College athletics have grown in prominence over the past decade as they continue to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars for education institutions. However, a higher profile brings added scrutiny, especially when student athletes face serious criminal allegations.
A CBS News/Sports Illustrated investigation in 2010 reported one out of every 14 student athletes on D1, top-25 college football teams has a criminal record. Forty percent of those crimes were classified as serious.
Western Michigan University (WMU) in particular has truly experienced the best of times and the worst of times.
The best? The WMU football team playing in the Cotton Bowl.
The worst? Three student-athletes from various sports charged with felonies.
Football players Bryson White and Ronald George were charged with robbery at gunpoint while off campus. Months later, ex-basketball player Joevier Kennedy was arraigned for the off campus murder of a fellow student following a drug-related altercation.
Based on these events, many feel that WMU and other colleges and universities must go further with their vetting of prospective students. When asked if they conducted criminal background checks, the University of Michigan, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College and Grand Valley State University admitted that they are not part of their recruitment and admissions processes.
The fault is not entirely with the educational institutions. Michigan state law and the NCAA policies make these checks incredibly difficult.
In fairness, the WMU student-athletes did not have criminal records before attending the university. Bryson White did face criminal allegations in his home state of Ohio, but was never formally charged. According to WMU, his high school football coach never gave any indication of criminal issues.
However, the public information officer at the school White attended claimed that the university had sufficient knowledge and warnings. Specifically, White’s coach told WMU that the student had brushes with law enforcement during his freshman and sophomore years. However, as a junior and senior, he mostly stayed out of trouble.
When it comes to the big picture involving student athletes and criminal activity, questions remain.
Are universities doing enough to vet student athletes they are recruiting and monitoring their activities once they arrive?
Will college sport and government entities loosen the reigns when it comes to background checks?
Perhaps, most important, should mistakes (some criminal) continue to haunt teenagers looking to better their life through post-secondary education and college athletic opportunities?