Yesterday afternoon, the University of Great Falls (Mont.) hired and fired a new sports information director in the span of two hours., after it was reported that he has a past criminal conviction. The background check UGF ran on Todd Brittingham did not reveal his criminal history. The university could have saved itself time, money, and embarrassment if it had simply Googled him.
UGF, whose athletic programs compete in the NAIA, introduced Brittingham as the school's new SID and marketing director in a news release. The Great Falls Tribune set out to learn more about him. Presumably they first searched his name. Presumably they found what anyone can find, on the first page of the search results—stories from 2012 about Brittingham pleading guilty to charges stemming from a relationship with a 16-year-old student at the Kansas high school where he was teaching and coaching:
The case's charges followed a June 22, 2009, incident in which the female student allegedly began texting with Brittingham, who suggested she drive to Galva to meet him at his home at around 11 p.m. According to earlier testimony, the student said she already had been drinking when Brittingham encouraged her to drive to his home. Upon arrival, the student said she drank a great deal and became intoxicated, forgetting much of what happened later in the night. She testified in 2010 she woke up the next morning on a couch in Brittingham's house semi-dressed, vaguely remembering having had intercourse with him.
In exchange for pleading guilty to endangering a child and furnishing alcohol to a minor, prosecutors dropped four felony counts of unlawful sexual relations with a student.
The Tribune approached the university with what it had found, and UGF terminated Brittingham's contract.
Gary Ehnes, athletic director at UGF, said he was stunned by the news. He said he was the one responsible for the hire.
"I'm devastated. You do a background check on a guy and figure that's going to do it. But I guess we have to go further than that," Ehnes said.
This is a good reminder that not all background checks are created equal. It was a professional search firm hired by USF for $60,000 to find and vet a new coach that turned up the fact that Steve Masiello didn't have a college degree. But just yesterday, USA Today revealed documents showing that the search firm Texas used to land Charlie Strong cost $267,000, and did not even include "employment reference checks or education verification."