SI Vault
March 07, 2011
Sports Illustrated
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March 07, 2011

Rap Sheets, Recruits And Repercussions

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"They're in the house! ... I hear them in the kitchen."

Police responded, and Darling, then 18, was arrested at gunpoint with one other man and charged with felony burglary. (Darling completed a pretrial intervention program and the charge was dropped.)

Records reveal that Darling had been arrested twice previously, once for a felony count of firing a weapon in 2006 and once for drug possession and resisting arrest in 2008. The 2006 case was dropped, and adjudication was withheld in the other.

When SI contacted Cincinnati for comment on Darling, who remains on the team, a football spokesman said he was unaware of the player's arrest in the burglary case. The athletic department then sent SI a statement from coach Butch Jones saying, "When recruiting a prospective student-athlete, we do our due diligence in exhausting all avenues looking into an individual's background."

Only one of the 25 schools in the SI/CBS News study (Virginia Tech) said that it performs criminal-background checks on all nonathletes. (Admissions questionnaires at more than half of the other universities ask applicants if they have ever been arrested.) The stakes can be higher for a school when recruiting athletes, however, especially football and basketball players, who are often among the most visible representatives of a university. By not spotting the warning signs evident in arrest records, a school can leave itself open to criminal acts that can damage the institution's reputation and prove costly. TCU, the University of Colorado and at least three other schools have in recent years all been sued by victims of crimes that were allegedly committed by scholarship athletes.

Despite those risks, and even though knowing about a recruit's criminal past might better equip a school to nurture him through the transition to college and help him stay out of further trouble, coaches interviewed for the SI/CBS News investigation offered numerous reasons why they don't check players' records. Some didn't know criminal records were available; others said they trusted their ability to get to the bottom of a recruit's past; many dismissed a police report as an inadequate measure of a teenager's character; one suggested that doing a background check would be a "breach of trust" between the coach and the recruit and his family. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, whose 2011 recruiting class included 22 prospects from in-state, said, "We have people in the community who know people. Everybody knows law enforcement people. We know people who are around guys."

That presupposes that those people who "know people" or are "around" players, such as high school coaches and counselors, never miss an arrest or citation.

Dave Peck, Fauonuku's coach at Bingham High, would be considered by some recruiters to be ideally positioned to assess Fauonuku's character. Yet Peck did not learn the full details of his star player's armed robbery incident until nearly six months after it happened, when SI showed him the arrest report. "I knew there was an incident," Peck said. "I honestly didn't know a whole lot that happened at that point."

Several college coaches told SI/CBS News that, from their perspective, ignorance is bliss when it comes to knowing a player's arrest record. "First, [finding out about arrests] could mean that you would lose some talented players. Your [athletic director] or admissions people might say, 'No, we can't take that kid after what he did,' " said one coach who was an assistant at one school in the study but asked to remain anonymous because he is now at another school. "Also, if a kid you do bring in with a record then gets in trouble again, it won't be looked at as his first mistake. Keeping him on the team would be viewed as giving him a third chance. That's a tough sell."

Last, and perhaps most significant, no program wants to be the first to run juvenile record checks because, the unnamed coach said, "If we started doing it, [other schools] would use it against us in recruiting."

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