The unfolding scandal at the University of Idaho is increasingly in need of high-level scrutiny that appears to be absent.
On Aug. 16, video cameras captured three UI football players stealing items from the UI VandalStore. The surveillance footage showed the players stuffing clothing into a backpack and concealing items in their pants. The store manager called the Moscow police and Vandal football officials. Paul Petrino, the head football coach, returned the stolen items to the store.
But that’s when things got really bad; the store declined to press charges. The school wouldn’t say which players were involved except to assure the public that the students were being disciplined under the school’s code of conduct. Meanwhile, the school kept thwarting attempts by the media to fill in the blanks regarding the incident. The school refused to name names, denied public records requests and assigned massive fees for other records.
Eventually, the school released the video, showing players Dezmon Epps and Isaiah Taylor committing the crime. Taylor was kicked off the team for not adhering to additional “strict daily behavioral requirements,” but Epps remains part of the football program. The third player hasn’t been identified.
The school claims the students aren’t getting special treatment, but the Moscow Daily News reports that they are. The newspaper looked at similar thefts from the same store over the last five years and found that in each case, individuals who stole were charged with theft and prosecuted. In a 2010 case, the newspaper said a man stole books that he needed for class. When he tried to return the items, worth about $500, the staff confronted him and contacted police. He was charged with misdemeanor theft. In 2012, a juvenile was turned in by her mother for stealing $44 worth of jewelry. She too was punished for the crime, according to the newspaper.
The Lewiston Tribune slammed Petrino and Athletic Director Rob Spear for turning “a simple shoplifting incident into a full-blown scandal that taints the Vandals brand.” Editorial writer Marty Trillhaase goes on to note that Epps, who already has a criminal record that includes drunken driving, driving without privileges and petty theft, got a one-game suspension that went into effect after the team’s critical game against Ohio.
Says Trillhaase, “Spear and Petrino have taken a losing football program and grafted onto it a reputation for bending the rules and tolerating criminal behavior.”
Sadly, Trillhaase appears to be correct. But what do you expect in a political environment where everything is groovy and no one is ever punished for anything? All across state government—and yes, the University of Idaho is a component of state government—bad deeds go unpunished. In recent years, scandals and mismanagement have also rocked the state Department of Administration, Department of Health and Welfare, Department of Correction, Department of Juvenile Corrections, Idaho Transportation Department and the state Tax Commission without much of a peep from anyone in charge. Or consequences. Or firings.
There is, however, an oversight structure for the University of Idaho. If school officials are unwilling to act, the State Board of Education needs to. If the state board is unwilling to engage, the governor’s office should, since the governor appoints the state board. If the governor’s office is unwilling to restore order and discipline to the university, the Idaho Legislature, which appropriates money to the school, ought to. The actions of the oversight entities will determine whether the players and the coaches continue to feel they can get away with whatever they want whenever they want.
Note: The photo is from the University of Idaho’s Facebook page.