Thursday, November 15, 2007

Culling the Flock

November 15, 2007, 6:30, 8:45 a.m., 12:20 p.m.

How About Them Hawks?!

There's lots to be said about the latest news from the locker room: Three Hawkeye football players are being investigated for sexual assault. See, e.g., Lee Hermiston, "UI football players under investigation; 3 Hawks questioned in alleged sexual assault," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 15, 2007, p. A1. For more detail see, Tom Witosky and Mason Kerns, "UI Football: Players Questioned in Case," Des Moines Register, November 15, 2007.

But the bottom line most significant -- and most constructive and helpful -- comment is contained in the commentary of Press-Citizen sports reporter Ryan Suchomel, "Hawks Face More Woes," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 15, 2007, p. B1.

The answer is to be found in a single sentence toward the end of his column: "He [Hawkeye football coach Kirk Ferentz] may have to reevaluate the young men he's inviting to campus."

Isn't that what it's all about?

Remember the 1970s computer observation that you can't get any better out of a computer than what you put into it ("GIGO," or "garbage in, garbage out")?

Well, the same thing applies to the ingredients you use when cooking -- or the athletes you bring to Iowa City to play football. It's true in terms of their on-field performance. And it's true of their off-field performance.

Athletes are coddled by our educational systems, and broader society, from the time they're in junior high. Adults respond to these young athletes' abusive and criminal behavior with something between excuses and encouragement, and the wink-and-a-nod of a blind eye. So there's a need to look at ourselves, as well as our athletes, when -- as UI's Athletic Director Gary Barta puts it -- they make "bad decisions" once in college.

But even if they have been spared formal criminal records when high school athletes as a result of coaches' and administrators' interventions, it is still possible to find out what their informal records may have been. Many people in their community will know, and some references, and a goodly number of others, will be willing to talk. A skillful and sensitive recruiter should be able to do this while casting a big enough net to get a full range of views, respecting recruits' privacy and reputations, and separating facts from fantasies and gossip.

Of course, the recruiter needs to know about the recruit's athletic performance. But he or she also needs to find out, even focus on, their academic performance -- and their anti-social and criminal performance.

When you bring on the campus an athlete who has a high school record of theft, gang membership, sexual assault, drunken behavior, bullying and general violence, you can't legitimately later express mere surprise and disappointment when that pattern of behavior continues. Clearly, given the 12 football players convicted, charged or under investigation during the past six months, the AD's and coaches' belief that the answer is to be found in providing more and better "education" once they get here has not worked in the past and is unlikely to work any better in the future.

[An Anonymous comment, below, takes issue with a couple of points in the preceding paragraph.
(1) Referring to "12 . . . convicted, charged or under investigation" "sounds a lot worse" than it is, says Anonymous. However, this morning The Gazette reports "In all, 11 Hawkeyes have been arrested since April." Marc Morehouse, "Iowa Football: Barta Says He's Taking Investigation Seriously," The Gazette, November 15, 2007. The Register agrees: "11 players are known to have had interaction with police for alleged law-breaking." "Barta Vows to Revisit How Football Players are Educated," Des Moines Register, November 15, 2007. Does that make it sound any better? If "11" includes the current 3 then my "12" is one over. If it doesn't, then the number is 14 instead of 12.
(2) He or she asks, "Who are the players you are referring to as having history of gang affiliation . . . ?" I thought the point was clear from the context, but if not it's important enough to remove any possible ambiguity. I am not referring in the paragraph to any player now on the Iowa team. The paragraph is in a context of, and relates to, the need to do a better job of vetting recruits in the future, because if any of them have any of the itemized items in their high school record that should raise a concern that their past behavior might be continued in college.
(3) He or she continues, "I am also of the belief of innocent until proven guilty." Me, too. Indeed, as I had already noted three paragraphs below: "But let us also not forget the lessons of the Duke Lacrosse case. An accusation, an allegation, an investigation, is not a conviction."]
It is not enough that our recruits are outstanding athletes among the flock of high school football players in any given year. That flock needs to be culled ahead of time of those who will bring as much by way of trouble as touchdowns to the UI campus.

# # #

The Press-Citizen editorializes this morning, "Unfortunately, UI has been down this road before. And the specter of how the university mishandled the 2002 Pierce Pierce case will cast a large shadow over how the university reacts to this allegation. Hopefully, the university has learned from its mistakes in that case . . .." Editorial, "UI Needs to Show It's Learned from Past Mistakes," November 15, 2007, p. A7.

But let us also not forget the lessons of the Duke Lacrosse case. An accusation, an allegation, an investigation, is not a conviction.

# # #

For reasons that may or may not be as obvious to you as they are to me, the following two stories also seem relevant to today's blog entry:

1. Is partying by "the less motivated" -- whether by football players or others -- how we want to be known as a university? It goes with the territory when we offer only rhetoric on the issue of binge drinking. An excerpt:

The University of Iowa has cracked the top 25.

No, not in football or men's or women's basketball. UI is among the nation's elite when it comes to partying. UI came in at No. 24 in the second annual Power Rankings, which "gives best marks to schools with the least class."

"A top 25 ranking says to me, if I am a student going to college and maybe not interested in working too hard, the University of Iowa would be a pretty solid place for me to go," said Streeter Seidell, front page editor of "A respectable rank indeed."

"The list is dedicated solely to a less motivated type of students who just want a place to go enjoy the fruits of his parents' labor for the next four to six years," promotional materials for the ratings declare.
Brian Morelli, "Iowa Makes the Grade in Partying; Site Ranks UI No. 24," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 15, 2007, p. A1.

2. It doesn't stop at high school and college. An excerpt from today's news about OJ's latest caper:

LAS VEGAS -- O.J. Simpson will stand trial on kidnapping, armed robbery and other felony charges stemming from a purported attempt to recover his sports memorabilia, a justice of the peace ruled Wednesday.

The former NFL running back, who has been a tabloid mainstay since being acquitted of murder more than a decade ago, and two codefendants each face 12 charges. If convicted on all counts, they could be sentenced to life in prison.
Ashley Powers, "Simpson Will Stand Trial Again," Los Angeles Times, November 15, 2007.

# # #


Anonymous said...

I find this latest story to be disgusting to say the least, if found guilty. I have a serious problem with the reputation that Iowa Football is getting, and it does not include the rep that is being portrayed on the playing field. I am an Iowa City resident, and season ticket holder to football and basketball, and am not one of the liberal chest beaters here in Iowa City. I do have concerns about the type of athletes brought into my community, but I also have a problem with the way they are portrayed. Your line goes as follows "Clearly, given the 12 football players convicted, charged or under investigation during the past six months" I find this line to be misleading. How many have been convicted? I'm not trying to say they shouldn't be called out, but to the casual observer reading your blog, it sounds alot worse than it potentially could be. I have no time for people who abuse women, but you make this sound like an epidemic. Yes, Dana Brown allegedly did this, and he is no longer on the team. These 3 people have not been charged, and they may never be, it is not an excuse, but let the law run its course. Also, who are the players you are referring to as having history of gang affiliation, bullying, alcohol useage, and so on? I'd be curious to how you got this information, or are you throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks? I will state once again, I do not condone the actions of these young men, nor do I want them representing the University of Iowa if found guilty. But, I am also of the belief of innocent until proven guilty.

KL Snow said...

I'm amazed that there isn't more public outcry for heads to roll in the athletic department. I've lived in Iowa for 6 1/2 years now, long enough to see the serious mishandling of Pierre Pierce, the Section 8 housing scandal, an entire football team that had to be put on 7-day curfew, and now this.

The single greatest accusation the NCAA can give to a university is "Lack of institutional control." If this isn't a near-decade long track record of lack of institutional control, what is?