CBS/SI Investigation of Crime & College Football Finds Husker Program Better Than Others - But Nothing to Be Proud Of

CBS News and Sports Illustrated have combined their resources to perform an expose on college football players with legal problems. They focused on last season's preseason Top 25, and found that Nebraska ranked in a tie for 19th place in terms of players with a police record with four. That's actually on the low end. Leading the list are the Pitt Panthers with 22 players having had some sort of police issues.  Iowa tied with Arkansas for second with 18.  Boise State and Penn State tied for fourth with 16.

Working off a quick Google search and my own recollection, I believe Nebraska's claim to infamy on this list is primarily DUI offenses by Niles Paul, Rickey Thenarse, and Baker Steinkuhler.  The fourth may be Ben Cotton's minor-in-possession charge (later dropped) from 2009. Not to excuse those offenses, but Nebraska's record actually looks good in comparison. I do believe that Bo Pelini takes these issues seriously and has improved Nebraska's off-the-field record during his tenure.  Not resolved the problem, obviously, but the number and seriousness of incidents has decreased as of late.

The team report was led by SI's Jeff Benedict, Andy Staples, and Armen Keteyian of CBS News. You may remember Keteyian, who has bounced from sideline reporter for NFL games to "Chief Investigative Reporter" for CBS News, as the author of "Big Red Confidential", an attempt to portray Tom Osborne as operating a shady program back in the 80's. The story never went anywhere, especially once Osborne discredited Keteyian's investigation.

I couldn't help but be amused by the name of the school that led the list, and the man who's been in charge of that athletic department for the last three-plus years. (Heck, they had to fire their new head coach after only two weeks after he had been charged with assault himself.)  Nebraska's "Enemy of the State" told reporters today that the situation was "unacceptable" and he'll "get this fixed."

"Certainly, this was an unusual year because we had so many high-profile incidents in such a short period of time."


Of course, he's referring to four incidents from last season...ignoring the other eighteen that the investigation reported on. And considering his track record on "getting things fixed", Pitt fans should be very confident in his ability to do just that. (Is your sarcasm alarm going off the charts?)

Our neighbors to the east and newest rivals, the Iowa Hawkeyes certainly have had their share of issues as of late. A quick search of Black Heart, Gold Pants finds 159 hits for "arrest", though many deal with other Hawkeye teams. (A comparable CornNation search only returns 42, most of which actually discuss the legal issues of our opponents.)

More from this investigation is likely to emerge in the coming days, including a call for schools to perform background checks on potential recruits. One problem with that approach is that in many cases, records for these players prior to college are locked up and confidential in juvenile court. Also, in many cases, a college football program can give players a final opportunity to straighten their life out and become a better citizen. Certainly that was the argument that Tom Osborne used when he suspended Lawrence Phillips for half of the 1995 season rather than kicking him off the team. Phillips didn't learn his lesson, and continued to run afoul of the law, cutting his professional career short and now facing spending many, many years in prison.

The question I pose is this: should football programs perform background checks on incoming players and revoke scholarship offers if they have a record?  Do football programs need to be held accountable for the legal issues that players find themselves in?  Or is this one of those things that will make noise for a few days, then disappear as everybody focuses back on spring football and whether the NFL is going to play this fall?

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