Sports Illustrated on 09 September 2011

Level of serious crime in college football is on the rise

by Jeff Benedict

Level of serious crime in college football is on the rise

Despite the absence of starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson, LSU defeated Oregon 40-27 in its opener in Dallas last Saturday. But a criminal investigation in Baton Rouge may determine whether LSU will be able to maintain its No. 2 ranking. After an off-campus brawl at a bar appropriately named "Shady's" on Aug. 19 that left one man with three fractured vertebrae, Jefferson and teammate Joshua Johns were charged with second-degree felony battery and suspended indefinitely (both have pleaded non-guilty).

"The punishment he'll get from the legal system is nothing compared to punishment suffered as a result of his suspension," said Jefferson's lawyer, Lewis Unglesby, who added that he was confident his client would be exonerated.

Another LSU player, punter Brad Wing, was arrested last month for simple battery stemming from an unrelated incident. The district attorney is reviewing the case and Wing hasn't been charged.

"That we've been involved in [criminal] behavior [is] unacceptable to me, certainly unacceptable to our team," LSU coach Les Miles said. "I can tell you and assure you that this will not happen again. I can tell you that there's a remorseful team here. I personally want to apologize for the actions of my team."

LSU is hardly the first highly ranked program to see its image tarnished and its on-the-field performance impacted by off-the-field brushes with the law. Six months ago in a special report on criminal records in college football, Sports Illustrated and CBS News found that seven percent of the players among SI's preseason Top 25 (204 players in all) had been in trouble with the law either before or after entering college.

NCAA president Mark Emmert reacted by calling the numbers "way too high." However, the most alarming fact in the study wasn't the seven percent (that number could have been a lot higher if we had access to juvenile records or had we expanded the timeframe of the study). It was that only two of the 25 schools we surveyed -- TCU and Oklahoma -- reported doing any type of regular criminal background checks on recruits. And neither TCU nor Oklahoma checked juvenile records.

"I'd certainly welcome a good debate about what this data means and how we can best address it," Emmert told us.

It doesn't appear that schools are taking Emmert very seriously. Since our report was published, at least 90 Division I college football players have been charged with a serious crime. That's about one arrest every other day.

In other words, the situation looks like it is getting worse, not better. Twenty-nine of the players (32%) arrested since March belong to the Top 25 schools that we investigated last season. Seven of these players had previously been arrested, including:

  • Virginia Tech receiver Xavier Boyce was arrested by Blacksburg police on charges related to cruelty and injuries to his 1-year-old child. He was suspended from the team. His case is pending.
  • Oregon's Kiko Alonso was charged with felony burglary after he allegedly forced his way into a woman's home at 1 a.m. The woman fled and called 911. When police arrived they discovered Alonso inside. He later pleaded guilty to criminal mischief, entered a pre-trial diversion program and was suspended indefinitely from the team.
  • Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins' marijuana arrest in April was his third arrest in a 23-month span. He pleaded no contest and was dismissed from the team.
  • The severity of the cases doesn't seem to be decreasing either.
  • Miami linebacker Ramon Buchanan was charged with three misdemeanors and two felonies, including battery on a police officer, following a disturbance at a Fat Tuesday's. "I'm a UM football player and I don't give a [expletive] what you do," Buchanan allegedly told police. "I'll get out of it. [Expletive] the police." The police report also indicates that Buchanan head-butted an officer. He entered a pre-trial diversion program in April and played in the Hurricane's opener against Maryland on Monday night.
  • Miami freshman defensive lineman Jeffrey Brown was suspended indefinitely from the team in May after police in Coral Gables arrested him on felony sexual battery charges. A 19-year-old student told authorities that Brown forced himself on her. Brown's lawyers say he didn't engage in any criminal conduct. The case is pending.
  • John Nisby, a 305-lineman for Boise State, was charged with battery after he allegedly choked an individual inside a Boise bar. He pleaded not guilty and was dismissed from the team.

"The current 'don't ask, don't tell' policy is not working," said Scott Decker, director of the school of criminology and criminal justice at Arizona State. "It is incumbent on universities and athletic departments to be proactive in preventing serious crime among athletes. This includes checking recruits' backgrounds before they enroll and providing additional services and monitoring where appropriate."

When asked about the updated numbers since our last story, NCAA president Mark Emmert said his previous comments on the topic still stand.

Pittsburgh, which topped our report with 22 players with arrest records, has had just two players arrested in the past six months. Backup quarterback Anthony Gonzalez was suspended from the team after being arrested for marijuana possession. New Pitt coach Todd Graham then made an example out of redshirt freshman offensive lineman Fernando Diaz, who was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after police found him intoxicated in the street, refusing to move. According to the police report, Diaz shouted: "I [expletive] hate Pitt cops. I'm from New York. I'm not afraid of you mother [expletive]." He had to be Tasered four times.

"We've wanted to establish clearly what the standards are," Graham said. "[Diaz] left the program for personal reasons, was trying to work his way back into the program -- he hadn't practiced with the team but he was trying to work his way back -- but unfortunately made a mistake, and there has to be accountability and that is why he is not going to be in our program anymore."

Iowa, which had the second-most players with criminal records (18) in our initial report, has had no players arrested for serious crimes in the past six months.

If nothing else, it would seem that teams have a vested interest in convincing players to simply abide by the law. Oregon played its opener without All-America cornerback Cliff Harris, who was suspended after cited for driving 118 miles per hour. Harris appeared in the original SI/CBS News statistics for a prior incident. His presence in the LSU game could have made a difference in the outcome.

College should be about second chances and if a player has gotten in trouble before, he should be given the opportunity to change his life. But when schools don't check the backgrounds of their recruits they are asking for trouble.

"Higher education remains an important bridge for many youth with troubled backgrounds to overcome youthful misdeeds and transition to becoming productive citizens," said Decker. "Universities that want to take a chance on such youth should do so knowingly and provide appropriate services and monitoring to enhance the success of such students and protect the safety of other students and members of the university community."

Jeff Benedict is the bestselling author of sixteen non-fiction books, as well as a television and film producer. His latest book, The Dynasty, is the definitive inside story of the New England Patriots under Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. An instant New York Times bestseller, The Dynasty is the basis of a 10-part documentary series that is being produced by Imagine Documentaries in association with NFL Films for Apple TV+. Jeff is a writer and executive producer for the series. In 2018, Jeff co-wrote the #1 bestseller Tiger Woods and he was an executive producer on the HBO documentary “Tiger” that was based on the book and aired in 2021. The book is currently being developed into a scripted series, which Jeff is executive producing. Jeff is also the executive producer on a documentary based on his book Poisoned for Campfire Studios that will air on Netflix. In 2017, Jeff co-produced “Little Pink House,” a feature film starring Catherine Keener and Jeanne Tripplehorn that was based on his book of the same title. And in 2016, Jeff co-wrote with Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young his critically acclaimed, bestselling autobiography QB: My Life Behind the Spiral. Jeff was also a writer on the NFL Films documentary "A Football Life: Steve Young,” which was based on the book.

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