[Related: "Hawkeye Football Players' Criminal Records; We're Number Two! We're Number Two!" March 3, 2011; "Hawkeyes' Criminal Record Lengthens," February 25, 2008.]
Do Hawkeyes Check Criminal Records Before Awarding Scholarships?
On March 2 Sports Illustrated reported that the University of Iowa Athletic Program tied for number two among the 25 top universities' athletes arrest records. Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian, "College Football and Crime," Sports Illustrated, March 2, 2011. And see, "Hawkeye Football Players' Criminal Records; We're Number Two! We're Number Two!" March 3, 2011.
In that blog entry, I wrote:
Three years ago, when Iowa's football program was also singled out for its players' criminal records, I wrote in this blog,And so it was that four days later the Press-Citizen reported, in a little-noticed, small story on its back pages, that the basketball program both (1) "decide[d] to go ahead and recruit with scholarship a player with a number of serious felony convictions," and that (2) "it [would] be helpful to know of that record ahead of time. . .."I've suggested in blog entries here before, but it bears repeating that in addition to whatever else the Athletic Department may be doing to improve its criminal record, it might give a little more attention to who it's recruiting."Hawkeyes' Criminal Record Lengthens," February 25, 2008.
And, No, I don't mean that a teenage athlete's single indiscretion should bar his or her entering our program. And I don't mean we should be probing in depth the private lives of potential recruits. And I understand that juvenile court records are not always available. And, Yes, I agree that living in a community like Iowa City, the added maturity of a couple of years, and a strong and positive relationship with the right coach can sometimes turn lives around.
But I do think it might be appropriate to make at least some greater effort to find out, before we bring them here, if those we are recruiting have already established patterns of anti-social and criminal behavior, and a disrespect for law, such that the data indicates the mathematical odds are it is likely to continue.
Today's SI/CBS report reveals that the failure to investigate recruits' criminal records, which I highlighted three years ago, is in fact a central cause of the problem.Among the 25 schools in the investigation, only two -- TCU and Oklahoma -- perform any type of regular criminal background searches on recruits. But even TCU and Oklahoma don't look at juvenile records. . . .Additional commentary: . . .
Yet it wouldn't take much for schools to access this information. Take Florida, for example. The Sunshine State is not only one of the nation's largest football hotbeds, it also has the nation's most open public records law. Through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, anyone can check a person's complete criminal history -- including many juvenile arrests -- for $24. . . .
4. . . . I think the Daily Iowan's report [Jordan Garretson, "Barta: Background checks on athletes worth discussing," The Daily Iowan, March 3, 2011] of [UI Athletic Director Gary] Barta's response to the idea of background checks leaves a good deal to be desired. . . .But Barta said he has some reservations about the idea, noting that screening potential recruits and conducting background checks might not be the most effective way to keep athletes out of legal trouble.Not "the most effective"? He'll only consider improvements if they will "guarantee us that we wouldn't have student-athletes making bad decisions"? Which of his present approaches to the problem are "the most effective"? What does he have in mind that would "guarantee" no more "bad decisions"? How has his current approach to these problems been working for him? Why would you not want to consider advance information that is easily available to you before bringing a recruit on campus? Even if you do decide to go ahead and recruit with scholarship a player with a number of serious felony convictions, wouldn't it be helpful to know of that record ahead of time in arranging for the support and additional attention that might benefit the player (not to mention other students and the community)?
“Maybe this will provide us another opportunity to open the discussions,” Barta told The Daily Iowan in a phone interview. “If it would help guarantee us that we wouldn’t have student-athletes making bad decisions, I certainly would consider it. I don’t know whether it would accomplish that, however.”
Here is that story. (Because I see no need to further implant future Google searches on the athlete's name with his criminal record, I refer to him simply as "the athlete.")
University of Iowa officials conducted an extensive background search on [a] 25-year old junior college basketball recruit . . . before allowing him to take an official visit over the weekend, [the athlete's] junior college coach said Monday.Pat Harty, "Iowa officials did background search on recruit; has received scholarship offer," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 7, 2011.
According to HawkeyeInsider.com, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery reportedly has offered [the athlete] a scholarship despite [his] criminal background that includes spending nearly four years in prison after pleading guilty to robbery.
"They did their background work, absolutely," said [the athlete's coach] . . . this season. "We had paperwork here, and we sent the paperwork out to them."
[The] robbery charge stems from an incident in December 2003 in his hometown . . ..
[The athlete], who was 18 at the time, also was charged with malicious wounding and use of a firearm, which are felonies, stemming from the same incident. But he ultimately pleaded guilty to the robbery charge and served 37 months in prison.
[He] now is a sophomore at [the junior college] and has emerged as a Division I recruit.
He averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds this season, and the 6-foot-5, 220-pound combo guard has schools such as Iowa, Penn State and Iona pursuing him.
"To me, this is what I say to all the coaches; he made a mistake when he was 18 years old," [the athlete's coach] said. "He's now 25. Enough. He's a great kid and let's move on."
[He] also was arrested for a misdemeanor assault in January, but the charge later was dropped.
"It was nothing," [his coach] said without being specific.
[The coach] said Iowa's relationship with [the athlete] started in January when McCaffery called the coach] at home asking about [him].
McCaffery was not aware of [the athlete's] criminal record, but [the coach] said he was upfront and honest with McCaffery during their initial phone call.
Asked how McCaffery responded, [the coach] said:
"He said 'Well, let me see.' And he went and checked with some people and he made another call back and said, 'We're going to proceed a little bit further.'
"And as we proceeded a little bit further he was always checking with other people."
NCAA rules prohibit UI officials from talking about a specific unsigned recruit. However, UI Athletics Director Gary Barta said Monday that UI officials usually know about a recruit's background before approving a campus visit.
"I would just say that it would be highly, highly unusual for someone to come to Iowa in any sport and us not know about their background," Barta said. "Just think about a high school student-athlete, if they get into trouble during their high school time, it's very likely, especially in today's world that it's going to be in the newspaper. It's going to be documented some way or another.
"So most of the time we know a student-athlete's background and we know whether or not they're going to fit at Iowa."
[The athlete] told HawkeyeInsider.com that Iowa offered him a scholarship about two weeks ago.
"When we make a final decision to offer a scholarship to a young person in any sport, we've spent months and in some cases years trying to evaluate if it's going to be a good fit," Barta said. "I can tell you by the time they decide to bring someone to campus, or we decide to bring them to campus, we know more about them than one can imagine. We don't do official criminal background checks, but we do an extensive background search." . . .
[The athlete] told HawkeyeInsider.com that he has nothing to hide with regard to his past.
"I'm being straight up with everybody about what I've been through," he said. "I'm not hiding from anybody. It made me who I am today."
Now let me be clear. As I wrote in 2008, and quoted above,
No, I don't mean that a teenage athlete's single indiscretion should bar his or her entering our program. And I don't mean we should be probing in depth the private lives of potential recruits. And I understand that juvenile court records are not always available. And, Yes, I agree that living in a community like Iowa City, the added maturity of a couple of years, and a strong and positive relationship with the right coach can sometimes turn lives around.To which I might add, I also understand that the college education made possible by an athletic scholarship can make an enormous difference in the future lives of many college athletes (with or without the subsequent unlikely role of professional sports in those lives).
But having said all that, what is one to make of Pat Harty's story about this recruit?
Is it the case that Iowa actually does check into the criminal background of recruits, notwithstanding SI's suggestion to the contrary? Or was this the first time it was done?
If the Hawkeyes do routinely check criminal records, why does AD Barta suggest he's reluctant to do what is already being done (unless, as he says, such research could "guarantee" the elimination of all Iowa athletes' criminal activity)? And if Iowa does do the checks, why would the UI not use the criminal record checking services that SI says are readily available? Or does it?
Does this story accurately reflect the Athletic Department's standards with regard to recruiting athletes with felony records? Does it even have such standards; that is, written guidelines regarding the maximum criminal record a potential recruit can have and still be acceptable to the program; taking into account such things as the number of arrests, felony convictions, the seriousness of the crime, and so forth?
How does athletic ability factor into the equation? This athlete averages 20 points a game. What if he'd only averaged 14 points a game? Assume, for illustration only, that 14 points a game is normally impressive enough to warrant recruiting a player. Would a felony record count more heavily against a 14-point player than a 20-point player? Or does the criminal record standard, if one there be, get applied the same to every potential recruit regardless of comparative athletic ability?
How, and in what ways, if at all, does it do risk assessment as a part of this evaluation; that is, the potential impact on the Iowa City community, the welfare of UI students, staff and faculty, and other athletes -- including the adverse public relations for all of the above -- if the past pattern of criminal activity continues in Iowa City? What is the risk the recruit's criminal behavior will continue, and how serious would it be if it does? Intuitively, one assumes an individual's criminal behavior is likely to continue, and that recidivism rates are high. But intuition is often wrong. What data is there, in general, regarding the relationship between past record and future behavior, and to what extent is that taken into consideration in our recruiting process?
And, finally, when the Hawkeyes do recruit convicted felons and bring them to Iowa City, do they, as I ask above, find it "helpful to know of that record ahead of time in arranging for the support and additional attention that might benefit the player (not to mention other students and the community)?" If so, what is the nature of those extra efforts, attention, and support -- above and beyond what is provided to all team members?
I think these are questions, and a story, worth pursuing, by local citizens, University administrators, the media -- and, of course, the Athletic Department.