One of the biggest red flags to college coaches is a history of run-ins with the law. MIPs, DWIs, theft – they all register on a recruiter’s radar.

An athlete’s stats might get a college coach’s attention.

Their highlight film might get the coach interested.

However, many times it’s the athlete’s character that can earn that coveted scholarship offer.

One of the biggest red flags to college coaches is a history of run-ins with the law. MIPs, DWIs, theft – they all register on a recruiter’s radar.

College programs want athletes who can run fast, jump high and hit hard, but they also want athletes with good character.

The image of a program is almost as important as winning in the college sports world. That’s why an athlete’s past is as scrutinized as his time in the 40-yard dash.

Scott Bostwick, football head coach at NCAA Division II power Northwest Missouri State University, and his staff do a large amount of their recruiting in the metro area. He said legal troubles definitely factor into an athlete’s recruitment.

He said coaches wonder how an athlete who got in trouble in high school will react to the freedoms and celebrity afforded in college.

That doesn’t mean any athlete with legal troubles in his past will be ostrasized.

“You at least need to be aware of it,” Bostwick said. “You don’t want to shut the door on kids. You want to give them a second chance.”

That second chance comes with a caveat. At Northwest Missouri, the Bearcats work on a three-strike system. The first strike is often a warning. The second gets much more serious.

“It’s probably going to be a game or scholarship money on the second strike,” Bostwick said. “Third time it’s a full year. That’s our policy.”

Athletes entering the program with prior legal trouble are often told they already have one strike against them. Any future problems will go straight to the second strike. The punishment varies based on the severity of the infraction.

It’s a policy that’s worked for Northwest, which has been one of the most respected and successful Division II programs over the past decade. The Bearcats have won five consecutive undefeated MIAA championships, went to five consecutive national championships from 2005-09 with one win and went to the Division II semifinals in 2010.

Worst case scenario is the athlete never gets that second chance.

Colleges may be willing to take a chance on an athlete who has had prior legal trouble, but they will avoid it if they can. Bostwick said if two kids with equal ability are competing for a scholarship, the one without the troubled past will get taken every time.

And recruiters will find out about past troubles. They do their research, because they’re about to invest a lot of time and money into that person.

“You have to do a background on a kid,” Bostwick said. “You have to find out that information from them ... parents, counselor.”

Bostwick said the Northwest recruiters even take into consideration an athlete’s home life.

When an athlete with prior legal troubles does make it onto a college program, Bostwick said it’s important to set guidelines. They have to know the potential consequences of any actions.

Sometimes the risk is worth the reward, and the athlete goes on to have a successful career. Sometimes it’s not.

“I’ve seen it go both ways,” Bostwick said.

No one gets preferential treatment. From the star quarterback to the last guy on the depth chart, the rules are adhered to.

Blue Springs police chief Wayne McCoy said the same applies to his officers. Police don’t play favorites.

Blue Springs officers are taught at the beginning of their careers not to favor athletes.

“In the academy, our officers are trained to focus on the offense and not the offender,” McCoy said. “Everyone is treated the same when we process a potential crime. No one is given preferential treatment, and this applies to athletes at any level, just as it would apply to other public figures.”

Getting charged with a crime is another way an athlete’s scholarship hopes could be put in jeopardy. The Missouri State High School Activities Association has a strict policy when it comes to student-athletes breaking the law.

“If it’s a situation where a kid is arrested for an MIP (minor in possession of alcohol) for example or gets caught shoplifting, then it’s really taken out of the school’s hands,” Fort Osage activities director Brandon Hart said. “The MSHSAA bylaws, the state policies basically say that the court makes the determination.

“If the kid is put on probation, all conditions of that probation must be met before they are allowed to participate.”

Fewer games means less notoriety and less attention from potential college recruiters.

Trying to hide the arrest would be an even worse mistake for the student-athlete. Hart said the school has no jurisdiction over the student’s arrest records. However, if a student fails to notify the proper authorities and plays while ineligible, they’ll be ineligible for 365 days from discovery.

That’s why Hart encourages students and their parents to come to him – although it’s a rare occurrence.

“Very few parents will call me and say, ‘Hey, my kid got an MIP last weekend. He’s not going to be able to play until this is all taken care of,’ ” Hart said. “It has happened.”

Most of Hart’s information comes through word of mouth. High school students have a tendency to talk and an arrest makes for juicy gossip, he said.

Hart said communication with the school’s resource officer is also important.

“I think it’s important to have a good relationship with our SRO,” Hart said. “Our SRO gets a lot of information from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department.”

With information coming from all these angles, it’s going to be nearly impossible for an athlete to cover up any legal issues.

That’s why any hoping to play on the next level should think twice before they pick up that beer or smoke a joint.

The fines levied for both by the court will often be chump change compared to the scholarship it might cost them.