Ron Higgins, a veteran sportswriter and SEC expert, interviewed and featured Arrest Nation in an article yesterday (June 11, 2014) for the The Times-Picayun. The article appears below in its entirety.
Get the bail bondsman on speed dial because it’s time for college football’s arrest season
By Ron Higgins, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
on June 11, 2014 at 4:30 PM, updated June 11, 2014 at 5:06 PM
A college football calendar year in the fanatical 11-state footprint of the Southeastern Conference has nine seasons.
There’s the regular season, followed by the flurry of head coaches being fired and hired, bowl games, off-season winter workouts, the January recruiting push toward February’s signing day, spring practice, preseason magazines hitting newsstands, and the start of summer workouts.
And now, welcome to the ninth season.
Arrest season is the gap between the end of spring practice and the start of preseason camps in August. It’s when head coaches know that any phone call they get after midnight isn’t from a lost pizza delivery driver.
Early Wednesday morning, LSU cornerback Jalen Mills kicked off the SEC’s 2014 Summer Mugshots ‘n Handcuffs tour by being arrested for second-degree battery. He turned himself in to Baton Rouge police, more than a week after investigators unsuccessfully sought to interview him.
His arrest stemmed from an incident in May in which he allegedly sucker-punched a 5-foot-3, 113-pound female in the mouth. The poor girl apparently made an unforgivable mistake by twice knocking on Mills’ apartment door looking for her girlfriend.
Second-degree battery is a felony and punishable by up to five years in prison and fines reaching $2,000.
Mills’ arrest is the fourth time in the last four years that an LSU football player has been arrested for battery (Jordan Jefferson and Josh Johns in 2011, Jeremy Hill in 2013).
Which is rather maddening, because you’d figure one of these knuckleheads would learn from the senseless precedent set before him.
Jefferson, who returned to LSU and earned his Bachelor’s degree last month, maintains he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and not involved in the fight at an off-campus bar. Johns had the charges dropped against him due to lack of evidence.
Hill and someone named Robert Bayardo were caught on video via a cell phone camera beating a Tigerland bar patron named Connor Baldridge unconscious, and then celebrating their manliness.
Throw in the latest incident with Mills and the fact that LSU coach Les Miles indefinitely suspended and reinstated those previously charged athletes and you’re sure the Tigers’ program is spinning out of control.
But when you look at the big picture thanks to arrestnation.com, which tracks pro and college athletes’ and coaches’ arrests since Aug. 2010, LSU has had the least amount of football players arrested of all SEC schools except Vanderbilt.
Since that date, LSU has had seven players (counting the latest addition of Mills) arrested eight times. The SEC leader is Georgia, which has 19 players arrested 19 times. Texas A&M and Missouri have had 17 players each arrested (Mizzou head coach Gary Pinkel was also arrested for a DUI), and Tennessee has had 16 players arrested, including 10 at an out-of-control house party this past February.
Since May 1, 2013, the SEC has had 72 football players arrested, which is as many as the next four ranked conferences combined.
Finally, there’s something in which the SEC doesn’t like being ranked No. 1.
Comparing LSU’s arrest numbers with the rest of the SEC doesn’t mean I’m downplaying any of the Tigers’ offenses, especially Mills. If he is found guilty of hitting a female, his punishment should be more severe than what Jefferson and Hill received.
He should be kicked off the team permanently.
Coaches don’t necessarily deserve blame when players keep bail bondsmen busy. They constantly harp about behavior to their teams.
I once witnessed former Ole Miss football coach Houston Nutt preaching to his team after a spring game, “Let’s do the right things this summer. You know what is right and you know what is wrong. Do the things that will make you a better person and player.”
It wasn’t a month later that Nutt kicked two players off the team for public drunkenness.
Last December, the NCAA finally passed a rule allowing football coaches to have contact with their players during the summer. Since this is the first summer the rule is in effect, hopefully it will eventually have an impact on the summertime shenanigans that sully a program’s reputation.
What else can colleges do to reduce the number of arrests?
On the front end, coaches, despite being limited by recruiting contact rules, do their best at vetting the backgrounds of recruits. They rely on the word of those persons closest to a prospect, hoping they get the truth about a kid’s character and not sugar-coating from some high school coaches who like their resumes to show they’ve produced a high number of college signees.
You’d think colleges would, sad to say, consider performing criminal background checks on recruits. A 2011 investigation of top 25 football programs by Sports Illustrated and CBS showed that just Oklahoma and TCU ran such criminal background checks. The large majority of schools don’t perform background checks of recruits, using the laughable excuse that it’s too expensive.
On the back end, after an athlete enrolls, there needs to be ongoing life-skills training, the type that Bob Flores is hoping Division I programs seek.
Flores, a former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., formed a Virginia-based company called Winning Integrity. He’s offering a four-year integrity and ethics program for athletes within a college curriculum. He and two partners got the idea after reading arrestnation.com, which was originally a blog started by a college student in Michigan named Ben Hoyt.
Arrestnation.com is now under the Winning Integrity umbrella, providing an always-busy database of arrests that Flores believes can be avoided.
“We’ve discovered at many schools things fall through the cracks because it’s nobody’s ultimate responsibility to educate athletes in integrity and ethics,” Flores said. “When something does happen, it’s too late to do anything.
“At the end of the day, success is measured by whether the athletes themselves become their own protection. They need to look around and say, ‘It makes no sense to go to this bar at midnight. Every weekend, you hear about a fight at this bar. Why am I going to go there?'”
Until athletes are ever properly educated in making correct common sense choices, it’s up to the coaches to deter unacceptable behavior. Punishment meted to athletes who have been arrested, particularly those who have pled guilty or been ruled guilty, has to be more than running stadium steps at dawn for a month or being banned from team activities.
A scholarship is a privilege, not a right. Athletes should be reminded of that in the harshest manner, especially those who bust a female in the mouth.