Pitt football gets top ranking in wrong areas

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Pitt's football program is No. 1 in the country ... in number of players arrested among teams that were ranked in the preseason top 25 last year, that is.

A six-month investigation by Sports Illustrated and CBS News found that Pitt had more players in trouble with the law (22) last year than any other school among the magazine's 2010 preseason top 25.

Among area schools, Penn State was tied for fourth with Boise State (16). West Virginia was not ranked in the preseason top 25, so it was not included in the investigation.

Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson and new football coach Todd Graham Wednesday addressed the incidents involving football players last year and what their plans are to reverse the trend.

"The number of incidents involving football student-athletes here is totally unacceptable," Pederson said at a news conference. "Certainly, this was an unusual year because we had so many high-profile incidents in such a short period of time, but we are committed to running a great program here.

"We certainly understand the situation, we are addressing the situation and we want to move forward."

When Pederson was asked who at the university is responsible for the number of arrests, he didn't answer the question directly.

"I think we've looked at this and said we have to look forward," he said. "Looking backward, I don't know what purpose that is going to serve. And I hope the first accountability starts with our student-athletes and then to a large extent us holding them accountable for what happens, too."

Former Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt was fired in December after six seasons at Pitt at least in part because of the number of players who had been arrested in a short period of time, according to sources in the athletic department.

Contacted Wednesday, Wannstedt, now an assistant coach with the NFL's Buffalo Bills, expressed disappointment in the article, saying it wasn't an accurate portrayal of the way he ran his program nor was it an accurate portrayal of the players he recruited.

"We had an unfortunate stretch of incidents last summer, but I am very proud of our body of work during my six years with regards to players behavior," Wannstedt said. "Every player [we recruited] was evaluated and scrutinized, and we tried to project whether they would become productive members of our football program as well as the university at large. Every player and each incident was evaluated on an individual basis, and we did our due diligence to make sure that we treated each player fair.

"Almost all of the incidents resulted in either a suspension or a player being eliminated from our program, and many of the incidents in question did not result in a conviction of any kind."

Pederson was asked if the number of arrests was, at least in part, why he made the decision to fire Wannstedt.

"I don't want to go back and relook at anything that we've done here," Pederson said. "We're giving every bit of support we can to coach Graham to move this program forward."

Graham, hired in January, said he can't change the past, but he can make sure this trend does not continue.

"The events of the article is unacceptable for us," Graham said. "But from day one, my first meeting, I was very, very aware of the situation, and it is not something we just started talking about today. We started talking about it the first meeting."

Pederson said one change already implemented as a result of the arrests is that every coach will be more accountable for doing better background research on players during recruitment.

He said that might include criminal background checks in the future. But, should the university decide on such action, there are legal issues surrounding public records of most proceedings in juvenile courts around the country.

"We've started more intensely doing what we are calling background research," Pederson said.

"And that is asking more and more questions, asking our coaches to ask more specific questions as we recruit student-athletes. But I think the discussion of criminal background checks is probably a national discussion to have.""

Penn State, which declined comment on the subject Wednesday, has several players on the current roster who have been cited for alcohol-related offenses, including fullbacks Michael Zordich (twice) and Joe Suhey, punter Anthony Fera and linebacker Glenn Carson. Wide receiver Curtis Drake was cited for disorderly conduct last summer.

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720. First Published March 3, 2011 5:00 AM


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