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Judging prospects a hot issue
OU conducts background checks; OSU coaches evaluate character

By Jake Trotter and Mike Baldwin Published: January 27, 2008
At last month's annual college football coaches convention, the major theme wasn't perfecting the spread offense or executing on special teams.

Instead, with national signing day looming Feb. 6, the focus was evaluating the character of players.

"I made this a hot-button issue because it's a very important issue,” said former Baylor coach Grant Teaff, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, sponsor of the convention. "We concentrated on how to question youngsters to give you some idea of who they are and who they run around with.”

While assessing recruits on the field is as old as the split-T formation, more emphasis is being placed on judging prospects off the field.

Both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State now have operating policies in place to evaluate the character of prospective student-athletes.

In the spring of 2005, OU became one of the first universities to require a criminal background check be completed before a national letter of intent is sent out.

"Our philosophy is we want to evaluate a prospect as comprehensive as we can,” OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said. "We feel it is wise to do everything one could do in advance.”

Oklahoma State doesn't conduct mandatory criminal background checks, instead relying on its coaches to evaluate the individual character of prospective recruits.

"I judge them on how they treat their family at home,” said new OSU co-offensive coordinator Trooper Taylor. "If they're disrespectful to their mom or dad, I have no chance. They've been raising them for 18 years. For me to think I can change them in four years, it's probably not going to happen.”

The move to more stringent policies of evaluating recruits has come in part from the recent implementation of the Academic Progress Rate, which measures if a school is moving its athletes toward graduation.

Poor APR scores can result in a loss of scholarships, which makes recruiting prospects that have an interest in academics crucial.

"It's imperative you bring in youngsters that will be there for four years, capable of graduating,” Teaff said. "To assure that you have to be sure they're academically capable and they have the character to control their behavior.

"You can't invest thousands of dollars in a kid who will be there for only one or two years. Anybody that does it is not going to last very long.”

A background check, however, doesn't stop with searching for a criminal record, reading an academic transcript or talking with the immediate family.

Finding athletes who will integrate well into a team philosophy is an important facet of recruiting.

Not only that, juvenile misdemeanors sometimes won't appear on criminal records, meaning deeper investigations are often required.

"It definitely has become a bigger deal to do more homework on a kid,” said Jeremy Crabtree, national recruiting editor for "You don't want a kid to cause problems on campus or become a cancer. Are they coachable? Will he get in trouble when he's out celebrating a win? You have to be real careful.

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