The conviction of a former Kansas community college coach is a vivid reminder that the excuses of "everybody's doing it" or "I was just doing what I was told" don't go very far in a court of law.
Lance Brauman resigned his job as assistant track coach at the University of Arkansas Wednesday just hours after he was found guilty in federal court on one count of embezzlement, one count of theft and three counts of mail fraud. Brauman, who is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 9, faces maximum penalties of 20 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000 for each count of mail fraud and the theft count and up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine for the embezzlement conviction.
All of these charges stemmed from Brauman's actions while a coach at Barton County Community College in Great Bend. The case involved fraudulently approving federal work-study payments to athletes who were performing no work, and falsifying academic credentials to help student athletes retain their eligibility.
Although Brauman's case was the first to go to trial, seven other Barton County coaches and the athletic director also were charged in the case, and the school's president was fired.
Private employers providing phony jobs for athletes was a common practice years ago, even here in Lawrence with Kansas University athletes, but that practice fortunately was discontinued before any legal actions were initiated.
It's no surprise that Brauman's attorney said Wednesday that he disagreed with the guilty verdicts, but some of his comments offered food for thought. The practice of using work-study programs to pay athletes was well established at the school when Brauman arrived, said attorney Lee Davis.
"Obviously we have a system at Barton County Community College which was poorly run by the president of the college and encouraged by the board of trustees," Davis said. "As it stands, the board of trustees and the president avoided all responsibility. It is a real tragedy that a relatively young coach has had his career and his life stop because of it - and those responsible for initiating and developing the system are still unaccountable."
U.S. Atty. Eric Melgren accurately pointed out that the fact that other college employees were engaging in similar conduct didn't excuse Brauman, but the case nonetheless has a sad side. Brauman was only 25 when he went to work for the Great Bend community college. Now, at age 36, his coaching career probably is over and he may spend many years in prison.
"Everybody's doing it" probably still is a favorite excuse of children seeking to justify a certain behavior or seek a parent's permission to pursue some activity. Brauman's case certainly is a cautionary tale for all others - of any age - who choose to "go along" rather than stand up and do the right thing.