18- to 25-year-old males, often from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds who also happen to be easily recognizable as athletes.

We all are aware of the myriad stories about athletes breaking the law in horrible ways. And, sure, a lot of coaches make compromises in order to enroll elite athletes. Sometimes the coaches pay for those decisions when the young man gets into trouble again and embarrasses the university. Sometimes that gamble pays off when the player becomes productive on and off the field.

My feeling, after covering college football for 14 years, is the latter happens more often than the former (though there may be hiccups along the way).

Further, we'd be far worse off if, say hypothetically, the NCAA adopted a zero-tolerance policy that said no scholarships could be given to an athlete with a criminal record (and, yes, my guess is such a rule would run into trouble with the Constitution).

Imagine 10 four-star recruits with criminal records. Imagine them not being allowed to get a football scholarship. Where do they end up then? Now imagine them all getting a football scholarship. Does that improve their odds for a productive outcome that benefits everyone?

Of course, there are plenty of folks from the leafy green suburbs who don't believe in second chances, who see everything through a black-and-white lens. That's their right.

But a little perspective on the SI report suggests this is a reasonable response: College football can do better when it comes to evaluating the backgrounds of players, but criminality is hardly at a crisis level.