Alarm bells were ringing throughout the Missouri athletic department in early April after a string of incidents tarnished an otherwise momentous year.
The Tigers’ on-field successes — including an undefeated SEC volleyball championship, an appearance in the SEC football championship and the deft handling of Michael Sam’s situation — were overshadowed by the arrests of seven athletes over a three-month span.
According to documents obtained by The Star, Missouri athletic director Mike Alden had seen enough after basketball player Zach Price, a transfer from Louisville who sat out last season, was arrested twice in the same day and Columbia Police opened an investigation into an alleged burglary and assault by wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. The incidents took place less than a week apart.
In a memo to MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, Alden said “the actions of a few individuals over the past three months are unacceptable” and outlined measures to stem run-ins with the law.
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“I’ve been at Mizzou 16 years and, from a concentrated standpoint to see that number of incident over the course of three months and the issues, it’s unlike anything I’d seen before,” Alden said Thursday in a phone interview.
Alden outlined the athletic department’s existing resources and efforts “to promote positive staff and student-athlete conduct” in the memo, citing alcohol awareness, gambling, sexual assault, domestic violence, professional etiquette, interviewing skills and general social conduct among the central areas of focus.
MU’s troubles started in mid-January when Green-Beckham, then a member of the football team, was arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession in Springfield. He was eventually dismissed from the team in April amid the burglary and assault investigation.
Between Green-Beckham’s off-field incidents, fellow wide receiver Levi Copelin was arrested for a peace disturbance on campus and four athletes — defensive backs Aarion Penton and Shaun Rupert and basketball players Wes Clark and Shane Rector, who has since transferred — were arrested for suspicion of marijuana possession.
Then Price, who was subsequently dismissed from the Tigers’ basketball team, was arrested twice April 3 for alleged domestic assaults only three days before Green-Beckham’s own alleged assault, prompting Alden’s action.
“One incident is always one too many. But given the number of incidents we’d had, I thought, personally, it was important from a leadership standpoint to step in and say, ‘Look, we’re going to remind ourselves of who we are and what we expect of everybody,’ ” Alden said.
No university ever avoids all off-field incidents, but “it’s how you respond to those issues that is the critical deal,” Alden said. “So you’re always analyzing: Are there things we could have done differently? Could we have done more? Sure, there are.”
According to the memo, Alden met with the entire athletic department — coaches, support and student-athletes — in a series of meetings with a clear message: His patience had worn thin and tolerance for such embarrassing legal entanglements would be lower moving forward.
“The logo never, ever comes off — for any of us,” Alden said. “What we keep emphasizing with our kids and our staff is that if you’re going to be associated with the athletic program at the University of Missouri, or frankly any school in the country at our level, you have to know that everything you do — inside the classroom, outside the classroom, on the field, off the field — is going to be scrutinized.”
Alden also stressed the importance of “You See, You Hear It, You Own It,” a program that stresses accountability at all levels of the athletic program, but said he doesn’t believe the spate of arrests was indicative of a cultural problem at MU.
Alden said he understood how such a conclusion might have been drawn after that three-month period, but he insisted that would be a short-sighted view.
“If you take a more general look at who we are and what we’ve done over the course of so many years — how well our kids have done in the athletic arena, in the classroom and in the community — that would be a little unfair to judge everything from that three-month course of time,” he said.
Alden meets with each team at least twice a year and the athletics staff meets with the chancellor each August, according to the memo.
Missouri also has a Student Athlete Advisory Committee, which meets on a bimonthly basis and regularly brings in speakers from the MU and Columbia Police departments along with various student or social groups.
Additionally, as part of MU’s drug education program, athletes are subject to two mandatory drug tests each year and can be called in randomly for more drug screenings.
Alden also said in the memo that the athletic department would commission an outside consultant to review issues of student-athlete conduct.
“We think we’re doing a good job here at Mizzou, but we don’t want to look at it only through our lens,” Alden said. “We want to be able to take a look at how does this compare to other schools around the country, maybe what are some other best practices that we could be able to add. Our hope is that maybe we can make whatever modifications we need to by August when all of our kids get back.”