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Brigham Young athletic director Tom Holmoe was awakened by an early morning telephone call from basketball coach Dave Rose last Sunday, and he sensed almost immediately the news wasn't going to be positive.
Utah State athletic director Randy Spetman, University of Utah athletic director Chris Hill, and even Utah Jazz senior vice president of basketball operations Kevin O'Connor have also recently received "the call" that one or more of their athletes was in trouble with the law.
"Obviously, your heart sinks," Holmoe said. "You're not mad or angry. You are just sad. It's an incredibly sad thing when a kid can't be on the court or the field because of something they've done, whether it is a young man or a young woman, for whatever reason."
The recent rash of arrests and run-ins with the law involving Utah's professional and college athletes have administrators around the state doubling their efforts to educate players on what is expected of them. They acknowledge that the problems and subsequent negative publicity are probably unavoidable, given the amount of attention society and the media pay to high-profile athletes.
The recent run of trouble began at the end of 2005, when Utah Jazz rookies Deron Williams and Robert Whaley were part of a fracas outside a bar in Park City and gave false information to police officers.
College football players from Utah and Utah State carried the bad-boy torch through the spring, summer and fall of 2006. The most publicized troubles belonged to USU receiver Tony Pennyman, who was kicked off the team Sept. 12 after his second sexual assault charge in three years, and Utah senior quarterback Brett Ratliff, who was allowed to play his final three games despite a public intoxication incident Nov. 12 in which a woman alleged Ratliff repeatedly grabbed at her crotch, groped her and made obscene gestures with his tongue.
The Jazz were back in the news for the wrong reasons in October. Four players were questioned by Portland police when a woman at the team's hotel claimed she had been sexually assaulted after meeting the players at a Portland strip club. The investigation was dropped last week for lack of evidence.
"History has proven it. Some [athletes] are going to get in trouble," Spetman said. "It's probably inevitable. Me, Tom [Holmoe], Chris [Hill], we all seem to take our turn in the media, because someone on one of our teams didn't listen."
After the first 22 months of his administration were free of any major problems regarding athletes and the law, Holmoe was blindsided Jan. 7 when point guard Rashaun Broadus, coming off his best game as a Cougar, was arrested and briefly jailed on suspicion of drunk driving and other violations.
After lengthy talks with Holmoe, Rose suspended Broadus for the season on Monday, ending the senior's career at BYU. Teammate Austin Ainge acknowledged he could not go anywhere on campus the next five days without someone bringing it up.
"Guys make mistakes," said Ainge. "As an athlete, you are on campus and everyone kind of knows who you are. When you make a mistake, everyone knows about it. You can't afford to forget that for even one second."
Aside from possibly costing the Cougars wins and a possible NCAA Tournament berth this season, the Broadus incident likely won't have any long-lasting impact on BYU's sports programs, Holmoe said. Nor will it change the school's recruiting philosophy.
"You do what is right for your program, not what will make a particular group of people happy or unhappy," he said. "No matter what you decide, some people are going to be disappointed. That's just the way it is."
Bulletin board material
Spetman said USU coaches and officials cut out articles when prominent athletes get in trouble with the law and post them on bulletin boards near locker rooms with the message, 'Don't let this happen to you.'
He said several Aggie coaches have already used the Broadus incident to remind their players of the dangers of alcohol-related crimes and underage drinking.
They also have their own examples.
Two Aggie football players - backup quarterback Jerod Walker and receiver Dionte Holloway - were kicked off the team last April for smoking marijuana in an on-campus dormitory room. Walker already was in trouble for an aggravated sexual assault.
Three months later, five more USU football players were arrested for alleged marijuana possession, and one, Steven Downs, was booted off the team, per policies laid out by coach Brent Guy, because it was his second offense.
"We meet every season, with every team, and we talk to them about how they can have a positive or a negative impact on the university," Spetman said. "Many coaches bring in Logan police officers to talk to their athletes about staying out of trouble and the consequences they face if they break the law."
Yet, things happen.
Ainge said while staying out of trouble and in line with with the Honor Code has always been a focus at BYU, it has been heightened the past two years since Holmoe took over in the wake of an August 2004 incident in which four football recruits were charged with rape (they were later acquitted, or charges were dropped), and dismissed from the school.
"There have been more speeches and more emphasis the last two years, for sure," Ainge said.
NBA takes steps
The Jazz's O'Connor said the NBA conducts a rookie orientation every season, a four- to five-day process in which new players are told what is expected of them. Also, league representatives visit twice a year for "team awareness" meetings and to remind players to stay out of trouble. Coincidentally, the Jazz had one Wednesday.
He said the club examines a player's character before deciding whether to draft him or make a trade for him.
"We know the culture here is a little different and we've been here a long time," he said. "We know what it takes to succeed in this market."
O'Connor said Jazz owner Larry Miller has set a "high standard" regarding the types of players the team signs.
"They are held to a higher standard," O'Connor said. "I always tell them that if they are out with three other guys [who aren't on the team] and there is a problem, it is their name that is going to be mentioned prominently, not the other guys."
Out of control?
Peter Roby, director of the Center for Study of Sport in Society at Boston's Northeastern University, said a certain percentage of people believe organized sports "are completely out of control" when they hear about athletes and their run-ins with the law.
"We caution people that it is not fair to paint with a broad brush," he said. "They need to ask, 'Is this rare behavior for people in that situation?' No. They are young people, away at college, and when alcohol is involved, risky behavior generally follows. . . . We don't condone it, but it is not abnormal."
Studies that find athletes are more or less likely to commit crimes than the general public often are unreliable because the pool of athletes is too small.
"You have a problem where rules are being applied to the athlete more or less than to the average person," Roby said. "Equality should be what everyone is after."
As Spetman noted, "If a student at BYU on a full-ride scholarship in English was caught with a DUI, no one in the state of Utah, with the exception of that police officer, would know about it, and he would probably keep his scholarship. But the basketball player's career is over. Is that fair?"
From the top down
Like athletic directors and coaches, high-standing university officials are acutely aware when an athlete has a run-in with the law, said Stayner Landward, Dean of Students at the University of Utah.
He said only three of Utah's approximately 500 student-athletes have been in trouble with the law since school began in September. Some 200 of Utah's roughly 28,000 students have been charged with a "significant" crime this school year, Landward said, a percentage that is a little higher than the athlete crime rate.
Holmoe said Broadus is the only one of BYU's nearly 600 athletes to face criminal prosecution this school year.
Officials at both schools say that's remarkable, compared to what other similar-sized schools report. For instance, The Daily Iowan newspaper in 2005 ran the names of 562 University of Iowa athletes through the Iowa courts' online database and found that 10.8 percent had been convicted of at least a simple misdemeanor within that state's borders.
"I would say we have fewer problems in general than most places," Landward said. "Our culture here just precludes students from getting in trouble as much. We have an alcohol-free campus, for one thing. . . . We are not listed as a top party school for a reason."
Landward said he spends about five hours a week doing what three or four people do full-time at other similarly sized schools.
"By and large," he said, "we have a very good record."