SPORTING CHANCE: Crime And College Athletes In West Michigan

(NEWSCHANNEL 3) – Western Michigan University’s Director of Athletics Kathy Beauregard acknowledges this school year has been a series of unprecedented highs and lows for WMU student-athletes.

The WMU football team’s appearance in the Cotton Bowl was obviously a high, but the arrest of three student-athletes charged with felonies was definitely low.

In December, a now former WMU basketball player, Joevier Kennedy, was arraigned on robbery and murder charges.

Kennedy stands accused of being involved in the murder of a fellow WMU student, off campus, following an altercation involving drugs.

A few months earlier, 2 WMU football players, Bryson White and Ronald George were arrested by police, charged with robbing a woman off campus at gunpoint.

Beauregard emphasizes WMU immediately dismissed all three players once the allegations and charges came to light, but now in an interview with Newschannel 3’s I-Team, Beauregard acknowledges the University is doing some reflection on how it vets student athletes during the recruitment process, and how it keeps tabs on them once they arrive for school.

“Nobody wants to see this, and it’s our job to continue evaluating our procedures to see what we can do,” she said, referring to the alleged crimes that happened off campus, but within the greater Kalamazoo area.

With collegiate sports rapidly increasing in visibility and importance over the last decade, more attention is being paid to crime allegations being made against student athletes.

At Michigan State University, three student athletes were suspended from an unspecified team after sexual assault allegations prompted an investigation. A staff member connected to MSU’s football team has also been placed leave during the investigation.

“Our promise to current and future student-athletes and to the entire Spartan community is to take the steps necessary, based on the facts determined through thorough review, to run this program according to the highest values and standards,” wrote MSU’s Athletic Director Mark Hollis.

According to data, keeping those values and standards may be a daunting task for colleges and universities across the country.

According to a 2010 CBS News/Sports Illustrated investigation, 1 out of every 14 student athletes on D1, top-25 college football teams, had a criminal record. 40% of those crimes, according to the sample, were classified as serious.

Even at Division II schools like Grand Valley State University, coaches and administrators are keeping a close eye on how the University recruits, in an effort to keep the school and surrounding community safe.

GVSU Head Football Coach Matt Mitchell says the recruiting process is very accelerated, and there can be pressure to make offers at a quicker pace.

“We make an effort to measure twice and cut once,” said Mitchell, referring to his recruiters’ efforts at finding players who will stay out of trouble.

Mitchell said his most recent strategy for finding potential problems during the recruiting process is social media. This year Mitchell says he eliminated two potential players from consideration after they made questionable posts on their Facebook pages.

“If you’re going to use poor judgment on social media, then that poor judgment will spill into your social life also,” he said.

The GVSU coach says once players arrive on campus, he makes it a point to arrange for lawyers and police to speak to the student athletes, and inform players about Michigan laws concerning drugs and alcohol.

All three of arrests and charges for the dismissed WMU student-athletes did involve drugs, but WMU officials say all of the former players likely received orientation on such topics, per the University’s policy.

“We have different police officers from the University address them,” says WMU AD Kathy Beauregard.

Some have critiqued the vetting processes of colleges and universities and suggested criminal background checks be standard as part of the admissions process.

Of the Universities who responded to Newschannel 3 questions on criminal background checks, the University of Michigan, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College and Grand Valley State University noted the schools do not conduct them.

Only two schools, Texas Christian University and Oklahoma University, according to CBS News, perform criminal background checks.

WMU’s athletic director said state law in Michigan and NCAA policies make performing criminal background checks incredibly difficult.

Beauregard also points out that background checks would not have raised any red flags concerning the WMU students currently in trouble with the law.

One of the dismissed student-athletes, Bryson White, it turns out, had faced allegations of rape in his home state of Ohio, but White was never formally charged, so his name likely would not have shown up on standard criminal background checks.

WMU officials admit prior to White becoming a walk-on, the school received an ambiguous email from someone warning the school about White, but WMU says White’s high school football coach never indicated any brushes with the law.

In an email to the Newschannel 3 I-Team, an official at White’s high school in Ohio disagreed with WMU’s recollection concerning White.

“WMU had sufficient knowledge and warnings about White,” wrote Tracey Carson, a public information officer with Mason City Schools. “Coach Castner informed WMU that White had significant troubles at school and with law enforcement during White’s freshman and sophomore years, while truthfully stating to WMU at the time that White remained relatively trouble-free during his junior year and during the football season of his senior year.”

Beauregard says WMU stands by its version of the story, but says the experience with White has taught the University to be more vigilant.

Over at Grand Valley State University, Athletic Director Keri Becker shares the WMU A.D.’s skepticism toward criminal background checks.

“We’re here at an educational setting, making them the people they will become, not to punish them for something they did in their past,” Becker said.

Becker says GVSU stands by its orientations and instruction given to student athletes once they arrive at GVSU, along with keeping a close eye on potential recruits, how the recruits interact with family members, and reaching out to high school teachers of potential recruits for any signs of potential problems.

As for WMU, Beauregard insists the school is reevaluating its policies and procedures regarding student athletes, but she insists societal issues might be at play in terms of student athletes and crime.

“It’s a pretty aggressive world we’re all dealing with right now,” she said. “Absolutely we can do better, but there are some societal issues out there we need to address and take very seriously.”

Beauregard emphasized that WMU graduates 75 percent of its student-athletes.

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