Out of bounds: College athletes and crime

SI Cover

Top college football teams are always on the hunt for talent. Recruiters go to high schools to watch prospects in action and, of course, check their records - their playing records.

But what about their criminal records? Colleges rarely check those. But CBS News and Sports Illustrated did. CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports on the findings.

Sports Illustrated: College Football and Criminal Records

Vileseni Fauonuku was a one-man wrecking crew as a defensive lineman at Bingham High in South Jordan, Utah, last fall. Standing six feet tall and weighing 290 pounds, he was a big reason the Miners were the No. 4 ranked team in the nation.

"I love this kid," said his coach Dave Peck. "I would do what I could to try and help him in his life."

Fauonuku's life took a violent turn last March when he was arrested on two felony counts for robbery.

Inside a garage, the then- 16-year-old allegedly pointed a 9 mm pistol at two young men - while his cousin grabbed drugs, cash and a wallet. Detective Chad Hahn says Fauonuku also issued a chilling threat:

"If they called law enforcement, they'd do bodily harm to them," Hahn said.

"Bodily harm, meaning what?" Keteyian asked him.

"Death," Hahn replied.

Video: High school football player takes wrong turn

Fauonuku's troubled past was uncovered as part of a ground-breaking CBS News/Sports Illustrated investigation focusing on crime and college football. A six-month examination of how much schools really know about the prospects they recruit and reward with scholarships.

To find out, we conducted exhaustive criminal background checks on every player - 2,837 in all -on the opening-day rosters of Sports Illustrated's 2010 pre-season Top 25 teams.

SI: Likely Impact of the Probe

What we found was striking: on those Top 25 teams, more than 200 players were either arrested or cited by the police a total of 277 times.

Overall, 7 percent of players - 1 out of every 14 - in our single-season sample had a record.

"These are going to be pretty startling number for a lot of people who are seeing them for the first time," Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, said.

In fact, nearly 40 percent of what we found were serious crimes. Fifty-six were arrested for so-called violent crimes - including 25 for assault and battery, robbery, domestic violence and sex crimes. Forty-one were arrested or cited for property crimes. The more than 100 drug and alcohol-related offenses, included 27 DUI's.

In those cases where we know the outcome - we found that nearly 60 percent of the time, the athlete was either guilty or paid some penalty as a result of his run-in with the law.

According to our data the University of Pittsburgh had the most players with police records (22) which the school said in statement, was "unacceptable." The school was followed by Iowa (18), Arkansas (18), Boise State (16) and Penn state (16).

Among the major conferences, the Big Ten led our list with 50 players. The ACC was next with 39. Then came the SEC (33), Big East (27), PAC-10 (19) and Big 12 (16).

"We found that in many cases, even the coaches don't know the full extents of a player's criminal history," said Sports Illustrated story co-author Jeff Benedict.

At the annual football coach's convention, we asked several top college coaches how deep they dig into the background of the players they recruit. Most answered along the same lines as Jim Tressel, head coach of Big 10 power Ohio State.

"We really don't go into anything outside the school system," Tressel said. "And hopefully through the school system, we can find out what we need."

In fact, we found that just two of our top 25 schools perform any type of regular criminal background searches on recruits - and not a single one searches juvenile records.

Yet we discovered in the recruiting hotbed of Florida, they are accessible - and revealing: 318 athletes in our sample hailed from Florida and 22 had a juvenile record.

"In the state of Florida, you can do a complete criminal history from juvenile to adult, for $25," Benedict said. "Schools are going to be in a position where there's really no excuse not to do it."

Mark Emmert is the President of the NCAA. 

At the association's recent convention in San Antonio we showed him our findings.

"What I saw in looking at it, you know, was a set of facts that obviously should concern all of us," Emmert said.

"Is this the kind of image the NCAA wants in any way, shape or form?" Keteyian asked.

"You know, we certainly don't want a large number of people with criminal backgrounds involved in activities that represent the NCAA."

Video: NCAA President "concerned" over the investigation's findings

There was good news: 11 schools had five or fewer run-ins with the law. One school came out completely clean - undefeated Rose Bowl champion Texas Christian University. TCU head coach Gary Patterson told us there's a critical reason why:

"Every student-athlete who comes to TCU gets a deep background check if they're going to be on scholarship," Patterson said. "So we go very deep."

"Criminal background checks," Keteyian asked.

"Yeah," he replied.

Keteyian blog on Sports Illlustrated

As for Fauonuku, in an interview at the family home he denied threatening to kill anyone. He claimed it was a pellet gun in his hand - not a pistol.

Last November he admitted to one count of second-degree felony robbery in juvenile court. When his probation ends Fauonuku's crime will be considered a "delinquent act" - and not a felony. It will pave the way for him to attend the University of Utah on a football scholarship, which has a school policy prohibiting the signing of felons.