Barta: Background checks on athletes worth discussing


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Hawkeye Athletics Director Gary Barta said he’s “open to the discussion” of conducting background checks on student-athletes after a report released Tuesday showed 18 players from the Iowa football team’s 2010 preseason roster had criminal records — the second most of any school that was ranked in Sports Illustrated’s preseason Top 25.

But Barta said he has some reservations about the idea, noting that screening potential recruits and conducting background checks might not be the most effective way to keep athletes out of legal trouble.

“Maybe this will provide us another opportunity to open the discussions,” Barta told The Daily Iowan in a phone interview. “If it would help guarantee us that we wouldn’t have student-athletes making bad decisions, I certainly would consider it. I don’t know whether it would accomplish that, however.”

The six-month investigation, from Sports Illustrated and CBS News, also found criminal records for 7 percent of the 2,837 players listed on the preseason rosters of those teams. Of those schools, only the University of Oklahoma and Texas Christian University conduct regular background checks on recruits. The report included a total of 7,030 record checks.

Barta said the administration is “certainly concerned” when student-athletes get in trouble, but he noted that all 18 charges cited in the report involved misdemeanors. Fifteen of the charges were alcohol-related, two were for possession of a controlled substance, and one was for misdemeanor assault.

“Fifteen were alcohol-related, which is certainly a concern, not just for student-athletes, but for all of our students in Iowa City,” Barta said. “It’s something that we’re all working hard to improve upon.”

Center for Sport in Society founder Richard Lapchick told Sports Illustrated this report “sounds an alarm bell” and said he thinks it’s “almost incumbent” on universities at this level to perform criminal background checks on recruits.

But UI sociology Professor Michael Lovaglia said he doesn’t believe background checks are the correct course of action. He said college sports have become a “pipeline” through which many young people who otherwise wouldn’t consider college can earn a degree. “Screening out” players with criminal records would be harmful to the life chances of those who got in trouble as juveniles, as well as to the cultural goal of extending educational opportunity to all Americans, he said.

“The benefit for society is that public higher education receives much more support from a broad spectrum of the population than it otherwise would if it appealed only to elite member of society,” he said. “Not everyone has the opportunity to attend a university, but most folks in Iowa feel loyal to the Hawks or the Cyclones or the Panthers.”

The report comes on the heels of several high-profile drug charges involving Hawkeye football players.

Former wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos was arrested on Dec. 7 for seven drug-related charges; he later pleaded guilty to only possession of marijuana in exchange for the rest of his charges — including possession of cocaine and prescription drugs — being dropped. Ex-running back Adam Robinson was charged in Des Moines with possession of marijuana on Dec. 27, and 2010 All-American defensive end Adrian Clayborn was originally charged last year with assault causing bodily injury after an altercation with a taxi driver, but later plead guilty to disorderly conduct.

“For 12 years we have dealt promptly, firmly, consistently and within the student-athlete code of conduct when we have incidents involving members of our football program,” Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz said in a release. “My staff and I will continue to work to ensure our student-athletes are successful as a student, as an athlete, and as a citizen of the Iowa City community.”

Pittsburgh’s 22 players with police records topped the list; Iowa’s 18 tied with Arkansas for second.

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