Athletes’ records raise admissions questions

University officials, in the wake of sexual assault charges filed in October against three former TCU athletes, say they are exploring ways to more closely scrutinize applicants for possible criminal histories. And, a public records search by the Daily Skiff of 370 current male and female varsity athletes reveals that two football players have pleaded guilty to felony crimes and three other football players have pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges.One of the players who pleaded guilty to a felony charge did so in 2004, more than a year before his freshman year. The other was charged a month after newspaper reports indicate he signed his letter of intent and pleaded guilty the summer before his freshman year.

Two other football players were convicted of driving while intoxicated and one pleaded guilty to a criminal trespass charge. One baseball player also had a dismissed traffic ticket. The search did not indicate that any athletes from other sports had pleaded guilty or been convicted of crimes.

Dean of Admissions Ray Brown said the university already has some measures in place to scrutinize applicants with criminal pasts.

The university asks applicants to disclose felony convictions on the undergraduate application, but Brown said the university is looking to further expand the application to ask for misdemeanors.

That consideration was prompted when the university learned a former TCU football player now charged with sexual assault, Lorenzo Labell Jones, 20, had pleaded guilty to an assault charge.

Jones, a former member of the football team, along with former basketball players Virgil Allen Taylor and Shannon Monroe Behling, both 19, face 2nd-degree felony charges for a sexual assault police say occurred in a Moncrief Hall dorm room in October.

Chancellor Victor Boschini said Wednesday a committee was formed in October to examine the admissions process and how TCU asks “the felony question.” The chancellor appointed Brown, Provost Nowell Donovan, Director of Financial Aid Mike Scott and Athletics Director Danny Morrison to the committee.

“I just want to make sure we’re getting as much information as possible on anyone that we think we need to know information on,” Boschini said. “One of the ways to do that better may be to ask the question differently than we ask it now.”

Brown said nobody who answered yes to “the felony question” has been admitted during his time at TCU.

Application loopholes

The application does not ask for pending or deferred charges, though.

That meant that freshman linebacker Daryl Lewis Washington, 20, would not have to disclose a guilty plea entered in Dallas district court in 2004.

Washington was arrested for a December 2003 robbery in Irving and pleaded guilty to 2nd-degree felony robbery nine months later, according to court documents.

Two months after giving an oral commitment to TCU, sophomore safety Steven Coleman, 20, was arrested for burglarizing a Dallas house in March 2004, according to court documents and newspaper reports. Documents show he pleaded guilty three months later to burglary of a habitation, a 2nd-degree felony.

Coleman and Washington could not be reached through e-mail or by phone to comment on this story.

In both cases, defendants pleaded guilty but had their adjudication deferred. Attorney Rob Sherwin, an adjunct professor who teaches media law, said in the case of deferred adjudication, “if the admissions application says, ‘have you ever been convicted of a felony?’ then the truthful answer is ‘no.'”

Deferred adjudication is not a conviction but delays the court’s ruling while the defendant completes community supervision, Sherwin said. If the defendant completes that supervision, he said, the charges ordinarily will be dismissed.

Courts noted in both cases that “the best interests of society and the defendant will be served by deferring further proceedings without entering an adjudication of guilt.”

Officials mum on recruits

It remains unclear, however, whether university recruiters, officials or administrators knew about the felony charges when recruiting Washington and Coleman.

Tracy Syler-Jones, assistant vice chancellor for marketing and communication, said the university can’t comment on what, if anything, the university knew about the men due to federal privacy laws.

Adam Goldstein, an attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, said the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act prohibits such disclosures.

“If it pertains to an individual student, it’s going to be covered by FERPA,” Goldstein said. “It all goes back to the question of whether this is personally identifiable information.”

General questions about recruiting, however, aren’t protected by FERPA, Goldstein said.

Head football coach Gary Patterson did not return phone calls or e-mails seeking comment for this story. Mark Cohen, director of athletics media relations, said, “There’s nothing Coach Patterson can speak to you about – it’s a university matter.”

Morrison, the athletics director, deferred questions to Syler-Jones and Boschini in an e-mail Wednesday.

Football players comprise 109 student-athletes, less than one-third of the 370 athletes checked. Boschini said the prevalence of football players among those with criminal records did not automatically signal a pattern.

“I didn’t know that was true so I’d want to look into it and figure that out; it would definitely concern me though,” Boschini said.

Brown, dean of admissions, said the process for athletic recruits is much different than the process for non-athletic applicants.

“As admission officers, we have almost no interaction with (the athletes) because it’s coaches who are doing all of the recruiting,” Brown said. He said the admissions office has the final call on who is admitted to the university.

Brown said TCU coaches talk with high school coaches and applicants’ parents during the process and are “supposed to be very sensitive” to character issues.

Boschini agreed, saying, “I think it’s incumbent of the coaches to find out as much as you can on these students, not in the sense to dig around for dirt, but in the sense that you want the biggest picture possible to evaluate that student.”

Syler-Jones said, “In general, if the university is aware of prior problems we will then conduct a thorough review of the situation to help ascertain whether or not the student should be admitted.”

Brown said a felony disclosure always warrants a written explanation. The Campus Life office then evaluates the applicant and makes a recommendation to Brown, who makes the final decision regarding admission. Boschini and Donovan have the authority to override Brown’s decision.

“We can say from what I know, we would never knowingly admit a student to this university that we would consider a risk to other students,” Donovan said.