Sports Illustrated and CBS have published the results of a much-hyped joint investigation into crime and college football. And while the scope of the investigation is impressive, there is nothing about what it uncovered that is “striking” or “game-changing.”
The problem is this: the numbers, when taken at face value, can be (and will be) used by some people to construe college football players as a pack of roving, beefed-up cons who beat up students and terrorize sorority girls. I believe this would be an irresponsible (and incorrect) conclusion.
Essentially what SI and CBS did was pore over criminal records of 2,837 college football players, looking for incidents that occurred after they were 18. The big number here is 7, as in 7% of college football players in last year’s preseason top 25 were charged with or cited with a crime.
Now, that’s a decent-sized chunk of that sample size. But keep in mind: this number includes charges (that could have later been dropped) and non-serious offenses (like public intoxication, which, as you’d imagine, a lot of college kids are cited for). Of the 277 incidents uncovered, 40% were serious crimes, meaning that for 2,837 college football players, 3.9% were charged with a serious crime. Charged, again, is the key word here.
As Business Insider points out, the report is also lacking context. There’s no comparison with the population at large, so the reader doesn’t really know what they’re looking at. Is 7% striking? It’s impossible to form your own judgement, because SI doesn’t juxtapose their numbers against anything else. Instead, you have to take their word for it.
Like I said, the scope of this thing is impressive. CBS and SI had to go through a ton of data to get to these numbers, and some good may come of it: coaches might step up their background checks in the wake of this report. But my gut reaction is what they found isn’t too scary, despite their attempts to frame it as such.