It’s long been alleged that student athletes receive favorable treatment after an arrest. And a new report from ESPN’s Outside the Lines looks at the matter in-depth, revealing which schools have the highest rate of students avoiding prosecution.
Last fall, to determine how often crimes involving college athletes are prosecuted and what factors influence them, Outside the Lines requested police reports involving all football and men’s basketball players on rosters from 2009 to 2014 from campus and city police departments covering 10 major programs: Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Michigan State, Missouri, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Texas A&M and Wisconsin. Some police departments withheld records citing state disclosure laws. (ESPN sued the University of Notre Dame and Michigan State University for not releasing material; both cases are pending on appeal.) And not all information was uniform among jurisdictions.
As the graph below demonstrates, Florida State basketball and football players who were arrested ended up having the charges dropped 70 percent of the time. Males of the same age living in Tallahassee had a 50 percent rate of dropped charges.
Florida came in second with 56 percent of charges being dropped, as opposed to a 28 percent rate of dropped charges found among similarly aged males in Gainesville. However, Florida came in first in terms of players involved in a crime, while Oregon State and Florida state came in second.
While the report suggests that college athletes are much more likely to avoid prosecution compared to the general population, it also implies that it may not be a simple matter of favoritism from the police.
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.
As always, the data may be open to different interpretations, but one thing is abundantly clear: things are not right in Florida.
Jason Mathews is Internetting way too hard. Follow him at @jasonmathews316.