NCAA to police football recruiting more — with an actual cop
Published by CBSSports.com Jan. 30, 2012.
By Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com Senior College Football Columnist
INDIANAPOLIS — Just what the NCAA enforcement police need — an actual cop. A 6-foot-3 former homicide cop with an icy stare. A Marine and NFL veteran with an acute sense of self-awareness.
“Even my supervisor told me this week,” Bill Benjamin said, “that I intimidate my staff.”
Indianapolis’ former deputy police chief was a legitimate hire, not a casting call. A bit late, perhaps, putting law enforcement in charge of college law enforcement but the hire has achieved its desired effect. At least on putting the next Cecil Newton on alert.
“To literally sell your child to a university where you literally don’t know if he’s going to succeed or not is ridiculous to me,” said Benjamin, a hard-line reformer on the streets and, apparently, now for the NCAA.
In case you missed the message, if you are a football coach you do not want to see Benjamin on your doorstep. The man has broken down thieves, murderers and felons. As signing day approaches for recruits he is a new face of NCAA enforcement. The department is bigger and more aggressive. And not only because of the stories told by the big man hired in November for the newly created position of director of enforcement for football.
The former San Jose State linebacker still recalls the most glorious day of his football career. The Spartans shocked then-No. 10 Baylor 30-22 in 1980 in a win that still ranks arguably as the school’s biggest.
It was an early warning of how effective today’s shotgun, multiple-receiver offense would be. Dennis Erickson was the offensive coordinator on that team under John Elway’s dad, Jack.
“[Mike] Singletary’s tongue was to his knees,” said Benjamin, remembering Baylor’s Hall of Fame linebacker. “I remember shaking hands on the field with Mike Singletary and he would not look at me.”
That is relevant today because Steve Clarkson was the quarterback on that San Jose State team. Benjamin recently flew to California to consult with Clarkson, who is the noted owner/operator of the prestigious Air 7 quarterback academy. Benjamin is trying to get up to speed on the creeping third-party influence that he says has reached middle school.
Wait, middle school? That’s a seedy territory usually reserved for basketball predators. While it’s hard to project how a seventh grader will progress, they are already being preyed upon. The 7-on-7 phenomenon has been monetized. That has the possibility of eventually pushing a wedge between the high school coach and college recruiter.
“The high school coaches are being minimized and marginalized by the 7-on-7 teams and private tutoring that goes on,” Benjamin said. “Some of these high school coaches aren’t even contacted by college coaches when they’re recruiting a player. Who knows better than the high school coach, the kid’s character, the kid’s grades, the kid’s heart?”
Clarkson is a friendly resource rather than a suspect, although his website features grade-school quarterback prospects. Two years ago one of his most famous prodigies, then 13-year-old David Sills, made a verbal commitment to USC. Lane Kiffin had his first commit for the recruiting class of 2015.
“Some agents are trickling to the high school level and they are aware of what’s coming up from prominent middle schools that have talent,” Benjamin said. “It’s hard to project but you can keep your eye on certain kids that are dominating, possibly getting their grades and you can find a spot for them.”
How is this different than, say, tennis? Promising pros routinely leave school at a young age. Right or wrong, college football players can’t turn pro until their third year out of high school. This year there is a record 65 undergrads coming out early.
“They’re [not all] ready for the league,” said Benjamin who had a cup of coffee with the Colts in the 1980s. “They’re being lured out or enticed out to anybody and everybody … We’re basically touching on, not two levels, but four levels — middle schools, high schools, college and pro.”
Maybe Benjamin’s squad is the NCAA’s new Untouchables. It has taken too long to form a group concentrating only on football. Benjamin will oversee a team of six investigators. But they are arriving with all the swagger of, well, an elite crime-fighting unit. Ask Benjamin’s daughters.
The 53-year-old is proud of a parenting “surveillance” method he used with his daughters Cameron and Jeremie. Both played college tennis — Cameron at Bowling Green and Jeremie at Akron. Dad arrived on campus, unannounced, to check on them.
“I did it for both girls,” he said. “The second one knew it was coming. I show up in the middle of the day. I know her schedule. I wait for her to come out of class. I [watch] her, follow her to the cafeteria. She eats by herself and goes straight to the next class.
“When she came out, I’m standing right there. We had dinner. It’s just daddy checking on her and going back home.”
The NCAA checking will be a bit more intense. Following college, Benjamin was inspired by the movie An Officer and a Gentleman, entered the service and eventually became a Marine lieutenant. At the end of a 27 1/2-year police career in Indianapolis he retired last year.
Benjamin was seen as a community leader who gathered his share of headlines — not all of them glowing.
According to a profile written by the Indianapolis Star at the time the NCAA hired him …
• In 1993, Benjamin and another officer sued the Civilian Merit Board claiming they were treated unfairly.
• In 1998, he was serving on an FBI task force investigating police corruption. It was eventually decided that Benjamin’s friendship with an officer under investigation did not compromise the probe.
• Within the past two years, Benjamin was cleared of wrongdoing after an Indiana State Police detective came to his office to confront him about an issue.
• The Indianapolis police department investigated claims by Benjamin that an internal affairs lieutenant had called him a “criminal” at staff meetings. The investigation has been completed, the paper said, but results have not been released.
Benjamin was vetted and arrived at this spot in NCAA history after what he said were “six grueling interviews.” Enforcement official Rachel Newman Baker said the team would be expected to develop new information and break cases, not only react to them.
Football coaches, it seems, have asked for the extra scrutiny. Enforcement vice president Julie Roe Lach said the American Football Coaches Association have made it known that, “we want you do to more to [penalize] us.”
That’s where Benjamin comes in.
“He talked about how he was going to solve crimes,” Roe Lach said. “He’d go into the community and say, ‘We can’t do it alone. You’ve got to give us some information.'”
But on NCAA investigations, Benjamin will be without the basic tools of his former trade — due process, search warrants, etc. What he, and NCAA criminals, are left with is a stripped down version of street justice.
“When I worked homicide, I wanted people to know it’s me. This is what I look like and I’m coming,” Benjamin said. “I think I said the same thing in the NCAA interview: ‘It’s us, this is what we look like and we’re coming. And you need to lock things down and do things right.'”