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Fauonuku and his cousin left moments later, but not before Fauonuku allegedly issued a warning to the young men he'd just robbed at gunpoint. "If I hear this on the news," Fauonuku said, according to one of the victims, "I'm going to come back and kill you."
The victims told police that they took Fauonuku at his word. They didn't immediately report the crime. The incident came to light two days later, after suspicious activity showed up on a debit card stolen in the robbery. Fauonuku was arrested and admitted during police questioning that he had been involved in the crime.
On Feb. 2, less than three months after Fauonuku pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree felony robbery, he signed a letter of intent to play football at the University of Utah.
That a school would have a player on its roster with a criminal record should surprise no one. Almost since the sport's inception college football programs have relied on players who have run afoul of the law. Pop Warner paid off the cops to keep players at the Carlisle (Pa.) Indian School out of jail. At Alabama, Bear Bryant used players well-known to police, and modern powerhouses—Oklahoma and Miami in the 1980s, Nebraska, Washington and Florida State in the 1990s, and, most recently, Florida—have had players who dealt drugs, assaulted women, thieved, drove drunk and more.
It is a visible black eye on the game. Yet even as criminal incidents involving players appear to have become more widespread in recent years, the scope of the problem has never been fully examined.
How much do schools really know about the prospects they recruit and reward with scholarships? How much do they know about the behavior of their players off the field?
To answer these questions and examine the risk-reward challenges of big-time recruiting, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and CBS News embarked on an unprecedented six-month investigation, conducting criminal background checks on all players—a total of 2,837—who were on the rosters of SI's 2010 preseason Top 25 as of last Sept. 1. Players' names, dates of birth and other vital information were run through courthouses, online databases, law-enforcement agencies and a variety of other sources (box, right). Every player was run through at least one database and most players went through several. In all, 7,030 record checks were performed.
The data alone don't convey the complexity of piecing together the full picture. There are no relevant national college-student crime statistics against which to compare the results. Privacy laws made juvenile records unavailable in most states and posed particular challenges to record-checking in California and Texas, two of three states (along with Florida) that produce the most college football players. Still, the study produced some striking revelations. Among them:
• Approximately 7% of the players (204)—one out of 14—had been in trouble with the law either before or after entering college. That number would have been higher if SI and CBS News had included dozens of players who between the end of the 2009 season and the start of the 2010 season had been kicked off their teams after being charged with crimes. If the study had looked at only scholarship players, the percentage with a record would have risen to 8.1% (172 of 2,125).
• Nearly 40% of the alleged incidents were serious offenses. Players had been charged with 56 violent crimes, including assault and battery (25 cases), domestic violence (6), aggravated assault (4), robbery (4) and sex offenses (3). There were 41 charges for property crimes, such as burglary, theft and larceny; and 105 for drug and alcohol offenses, including DUI and intent to distribute cocaine. In cases in which the outcome was known, players were guilty or paid some penalty in nearly 60% of the 277 total incidents.