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Byline: Ken Rodriguez Miami Herald

College football rumbles toward the 21st century like an unrepentant bully, fists clenched with violence and crime. Sexual assault in Fayetteville, Ark. Battery in Coral Gables, Fla. Attempted murder in Lincoln, Neb. Today's headlines mirror a chilling national trend: Player arrests are up, discipline is down and coaches under intense pressure to win are recruiting more players with criminal histories.

Compelling evidence emerges from police blotters and court records, pointing toward a wave of lawbreaking.

``It's a growing problem,'' Florida State coach Bobby Bowden says. ``And it will be worse five years from now unless we have a change in our thinking, our discipline, our values.''

Based on court documents and interviews with eight top coaches with a combined 190 years of experience, one thing is clear - today's players are less disciplined and more prone to criminal misconduct than ever.


Nebraska - 23 arrests since 1990, 18 convictions.

Florida State - 17 players charged since 1991, four with felonies.

Florida - 14 arrests since 1992, nine in the past 13 months.

Clemson - 12 players charged in the past 14 months.

Tennessee - 10 arrests since 1994, four assault convictions.

Virginia Tech - Seven players charged since November; at least 15 more accused of beating up a male track team member this month.

Twenty-five University of Miami players have been arrested a total of 36 times since 1991 on charges ranging from disorderly conduct and urinating in public to sexual battery and assaulting a police officer.

The litany of lawlessness spans the country. Even at such hallowed programs as Notre Dame and Penn State, players have been charged with theft.

Criminologists are not surprised. Although no national studies have been done on the subject, crime experts believe more football players are getting arrested today than 15, 20 years ago.

At least two studies support the perception that football players run afoul of the law more often than other college students.

An Omaha World-Herald survey, assisted by the Gallup Organization, found that the 1994 Nebraska football team had a conviction rate more than twice as high as other men on campus. The newspaper found that 13.2 percent of the 129-member football team had been convicted of misdemeanor crimes or alcohol-related offenses, compared with 6 percent of other undergraduate male students. Misdemeanor offenses included assault, third-degree sexual assault, resisting arrest and theft.

The Philadelphia Daily News in 1986 surveyed 200 university police departments and found that football and basketball players were reported for sexual assault 38 percent more frequently than other male students.

A decade later, it is not uncommon to find daily accounts of multiple player arrests in the sports section. Some stories underscore a more sobering truth: Many coaches are doing little to eliminate potential lawbreakers.

April 14, 1995 - An Arkansas football player accused of attempted rape pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of public sexual misconduct in Fayetteville, Ark.

DeAnthony Hall was sentenced to one year in the county jail with six months suspended and was fined $1,000 under the plea agreement.

Arkansas coach Danny Ford welcomed Hall, 20, back to the team when his final 11 days of jail time were postponed so he could start fall practice on time.

Washington County Sheriff Kenneth McKee said the Razorback football office told him Hall would lose his scholarship if he did not report with the rest of the varsity by Aug. 8. A strong safety, Hall plays with the first team in passing situations.

Oct. 26, 1995 - Missouri wide receiver Rahsetnu Jenkins rejoined the football team shortly after pleading guilty to sexual misconduct and assault on a 24-year-old woman. He initially was charged with rape.

Missouri coach Larry Smith said Jenkins' plea to a lesser charAge warranted the reinstatement. ``To me, a misdemeanor is a misdemeanor,'' Smith explained at the time. ``Even being a misdemeanor, it has cost him 3-1/2 months of football and seven games. ... If there was any kind of disciplinary action, it has already happened.''

Jenkins, 21, is Missouri's leading receiver.

The University of Texas, the third-winningest football school in Division I-A history, went 5-6 in 1991, fired its coach and hired John Mackovic. That same off-season, Mackovic signed a former crack dealer, star receiver Lovell Pinkney.

By his own admission, Lovell Pinkney made nearly $30,000 when he was 16, selling cocaine in southeast Washington, D.C. But his drug-dealing past did not diminish the interest of recruiters from Miami, Tennessee, Clemson and Syracuse. By the time he was a high school senior, Pinkney's passion had turned from plying drugs to playing ball. But even then, he was hardly an ideal recruit.

``He wasn't that crazy about academics,'' says Anacostia High School coach Willie Stewart, who told recruiters about pulling Pinkney from drugs and the streets. ``He was more concerned about ball than books. He got involved in selling drugs as a young kid. He never got arrested. Fortunately, we were able to put him back on the right track.''

Pinkney went on to set the Longhorns' record for touchdown receptions in a career with 11. He also set the unofficial school record for most suspensions in a career: four in three years.

Miami signed an ex-convict on March 14, 1990, a star defensive lineman who spent the fall of his senior season in jail for aggravated robbery.

``If we thought he was a risk,'' former Hurricanes coach Dennis Erickson said at the time, ``we wouldn't have recruited him.''

Trent Hill never enrolled at Miami because he failed to meet academic requirements. He played two seasons at Navarro Junior College in Texas, then headed for Mississippi State. On the way to Jackie Sherrill's program, Hill violated probation and spent 3-1/2 years iAn jail. Today, Hill, who will turn 25 next month, is a starting defensive tackle and co-captain at Alabama A&M.

``We want to thank God we got him here at Alabama A&M,'' says coach Ken Pettiford of the Division II Aggies.

Big-time college football rosters are dotted with Lovell Pinkneys and Trent Hills - gifted players welcomed to campuses despite past criminal behavior.

``Coaches say that's the burden of trying to win,'' says coach Don Nehlen, 60, in his 17th season at West Virginia. ``Every coach knows that if he fails, the entire athletic department fails. We support everything else. That's a heavy burden. You see a kid out there, a great, great player, who can win games and he's been in trouble with the law and you think, `Maybe we can help him.' ''

Nehlen ought to know. He recruited acclaimed Miami Pace High School defensive back Gary Thompkins after Miami refused to admit him last summer. An alleged battery on a woman last July put Thompkins' Hurricane future in doubt. Miami rejected him after a previous felony charge became known - aggravated assault with a baseball bat on two women when he was 16. West Virginia immediately contacted Miami, seeking permission to speak with Thompkins.

``We thought he was a pretty decent kid,'' Nehlen says. ``I knew there was some reason Miami didn't want him. We didn't think it was serious.''

The temptation to overlook a recruit's police record is powerful. Powerful when a school pays you $600,000 a year to win - as Texas pays Mackovic. Powerful when alumni want your head after you lose three games in one season - as Erickson learned in 1993. Powerful when your football team generates 70 percent of your athletic department's revenue - as Nehlen's Mountaineers do.

``It's a tremendous temptation for all of us,'' Bowden says.

Last year, on the recommendation of Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, Bowden took in a West Virginia high school legend, wide receiver Randy Moss. Moss originally signed with the Irish but Notre Dame refused to admiAt him when he didn't complete his application forms properly. Moss had another problem: He had been charged with battery and sentenced to 30 days in jail for a racially motivated fight in high school.

Bowden argued with FSU administrators for permission to admit Moss and prevailed. ``I really felt this kid was unduly sentenced,'' Bowden says.

One year later, Moss flunked a drug test and Bowden kicked him off the team.

A contradiction emerges. Bowden claims disenchantment with the criminal justice system - ``They've lost their guts completely,'' he says - but uses the system to his advantage. FSU rules would have precluded Bowden from signing Moss had Moss been convicted of a felony.

``But then it was reduced to a misdemeanor,'' Bowden says, ``and we could consider him.''

College football's double standard:

Item, Aug. 27, 1996: Kentucky announces the dismissal of third-string defensive tackle Harold Bell for violating undisclosed team rules.

Item, Jan. 1, 1995: Miami All-American defensive tackle Warren Sapp plays in the Orange Bowl against No. 1 Nebraska - despite multiple positive drug tests.

North Carolina assistant and former Ohio University coach Cleve Bryant acknowledges unequal treatment - harsh penalties for reserves, leniency for stars.

``Coaching is the only profession where if you don't produce wins, you are going to get fired,'' says Bryant, 49, who recruited Pinkney for Texas four years ago. ``If you lose a starting tailback or starting quarterback, you may not have a guy behind him that can come in and run the offense. If that starter gets in trouble, I think some coaches may look at that a little differently than if a third or fourth-string guy gets in trouble.

``Everyone talks about graduation rates. I was No. 1 in the nation for public institutions in that department. They didn't fire me at Ohio University for graduation rates.''

In five years at Ohio U. (1985-89), Bryant's teams went 9-44-1.

D.W. Rutledge, coach at Converse JudsonA High School in Texas, wins big and runs a tight program. He recently dismissed his starting nose guard, who was caught breaking into a neighbor's house over the summer. Kicked him off the team for a first offense.

``The pros don't have the guts to do it, the colleges don't have the guts to do it and some high schools don't have the guts to do it,'' says Rutledge, 45, who has won four Class 6A state championships since 1988. ``We've got two things there are no second chances on. If you are involved with drugs, you are eliminated from the team. And if you are caught and convicted of stealing, there's no second chance.''

Almost every college coach believes in second chances. ``Thank goodness a lot of them do change for the good,'' Bowden says.

Bowden gave a second chance to backup linebacker Lamont Green in August 1995. Green pleaded no contest to a grand theft charge, completed 25 hours of community service, made restitution of $849 and paid a $200 fine. No problems from Green since.

``Nothing makes me feel better than taking a chance on a kid and seeing him turn out good,'' Bowden says.

Nebraska coach Tom Osborne gave star running back Lawrence Phillips a third chance last year after Phillips beat up an ex-girlfriend. Osborne also allowed a player charged with attempted murder, wingback Riley Washington, to play.

At Miami, starting safety Tremain Mack has been arrested six times in four years. ``We stand beside him,'' coach Butch Davis has said, ``but we hold him accountable for his actions.''

Mack, 21, entered an alcohol treatment program following his sixth arrest this week and was suspended indefinitely by Davis.

Bob Shannon, coach at Alton (Ill.) High, does not understand why so many college coaches tolerate criminal behavior.

``I don't think college coaches should be in the business of rehabilitating kids,'' says Shannon, 52, who coached six state championship teams at East St. Louis High and one national champion in 1985 before going to Alton this past yeaAr. ``If a kid gets into trouble as a juvenile, you are really taking a gamble. And when you are recruiting a convicted felon, I think that's too big of a gamble. I kick a lot of guys off this team for a lot less.''

Shannon told of once dismissing a starting quarterback at East St. Louis High School because the player refused to stop wearing an earring. Team leaders, Shannon told the player, should set a better example.

That quarterback transferred, received a scholarship and went on to play defensive end in the NFL.

You might have heard of him. In January, police charged James Harris, then a Minnesota Viking, with third-degree assault. Harris, now with the St. Louis Rams, struck his wife, breaking her nose and collarbone, police said.

University of Cincinnati criminologist Frank Cullen: ``The decision for athletes charged with crimes to play should not be in the hands of coaches or athletic directors. It should be in the hands of those outside the program. Coaches and athletic directors have such strong incentives to let the kids play. It's almost always asking too much to let them make those decisions.''

The disparity in the way some successful coaches mete out discipline is disturbing. George Curry, coach of three-time national champion Berwick High School in Pennsylvania, has kicked players off his team for using drugs. Erickson concealed positive drug tests of his best player at Miami.

``If I catch a kid who is arrested for drugs, he's done,'' says Curry, 51. ``He doesn't get a five-game suspension. He is finished.''

Few college coaches discipline star players severely. Penn State's Joe Paterno is one who has. He suspended star receiver Bobby Engram for the 1992 season after Engram was charged with burglary, criminal trespass and criminal conspiracy, all felonies. It was Engram's first arrest.

But sometimes, colleges show startling leniency.

On Aug. 29, 1994, police charged Northridge (Calif.) State starting guard Jonathan Beauregard with attempted murder. DAetectives said Beauregard shot his ex-girlfriend in the hip and her male companion in the chest.

Before the shooting, the ex-girlfriend, Dunyella D. Smith, filed two reports with police, alleging Beauregard struck her and threatened her life. When confronted by police, Beauregard gave a fake name.

Beauregard, a criminology major, hid the arrest from coaches for more than a month. When the school learned of the charges, athletic director Robert Hiegert released this statement: ``Jon Beauregard is still a member of our football team. Under team guidelines, a student-athlete charged with a crime is considered innocent until proven guilty.''

Beauregard remains in legal limbo. In March, a San Bernardino Superior Court jury deadlocked and a second mistrial was declared.

If athletic directors and coaches want to gain control of their players, they might have to use extreme measures. Two years ago, Wilmington (Ohio) College coach Mike Wallace suspended 40 players for violating the school's ``no alcohol'' policy.

The suspensions forced the Quakers to forfeit a game against Bluffton because they had only 14 players left.

There is fear, anger and turmoil at Clemson. Two alleged gang rapes in 1996. Nine football player arrests since February. This month, police charged backup receiver Tony Horne with punching a student in the face at a party. More than 100 concerned students met with coach Tommy West, looking for answers.

One of them, student senator Hannah Parker, cut to the chase: ``What can you do to guarantee my safety?''

West shook his head.

Nothing really, he said.

Said Parker, ``I don't feel safe with the football program here.''

It may not be long before college students across the country express the same fear. Recent surges in the juvenile arrest rate for violent crimes lead some criminologists to believe that college football will have more players entering school with criminal histories in the near future.

FBI statistics show the juvenile arrest rAate for violent crimes jumped 62 percent from 1987-93 and the juvenile arrest rate for murder went up 169 percent from 1984-93. Despite a slight decline in the juvenile arrest rate for violent crimes in 1995 - a 2.9 percent drop - some criminologists are bracing for an apocalyptic eruption.

``You ain't seen nothing yet,'' University of Nebraska criminologist Chris Eskridge says. ``It's going to be big-time. We're in the lull. There is a predatory group that is coming down the pipeline. These are the good ole days.''

Domestic violence. Date rape. Increased media scrutiny. All combine to fuel the perception that college football players are committing more crime than ever, experts say.

Eight coaches - four in college, four at the high school level - told The Miami Herald that perception is reality: More players are committing more crime. The coaches offered the following explanations: Broken homes and declining spiritual values. Increasing alcohol consumption and decreasing discipline. Restrictive NCAA rules and lenient university drug policies.

``If I had it my way, I'd throw a kid off the team for a first drug offense,'' says South Carolina State's Willie Jeffries, 58, in his 24th season as a college head coach. ``But our university drug policy won't let me. For a first offense, they go get counseling and don't miss a ball game. For a second, they are suspended for a week.''

NCAA rules limit head coaches from getting to know recruits well enough to determine character, Jeffries says. Coaches are allowed seven off-campus contacts with each recruit. ``You can't always tell who is going to be a problem,'' says Notre Dame's Lou Holtz, 59, in his 27th year coaching college football.

On this point, virtually all coaches agree. But on the issue of discipline there is no consensus. Coaches often change their own minds.

Just win, baby.

Just win?

After more than a decade of scandal, turmoil and arrests, Miami turned to Davis in 1995 to clean up a tarnished program.

BeforeA Davis' hiring, Penn State's Paterno offered Miami athletic director Paul Dee this advice:

``If you are going to go in a different direction,'' Paterno said, ``be prepared to lose.''



Photo: ``It's a growing problem,'' Florida State coach Bobb y Bowden says of colleges recruiting athletes with criminal histories.

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Oct 6, 1996

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