•Syracuse basketball forward Derrick Coleman was sentenced to 50 hours of community service and ordered to make restitution for damage after pleading guilty to charges of harassment and disorderly conduct. This followed a fracas in which Coleman, who was with a group of athletes unhappy about having to pay a $2.50 admission charge at a campus dance, punched a man and kicked in two doors.
•Keith Horne, a freshman guard on the Texas-San Antonio basketball team, was charged with attempted murder last week after allegedly beating and trying to strangle a female employee at a hotel in De Land, Fla., where the Roadrunners had defeated Stetson 95-88 in double overtime.
•Clemson linebacker Chuck O'Brien and center Curtis Whitley were charged with assault and battery following a punch-out at a local night spot in which another student suffered a fractured jaw.
•Florida State's two-time All-America cornerback, Deion Sanders, was placed on six months' probation and fined $800 after pleading no contest to charges of grabbing a salesclerk's blouse and striking a security guard during a scuffle at a shopping mall in Fort Myers, Fla.
Attempting to put such incidents in perspective, ACC commissioner Gene Corrigan says, "Kids have been getting in fights forever." Other educators are quicker to concede that violence among athletes is more widespread than in the past, but some agree with Florida State's athletic director, C.W. (Hootie) Ingram, who says, "This is a society problem. Crime rates are up all over the world. There are probably a lot of things going on in Norman, Oklahoma, other than just what's going on at the University of Oklahoma."
Even if Ingram is right, surely it's not unreasonable to expect a higher standard of civility at institutions of higher learning than in society as a whole. At any rate, the evidence indicates that athletes are more inclined to get into trouble with the law than other students are. In a 1986 survey of 350 colleges, the Philadelphia Daily News found that athletes had been implicated in at least 61 sexual assaults between '83 and '85. The paper calculated that football and basketball players were 38% more likely to be implicated in such crimes than the average male college student. The News raised the possibility that athletes were more likely to be reported in such cases because they were well-known, but Auburn psychology professor Barry Burkhart said, "My guess is that an athlete would be less likely to be reported. It's all a guess, but they do have a lot of protections around them."
The ones doing the protecting are usually the coaches who bring lawbreaking athletes on campus to begin with, often in disregard of warning signals about those players' characters. Whatever the merits of Propositions 48 and 42, the controversy over them has brought into focus the willingness of colleges to bend academic standards to admit outstanding athletes. And it's now clear that schools are just as quick to wink at serious character flaws. With all this bending and winking going on, no wonder Iowa State football coach Jim Walden says, "Not more than 20 percent of the football players go to college for an education. And that may be a high figure. That leaves at least 80 percent who I believe are there because 'they said I could play football.' "
Some coaches seem willing to recruit absolutely anybody who can help them win games, good citizenship be damned. Take the case of Roosevelt Potts, a standout schoolboy running back from Rayville, La., who signed Feb. 8 with Northeast Louisiana. Mississippi also wanted Potts, so much so that Rebel coach Billy Brewer suggested there were improprieties in Northeast's recruitment of the youngster, who pleaded guilty last December to aggravated battery for firing a shotgun toward a crowd outside a barroom in Rayville. Brewer later withdrew his criticism of Northeast, but the question remains: What were two institutions of higher learning doing fighting over a felon who got a 9 on the ACT test, far below the minimum of 15 mandated by Prop 48 for freshman eligibility?
Many of the athletes who run afoul of the law are black—though by no means all. Witness the 15-day jail term served in 1986 by former Michigan State basketball star Scott Skiles, who violated probation by driving while intoxicated after being convicted of marijuana possession, and Florida basketball center Dwayne Schintzius's four-game suspension earlier this season for hitting a student with a tennis racket. Then there was the case involving Pitt defensive linemen Burt Grossman and Tony Siragusa. Last August they were convicted of assault following a barroom brawl near the Pitt campus and ordered to pay $1,379 each to another student, whose jaw was broken in the fight.
Colleges justify their recruitment of blacks with poor scholarship records and histories of misconduct on affirmative-action grounds. But a lot of these athletes hail from backgrounds in which drugs, violence and fatherless homes are a way of life. Says Penn State assistant football coach Ron Dickerson, who is black, "If a black player is from a broken home in the inner city with a single mom and five brothers and sisters, he will have a tough time on a campus where other students' parents are making $50,000." Obviously, colleges that recruit such youngsters and expose them to severe culture shock bear a special responsibility to provide discipline and educational opportunity.