Cracking Down

California makes college felons serve their time before getting playing time
October 08, 2006

It was a source ofpride for local sports fans, but for Dave Wiens the state football title thatGrossmont College, a junior college in El Cajon, Calif., won in 2005 wasnothing to savor. In September '04, Wiens, then a 20-year-old junior businessmanagement student at nearby San Diego State, was confronted by severalGriffins players at a party near campus. In an incident caught on videotape,they beat the 5'7", 145-pound Wiens so severely that he was hospitalizedwith a broken jaw.

Eight months laterGrossmont linebacker Gary McLaurin, defensive back Kenneth Tullis andquarterback Carter Hallock pleaded guilty to felony assault. But they weren'tsentenced until late October 2005--each received 270 days in jail and threeyears' probation--and McLaurin and Hallock contributed to the Griffins'championship season. Says Wiens's mother, Melodye Shore, "If someone iscarried away in handcuffs and then convicted, that person shouldn't beplaying."

A new Californialaw may prevent such scenarios. The bill, introduced at Shore's urging byRepublican assemblyman Jay La Suer and signed last month by Governor ArnoldSchwarzenegger, prohibits athletes who have been convicted of violent feloniesand haven't completed their sentences from playing sports at state colleges.The ban is novel: Most schools and governing bodies, including the NCAA, allowfelons with pending sentences to take the field. "[The NCAA] has this hugemanual of eligibility," Shore says. "You could be suspended for takinga cheeseburger from a booster, but for any of the crimes listed in this billyou could still play."

The University ofCalifornia system already has a similar provision, so the law will primarilyaffect the California State University system and the state's junior colleges,which are often magnets for athletes with troubled legal histories. The billpassed easily, but it has less support among those who must enforce it. The lawrequires only that student-athletes sign a "declaration" about theircriminal histories; schools aren't required to conduct background checks."It's not going to work," says Phil Mullendore, executive director ofthe California College and University Police Chief Association. "There's noincentive for [athletes] to tell the truth."

There'sphilosophical opposition as well. Nonathletes at California colleges don't haveto disclose criminal backgrounds, and critics of the new law say athletes arebeing treated unfairly. "We're placing this burden on them when we're notdoing it to the other groups," says Mullendore. "If we don't want themon the field, why do we want them in [campus] housing?" For Wiens, whograduated from San Diego State this year, the bill is long overdue: "Thiswill ensure that no other person has to watch as his assailants continue toplay."

PHOTOJOHN GASTALDO/THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE/ZUMA PRESS (SHORE)FIGHTING BACK Shore, Wiens (left) and the governor (right) pushed for a new law.

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