Many coaches and administrators are open to a universal system that would require schools to conduct criminal background checks before admitting athletes
The NCAA's annual convention in January featured sessions focusing on topics ranging from academic accountability to achieving gender equity. One subject the NCAA may soon be discussing is the recruiting of players with criminal records. When presented with the SI/CBS News findings and asked if schools should conduct criminal background checks on recruits, new NCAA president Mark Emmert was open to digging deeper. "I'd certainly welcome a good debate about what this data means and how we can best address it," said Emmert.
A few days earlier, at the American Football Coaches Association's annual convention, several top college coaches expressed curiosity and concern over the findings of the investigation. Many thought it would be a good step for conferences to mandate background checks. That would prevent any school from gaining a recruiting advantage by not requiring prospects to submit to the background checks.
"I think that would be the way to do it," said UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel. "That protects the individual institutions. It also serves as a deterrent for young people to stay on the straight and narrow. I think it's a great idea."
Florida president Bernard Machen disagreed and said it should be handled by the schools. "This issue rests with the university," he said. "It's my responsibility."
Colleges profess a desire to know their students as well as possible. That would seem especially important with athletes, who are often the public face of a university. Why risk not checking? Why open the door to an enterprising reporter and a line of embarrassing questioning that begins with, "Coach, did you know?" or "Why would you sign ... ?"
The NCAA has a history of incremental change. But the SI/CBS News study has prompted longtime college athletic reformers to call for action. "This sounds an alarm bell that some new policies are going to have to be developed on individual campuses or at the national level to take a closer look at who we're recruiting," says Richard Lapchick, founder of the Center for Sports and Society and president and CEO of the National Consortium for Academics and Sports at the University of Central Florida. "With the results of this investigation, I think it's almost incumbent on all those universities who play at this level to do criminal background checks on the people they're recruiting. Not only for the nature of the football program itself, but for public safety on campus."
FORWARD THINKING Emmert, the new NCAA president, says that he is willing to talk to schools about finding ways to better assess players' backgrounds during the recruiting process.