CBS NEWS/SI: How the marriage worked, and why

Sports Illustrated cover with CBS News story on criminal records in College Football.
Sports Illustrated

By Armen Keteyian, CBS News chief investigative correspondent

I've tackled many a national scandal over the years dating back to my days at Sports Illustrated in the 1980s, all of which made my six-month experience with SI examining crime and college football feel a whole lot like old home week.

What first attracted me to the project was the opportunity to work with SI cover story co-author Jeff Benedict. Our paths first crossed back in 1993 when Jeff was the director of research at the prestigious Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University and I was digging into some now forgotten crime story.

Another was the potential to break new ground. While criminal incidents involving college players appear to have become more widespread in recent years the scope of the problem had never been fully explored. No one had ever conducted the kind of criminal background checks we were proposing; reporting that would eventually expand to 31 state or local courts, 16 court databases and 25 law enforcement agencies. More than 7,000 checks in all.

Truth is, only a small handful of news organizations today have the resources (read: manpower and money) to back such an ambitious, game-changing project. And I do believe it is game-changing. Why? Because now schools know what is possible. They've been handed a detailed road map of where to look.

No longer will coaches be able to say "We've checked into his background" or "Dug as far as we could" without some enterprising reporter challenging that assertion. Frankly, I doubt any school worth its bowl revenue will offer a high school football star from Florida a scholarship again without first paying $24 to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to check if he has a juvenile record. Why wouldn't you? Why risk having to answer the "Coach, why did you sign?" question if it turns out Mr. All-State Running Back has a serious rap sheet.

That's not to say that those with a criminal past don't deserve second chances - but it does say it's a topic worth debating and discussing, particularly given the stature so many college athletes carry on campus.

But in the end what truly made this project so worthwhile was sailing into unchartered waters with some of the best reporters, editors and producers in the business: Jeff Benedict, George Dohrmann, Andy Staples, B.J. Schecter, Craig Neff, and Emily Rand. As well as the opportunity to affect some well-meaning change.