Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Background checks for recruits?

The Associated Press reports that Baylor University might require all incoming athletes to undergo criminal background checks before they are allowed on campus. All this comes almost a year after one Baylor basketball player was arrested for murdering another, and a coach was fired for trying to cover it up.

Several recruiting policy recommendations were made by a university task force that was formed to address violations of N.C.A.A. rules and other problems discovered last summer after Patrick Dennehy, a 6-foot-11 center and forward, was killed. Dennehy's former teammate, Carlton Dotson, was charged with murder and is jailed in Waco, Tex., awaiting a trial scheduled to begin in August.

The task force also recommended requiring all prospective athletes - incoming freshmen as well as transfers - to provide three character references.
My first thought after reading this was, "Isn't this overdoing it?" By that I mean, can't resources be better utilized to prevent violent crime in the future?

First of all, when coaches decide to recruit a player -- especially at Division I programs -- I doubt it's the case that they pull out their most recent of Street & Smith and thumb through the "Top HS Players" and then offer the kid a scholarship. I know I'm being extreme, but my point is this: Don't coaches have hours of interaction with high schoolers as they go through the recruiting process? Between watching games, attending camps, talking to the kids, his parents and his coach -- as well as how the player interacts with others through all this, shouldn't the coach have some idea about what type of person he is?

And don't forget, the head coach of Baylor was by all accounts a dirtbag. Maybe the administration should give itself a slap on the wrist for not putting this guy through a background check before they hired him. Not only that, but Carlton Dotson had mental problems, and I'm not sure if a background check will identify as much.

Anyway, I was all set to write that Baylor could better use their resources when identifying at-risk student-athletes and then I read this story.

Only days after signing with the Padres as the first overall pick in the MLB draft (including a $3+ million signing bonus), HS shortstop, Matt Bush (all of 18 yrs. old) sneaks into a bar, and when he's confronted by the bouncers, bites one of them. Bites them? Wow, I haven't heard that one before -- at least not about a guy getting thrown out of a bar.

Bush was arrested on suspicion of felony assault, and misdemeanors trespass and disorderly conduct. Bush was also cited for underage drinking, said Jay Davies, a spokesman for the Peoria Police Department.
What a dope. I blame Bush for not being smart, but this may be the case where San Diego didn't do their homework on how this kid is away from the field. I don't follow the Padres, so maybe they did do a Baylor-esque 'background check,' but either way, their first round draft pick likes to bite bouncers.

Team president Dick Freeman said the Padres are looking into both the arrest and further into Bush's background. He said it was too early to say what further disciplinary action the team might take against Bush.

"Even without any further investigation, I know he was in a place he shouldn't have been," Freeman said. "We wanted to visit with him and get his side of the story, and see if there's anything we missed as far as his history when we did our scouting on him."

"We got input from a number of people before the draft, not only about his baseball ability but the type of kid he is. We want to go back and verify and make sure that information's correct, as well as we need to find out what his history is in some of these areas and make sure our original evaluation was proper, and hopefully this was an isolated incident. Under any circumstance, it's bad business."

Freeman called Bush's arrest "a huge disappointment."

"Certainly you don't like to have your first draft pick have an incident two to three weeks after you draft him. That's not a good situation. The reality is, no matter how hard you try to figure out people, and understand them, these things happen."
So maybe Baylor is onto something with this whole background check idea. But even so, as the Padres front office mentioned above, it's still no guarantee that you don't have a loon on your hands. Maybe this is one more reason you shouldn't draft high school kids so high.