Report: Gator, ‘Nole athletes avoid legal charges more than other students, schools

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In a report that should come as a surprise to absolutely no one, ESPN‘s investigative arm has found that a student’s status as an athlete — and the subsequent “extra” help involved — may help him wiggle out of some difficult legal circumstances — at least compared to the general student body, that is.

In a video expose along with a companion online written piece, the WWL program Outside the Lines reports that it “selected 10 schools in various conferences and geographies, leaning toward colleges in quintessential college towns and in states that had public records laws that seemed favorable to accessing police and court records” in examining how student-athletes were treated in the legal system. The 10 universities involved in the investigation, which takes into account records from 2009-14, were:

  • Auburn
  • Florida
  • Florida State
  • Michigan State
  • Missouri
  • Notre Dame
  • Oklahoma State
  • Oregon State
  • Texas A&M
  • Wisconsin

(The results obtained as it relates to Michigan State and Notre Dame are incomplete as the former heavily redacted the information it turned over to ESPN while the latter, citing its status as a private institution, did not turn over campus police records. ESPN has sued each of those universities, and both cases are still pending.)

From the report:

Overall, the Outside the Lines investigation found that what occurs between high-profile college athletes and law enforcement is not as simple as the commonly held perception that police and prosecutors simply show preferential treatment, though that does occur. Rather, the examination of more than 2,000 documents shows that athletes from the 10 schools mainly benefited from the confluence of factors that can be reality at major sports programs: the near-immediate access to high-profile attorneys, the intimidation that is felt by witnesses who accuse athletes, and the higher bar some criminal justice officials feel needs to be met in high-profile cases.

One of the more noteworthy statistics gleaned from the piece can be summed up by a tweet from Paula Lavigne, the author of the expansive report.

For the purpose of Lavigne’s report, “athletes” refers to football and men’s basketball players at each institution.

The report shines a particularly harsh light on former Florida running back Chris Rainey and current Florida State associate athletic director Monk Bonasorte.

During his time in Gainesville, Rainey was named as a suspect in five crimes; he was charged once, the report noted. Additionally, Rainey, who infamously sent the “time to die, b***h!” text to his girlfriend, has been accused of three additional crimes in Gainesville since leaving the Gators and hasn’t been charged in any of those cases.

The report also reveals that Bonasorte, a former Seminole football player, was arrested for cocaine distribution in the late eighties and served six months in jail. His name also appears in numerous police reports turned over to ESPN in his unofficial capacity as “liaison” between the football program and police departments.

“He is kind of the fixer for football,” an unnamed former staff member said about Bonasorte. “He knows where the skeletons are buried, but he also helps keep those football players, not out of trouble, but out of paying for the trouble they’ve gotten into.”

In Tallahassee, Outside the Lines found at least nine examples from 2009 to 2014 in which officers documented that Florida State coaches or athletic department officials tried to determine when and where city police would interview athletes or attempted other involvement.

“That would be a classic example of real poor police work,” said Willie Meggs, the state of Florida’s chief prosecuting attorney in the Tallahassee region. “You don’t do an interview of a suspect — football, non-football, athlete, non-athlete — in their own comfortable environment. That’s common sense.”

Meggs, of course, is the state’s attorney who, saying his investigation didn’t find enough evidence to prove it was not consensual, declined to charge FSU quarterback Jameis Winston with rape In December of 2013.

Of course, in this day and age, no report of this type would be complete without a link to the vast, schizophrenic wasteland of sports message boards (and comments sections, in all honesty).  And, suffice to say, this isn’t something that Missouri will be putting on its recruiting literature at any point in the near future.

Dorial Green-Beckham had been a productive but troublesome player since joining the Tigers in 2012 as the top-ranked player in the country in that class. Following three twos — arrests, suspensions and police investigations — in less than two years, Mizzou announced that it was cutting its losses and dismissing the talented receiver.

The last incident that triggered his dismissal was by far the most disturbing as an incident report stemming from the report of a first-degree burglary stated that Green-Beckham pushed one woman down a several steps during a domestic incident.  The victims, one of whom was quoted in the incident report as stating she was afraid of the media and community backlash, declined to press charges, forcing the police to drop the case.

At least as far as the community backlash was concerned, the victim’s visceral fears were warranted:

On TigerBoard.com, a popular online forum for Missouri fans, the name-calling and harassment had begun: “Which loser ass snitch called the cops over some drunk kids arguing?” “Snitches get stitches!” “No, just a jersey chaser looking for $.” “Jock sniffin for dark meat team.” “Is gold digging a sport?”

For the complete ESPN report, click HERE. For how the investigation was conducted, click HERE.

After MAC surrenders to pandemic, will other leagues follow?

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In many ways, the Mid-American Conference has little in common with Power Five leagues that first come to mind when fans think of major college football.

There are no 75,000-seat stadiums in the MAC. Million-dollar per year coaches are rare. In a typical season, NFL scouts might find one or two potential first-round draft picks playing at the 12 MAC schools that dot the Midwest. The MAC’s biggest games — #MACtion, if you will — are often played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Its television deal with ESPN pays per year only a few million more than the $9 million Clemson pays coach Dabo Swinney.

Still, the MAC is one of 10 conferences that competes in the NCAA’s highest level of football, and Saturday it became the first of those to surrender to the coronavirus pandemic and cancel the fall sports season.

So is the MAC an anomaly, done in by its small budgets or is this a dire sign of things to come in college football?

“I won’t try to judge what other folks are doing,” MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said. “I know we’re all in the same place. They all have their advisers. They’re going to make judgments based on the information they are receiving.”

Not long after the MAC announced it would explore second-semester seasons for all fall sports, including soccer and volleyball, the Big Ten made its own announcement that seemed ominous given the timing.

Tapping the brakes on football’s preseason, the Big Ten told its schools that until further notice full contact practices cannot begin. All teams will remain in the first two days of what is known as the “acclimatization period,” working out in just helmets. The first Big Ten games of the season are scheduled for Sept. 5.

“As we have consistently stated, we will continue to evaluate daily, while relying on our medical experts, to make the best decisions possible for the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes,” the Big Ten said in a statement.

The MAC’s schools were facing a significant financial burden by trying to maintain costly COVID-19 protocols, while also dealing with the uncertainty that campuses can be opened safely.

A move to the spring, however, could also be budget-buster if it means less revenue from the ESPN deal, which pays each school about $1 million per year, and football ticket sales. The MAC also shares about $90 million per year in College Football Playoff money with four other conferences.

“It would be naive to say that you don’t give thought and consideration to what the financial ramifications of any decision are, but this was a health and well-being decision first and foremost,” Steinbrecher said. “As we sit here today we don’t know what this will mean financially and how the rest of the fall plays out.”

Steinbrecher said the decision effects only fall sports, not basketball or others that begin in the second semester such as baseball, softball and lacrosse.

He added the decision was unanimous among the membership. Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier, supported by NIU President Lisa Freeman, has been a vocal advocate of delaying the season.

“No one wants to have football or sports more than me,” said Frazier, who played football at Alabama in the late 1980s. “Football gave me all the opportunities I have today, but I can’t do it at the expense of people’s lives.”

Eastern Michigan athletic director Scott Wetherbee said he has been feeling a sense of inevitability for two weeks about the MAC canceling fall football, but can’t predict whether this decision trickles up to other conferences.

“Could it? Certainly. There’s certainly a narrative out there that could happen,” Wetherbee said. “No, it wouldn’t shock me if some followed suit. In fact, it would shock me if some didn’t.”

NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline made clear that even though plans for the football season have been adjusted to accommodate potential COVID-19 disruptions like the ones Major League Baseball has had, they are all still aspirational.

“Almost everything would have to be perfectly aligned to continue moving forward,” Hainline said Friday during the NCAA’s weekly video chat on social media.

As the Power Five conferences re-worked their schedules to play exclusively or mostly within their conferences, another of the MAC’s revenue streams dried up.

MAC schools, with athletic budgets in the $30 million range, rely heavily on payouts from road games against power conference teams. Kent State alone had more than $5 million in so-called guarantee games canceled. Whether they can be recouped and when is still to be determined. Without that revenue, the strain became too great of trying to keep players and staff safe during a pandemic.

“Certainly there was a cost attached to it,” Wetherbee said. “But as a league we were prepared to do it.”

The move to try spring football has already been going on in the second tier of Division I.

Nine of 13 conferences that play in the Championship Subdivision, have postponed fall football seasons. The first was the Ivy League in early July.

Now it’s the MAC, which was among the first conferences to limit fan access to its basketball tournament in March as concerns for the virus began to soar across the country. On March 12, the MAC was among many conferences to call off their tournaments hours before the NCAA canceled all of March Madness.

“If you told me in March we’d be here today,” Steinbrecher said, “I’d never have believed it”

Colorado State pauses football after allegations of racism

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FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Colorado State is pausing all football activities after an investigation started by the president of the university into the program’s handling of COVID-19 cases uncovered allegations of racism and verbal abuse toward athletes.

Athletic director Joe Parker said he asked President Joyce McConnell to expand the investigation she announced Tuesday to include a comprehensive review of the athletic department and football program.

“Today, we learned of some extremely troubling allegations of racism and verbal abuse from CSU’s athletic administration generally and in the football program specifically,” Parke said.

Parker’s statement did not mention any particular member of the coaching staff or athletic department. Steve Addazio is in his first season as head coach of the Rams.

McConnell announced the investigation Tuesday after an article published in the Coloradoan that quoted unidentified football players and members of the athletic staff saying coaches told them not to report coronavirus symptoms and threatened players with reduced playing time should they quarantine.

“Colorado State University is committed to being an anti-racist university, and we will not tolerate any behavior or climate that goes against that core value,” Parker said. “Moreover, CSU Athletics is committed to the health and well-being of student-athletes above all other priorities, and this includes their mental health. We believe it is our responsibility to make sure that all student-athletes feel welcomed and valued as members of an inclusive athletics community.”

Colorado State has paused all meetings, workouts and practices.

“While we have been working hard towards playing football this fall, the holistic well-being of our student-athletes is our unequivocal top priority,” Parker said. “We must and will address these allegations before we focus on playing football.”

On Tuesday, Addazio said he welcomed the investigation into the football program’s alleged mishandling of coronavirus protocols.

McConnell announced via an email to student-athletes and department staff Thursday that Husch Blackwell, a legal firm based in Kansas City, would lead the probe into those allegations

Addazio was hired in December, replacing Mike Bobo, after spending seven seasons with Boston College.

The Rams were scheduled to open the season Sept. 19 by hosting Northern Colorado, but the Big Sky Conference voted this week to push back its football season to the spring.

Pac-12 player group ‘disappointed’ after commissioner call

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The Pac-12 players of the “WeAreUnited” movement said they were “disappointed and deeply concerned” after a recent meeting with the conference’s commissioner.

The players sent an email to Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott late Friday accusing him of not taking the issues they have raised seriously enough. The email was also shared with members of the media.

The group’s correspondence came after Scott followed their Thursday call with an email to the players that struck a very different tone, thanking them for the “passion and honesty with which you spoke yesterday evening.”

The group is pushing the conference to address their concerns about COVID-19 protocols, racial injustice in college sports and economic rights for college athletes. Players threatened opting out of practices and games if their demands aren’t addressed. Leaders of the group have said their movement has more than 400 players from around the conference supporting it.

In their email to the commissioner, the players said they were unsatisfied with Scott’s answers to question about increasing the frequency of COVID-19 testing done on athletes and the mandating of best practices across the conference.

“Without a discernible plan and mandates to ensure the health and safety of student-athletes, it is absurd, offensive, and deadly to expect a season to proceed,” they said.

When the players went public with their demands last Sunday, they reached out to the Pac-12 and requested daily meetings with conference officials. Instead, they got one call last week and a pledge from the conference for continued communication.

“You informed us we cannot have legal representation attend these meetings to assist in connection with our legal rights, nor were you willing to even have regular meetings with us to provide updates,” the players wrote to Scott.

Scott’s email addressed four topics that made up the bulk of the Thursday call with 12 players: health and safety; eligibility; COVID-19 liability waivers; and opt-out due to COVID-19 concerns.

Scott wrote the conference will attempt to provide the players an opportunity to speak with the Pac-12 medical advisory committee and keep them abreast of work being done at the NCAA level to address whether athletes who opt out of the coming season will be permitted to retain eligibility.

Scott said the conference office would ensure none of the league’s schools ask athletes to sign liability waivers and reiterated Pac-12 schools were committed to honoring scholarships of players who chose not to play this season because of COVID-19 concerns.

“We will work on gathering the information listed above and providing it to you as soon as possible,” Scott wrote.

Clemson QB Lawrence says he’s completely committed to 2020 season

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Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence said he considered opting out of this season when he was unsure what college football would look like going forward amid the coronavirus pandemic.

However, Lawrence said Friday once he understood he’d play an 11-game season with a chance for an Atlantic Coast Conference and national championships, he decided to play his junior season.

The Heisman Trophy hopeful said he’s completely committed to this season and confident in Clemson’s ability to keep himself and his teammates safe.

Lawrence, who is the likely No. 1 overall pick in the next NFL draft should he leave college early, was 25-0 as a starter until he and Clemson fell to LSU in the national title game last January. The 6-foot-6 junior, had perhaps his poorest performance in college in the 42-25 loss to LSU. He joked how after his freshman year when he led Clemson to a championship he heard how amazing he was and since the LSU defeat, he heard how much work he has to do improve.