Only two of the 25 teams even attempted to conduct background checks. And those two — TCU and Oklahoma — only looked at adult records, which may include less than a year's worth of information, given the young age of many recruits.
Fauonuku, still a minor until April, recently signed with the University of Utah and was even offered a scholarship. Coach Kyle Whittingham declined to comment on the Sports Illustrated/CBS News story or the Fauonuku situation.
"What happened with (Fauonuku's) case gets to the core of the issue," said B.J. Schecter, executive editor of SI.com. "That either schools don't know the full information or they don't want to know. I think it was clear that the U. of U. didn't know a lot of the details about his case. In fact, Seni's high school coach didn't know a lot of the details until we showed him a police report. Again, (this story) isn't to place blame on Kyle Whittingham or his staff or Coach (Dave) Peck at Bingham — this is the way this system is designed right now and it's heavily flawed."
The reporters hope their investigation — the first one to review criminal backgrounds of college gridders — will spark some discussion about how to increase communication among those responsible for making admission and scholarship decisions.
"I think this has a very good chance at prompting some change," Schecter said. "Our stories, in a lot of ways, are road maps for how to obtain some of this information. We are transparent, we say exactly what we did, where we went, where the limitations are and how to get around them. I think if anybody reads this, they will say, 'OK, if they can do this for 25 teams, maybe we can do it for one team.'"
The writers checked players' names, dates of birth and other vital information in 31 courthouses and through 25 law enforcement agencies in 17 states. They also used several online databases that track criminal records, for a total of 7,030 checks.
"It's one of those stories that unless you did what we did, you never know this kind of information exists," Keteyian said. "We didn't do anything more than present it and then have people react to it."
Benedict, a lawyer, journalist and frequent SI.com contributor, explained that their investigation isn't meant to promote blanket policies regarding athletes with troublesome pasts, but to make those records more of a discussion point.
"One of the things about sports, it's the great venues for second chances," he said. "(Saying) 'no college should ever give a scholarship to a player who's been arrested' is not the point. But the fact is, there's a significant number of players that have a criminal charge on their record. I think that it probably makes sense for someone more than a single coach to be involved in the decision making process on whether to give a scholarship to a kid who's going to wear a uniform and represent a school if he's had some serious run-ins with the law."
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