Big news from the sports world folks — college football players are all a bunch of felonious hoodlums. They’ll mug you blind given the chance. Come to think of it, my house was robbed over break. Call the Department of Public Safety — I’ve finally got a lead.

If you think that my bold accusations are a little unwarranted, it’s because they are. And since you could so easily distinguish my baseless claims from fact, you probably won’t have a problem with a similar hyperbole reported in the March 2 Sports Illustrated which revealed results from its study called “College Football and Crime.”

SI and CBS News conducted an “unprecedented six-month investigation” of college football players’ criminal history and reported their findings last week. The 2,837 players in question were members of SI’s Preseason Top 25 football programs. After checking the backgrounds of the players, SI found that 7 percent of the players “had been charged with or cited for a crime” and nearly 60 percent were convicted. The crimes include theft, property destruction, drug possession and others.

The numbers presented weren’t what struck me as surprising, but rather the way in which the information was presented. It was odd that SI gave a few anecdotes about students who had committed crimes and then generalized that information to the entire football community. Stories of armed robbery and aggravated assault constituted a great deal of the report. These tales were the crux of SI’s argument that crime is rampant in college football, and the programs could care less. While these stories are by no means the whole picture, without them there isn’t much in this study that warrants a multiple page spread in the magazine, let alone the cover.

Though they’re presented as alarming, the statistics are less than shocking. When compared to Oregon State University’s Daily Barometer study about crimes committed by all college students, they’re downright placid. About 3.5 percent of all college students — and I’m rounding up from 3.45 percent, a liberty that echoes throughout SI’s study — have previously committed a crime. When considering the sample size of SI’s study compared to that of the Daily Barometer’s, it becomes apparent that this 0.05 percent difference in convictions between football players and other students isn’t all that significant. SI’s smaller sample population means that statistics are more susceptible to outliers, which can skew the results.

No study is perfect, and sampling the entire population of players would require about five times as much research as was done by SI. Perhaps the key to understanding the true irrelevance of SI’s report is that it didn’t “have access to juvenile arrest records for roughly 80 percent of the players in the study.” Wait — what? The statistics of a study that made claims about 25 college football teams were extrapolated from only 20 percent of their claimed data pool. After reading this disclaimer — which was one of many — my opinion of SI’s reporting methods took a stark turn.

SI criticized football programs for not checking the criminal records of their recruits — information that it wasn’t able to access because juvenile records aren’t publicly available — stating that none of the 25 teams require a background check on their prospective student-athletes. Some of the coaches were asked why they don’t do more research on their recruits. Many answered with a not-so-far-from-the-truth response of not “know(ing) that juvenile records were available.” Because they aren’t. SI is apparently a fan of snipe hunting for background checks — Heeere record, record, record *clap* *clap* *clap.*

SI’s intentions were noble, and I have no problem with this study being done. What I find problematic is how it took vanilla results and turned them into a scandal for the ages. It’s not fair to cast such a villainous light on college football players because you find a couple of malevolent anecdotes.

If anyone should be upset, it’s the players. Though they’re often stereotyped as thuggish brutes, the vast majority are college kids who are no more inclined to commit crime than a member of a fraternity or an honor society.

I hope that SI realizes its error in judgment and republishes this study in its “Go Figure” section of the Scorecard. I’ll even give a couple of suggestions for the headings:

7
Percent of college football players we made out to be criminals in the SI study.
4
Percent of players who actually committed a crime.
567
Players — out of 2,837 — whose criminal records were available for the study.
2
News entities that should be embarrassed by their reporting tactics — CBS News and SI.
100
Percent chance that SI wasted everyone’s time with a story that doesn’t exist.

Let’s face it — the scorecard is all anyone reads anyway.

Joe Sugiyama can be reached at jmsugi@umich.edu.

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