Could young athletes being recruited for college sports programs be required to undergo in-depth background checks before being allowed to play? In the past decade, background checks for student athletes have been a near-constant topic of conversation between everyone from university athletic directors to politicians. However, while such screenings have become more common over the years, they are still far from being the norm.
In 2011, Sports Illustrated and CBS News partnered with one another to research background check policies at the top 25 college football programs in the country. They found that only two of the top 25 teams at the time (the University of Oklahoma and Texas Christian University) had policies requiring criminal background screenings for incoming recruits. The investigation also discovered that seven percent of the players involved in those 25 programs had been in trouble with the law before or after entering college.
At the time, NCAA President Mark Emerett called the seven percent finding unacceptable and vowed to look into methods for requiring different athletic programs to screen their players. However, Emerett did note that he wanted more information on the situation. We don't know what that [seven percent figure] looks like relative to the regular student body, he reasoned.) He also said that even if the NCAA were to require schools to screen their players, he would still want those schools to ultimately have the freedom to accept the athletes they wanted to accept.
Now, college football player background checks are back in the national spotlight. The USA Today recently published an article titled "As domestic violence clouds college football, coaches work to root it out." and featured quotes from various coaches sharing their thoughts on how to solve the problem. Many of the coaches interviewed stressed the importance of setting a good example for their players, having family nights where players can see how coaches respect their wives, or educational sessions where coaches talk to their players about being good and honorable men both on and off the field.
Certainly, education is an important part of the equation. While college football players look like grown men out there on the field, they are ultimately just college students. They are young, and young people make mistakes. As a result, it's becoming an important part of the job description for coaches to stop domestic violence situations and other criminal charges before they happen.
But can coaches do enough to teach their players how to avoid life-altering mistakes off the field? Or do college athletic departments need to watch for warning signs in the players they recruit, to help prevent the growing domestic violence problem?
One coach interviewed for the USA Today piece did mention that background checks and character references are a growing part of the process for recruiting young players. Players who have a history of violence against women, or a history of violence, period, before they even reach college are often risks that college coaches and their programs can't afford to take.
Still, background checks are far from universal in college sports, and the question is, should they be? As Emerett noted four years ago, it would be difficult for the NCAA, or anyone else, for that matter, to impose any concrete guidelines about the kinds of players that schools can and cannot recruit.
Ultimately, the choice of whether or not to bring a player aboard rests with the college or university making the call. With that said, an across-the-board background check requirement for college football recruits could at least go a long way toward making coaches even more cognizant of how important it is to recruit players that will uphold their school's reputation.