Magazine: Pitt football had most players in trouble
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A six-month investigation by Sports Illustrated and CBS News found that the University of Pittsburgh's football team had more players in trouble with the law (22) than any other school among the magazine's 2010 preseason Top 25.
The story, posted on the magazine's website today, features a rash of incidents that occurred between mid-July and late September in which four players were arrested for four separate, violent crimes.
Among those was when senior defensive end Jabaal Sheard was charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest after allegedly throwing a man through the glass door of an art gallery.
Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson and head football coach Todd Graham met with members of the media this afternoon at the Petersen Events Center to discuss the article and both said that the total number of arrests is alarming, but the university is committed to making sure it addresses the problem.
"The number of incidents involving football student-athletes here is totally unacceptable," Pederson said. "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.
"But I am very proud of the student-athletes here, we have a lot great people who day in and day out do such a terrific job here for us and make us proud every day. We have students who have made mistakes and when they paid a very high price in an awful lot of cases.
"We certainly understand the situation, we are addressing the situation and we want to move forward."
Reached by telephone today former Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt expressed disappointment in the article because he said it isn't an accurate portrayal of the way he ran his program nor is it an accurate portrayal of the kinds of players he recruited.
He said last summer was obviously a bad stretch for his players -- with four high-profile arrests in a six-week period -- but that stretch was clearly the exception and not the rule for the Panthers over his six seasons as head coach. He said he took discipline matters seriously and that his players were for the most part very well behaved.
"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 and 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.
"Our players understood their responsibility, they graduated and for the most part, they did the right things."
Pederson was asked if the number of arrests was, at least in part, why he made the decision to let go of Wannstedt.
"I don't want to go back and relook at what 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."
Wannstedt said that before Jabaal Sheard's arrest last July, the Panthers had gone more than a year without having any of their players get arrested and that was in May of 2009, when Adam Gunn and Austin Ransom were involved in and arrested after an incident with police at a bar in Station Square.
But both players had been model citizens up to that point and since then Gunn was the 2010 male recipient of the Blue-Gold award, which is presented to the graduating male and female student-athletes who have demonstrated the best combination of academic scholarship, athletic achievement, leadership qualities, activities and citizenship.
And a year later, Ranson was hired by the athletic department to be a Life Skills Coordinator and he works with Pitt's student athletes in a mentoring role.
Although the news conference was called to address the magazine article, the tone of it was clearly one of looking ahead as opposed to explaining what happened or how it happened.
"I think we've looked at this and said we have to look forward," Pederson 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."
Penn State ranked fourth in the number of players in trouble with 16.
First Published March 2, 2011 9:20 am