The interest in and prevalence of youth sports background checks as a pre-employment and pre-volunteering measure is skyrocketing. The National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) says this is attributed to two factors:

  • the increased exposure of high-profile reports of child sexual abuse, such as at the hands of Jerry Sandusky
  • the passing of new laws that allow for more proactive, protective measures for children

The federal government took its first step with the National Child Protection Act of 1993, which allowed organizations to perform background checks on people serving children. An amendment to that act, the Volunteers For Children Act of 1998, granted volunteer organizations in most states access to federal criminal information, reports NAYS.

Many youth sports leagues rely on FBI fingerprint background checks, however, they are not getting a full, clear and accurate report on potential candidates and volunteers. This is putting leagues, teams and individuals at unnecessary and avoidable risk.

Part of the problem is a misrepresentation about what, exactly, FBI fingerprint checks uncover and how they amass this information.

So let’s be clear.

FBI fingerprint data is incomplete, often inaccurate, and should not be the primary method of performing a background check.


The FBI database is neither comprehensive, nor reliable. The FBI manages the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and this is the data beast that the Bureau uses to pull information on people. The FBI currently has 77.7 million individuals on file in its master criminal database – or nearly one out of every three American adults.

The National Employment Law Project released a 2013 report that showed the FBI processed nearly 17 million employment background checks in 2012 — six times more than it did a decade ago. The advocacy group estimates that as many as 600,000 of those reports contain incomplete or inaccurate information.

The NCIC (a database actually comprised of three separate data collection systems) is simply too big to work properly. That’s not the FBIs fault. This article explains it well: “Instead it’s a reflection of the fact that the database is only as good as the information the Feds receive from state and municipal law enforcement agencies. Some send every arrest to NCIC, others send only certain offenses, and still others don’t send any. It’s designed to give police officers a quick way to tell what a suspect may have done, not to give employers reliable data for background checks.”

The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) puts it another way: “The full range of FBI databases is considered one tool among many that may be used by some Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs). However, due to its limitations, the FBI system is not considered a reliable enough source to use as a single source for a background check for employment, volunteer or tenant screening purposes.”

Fingerprints are not foolproof. Yes, just like snowflakes, no two people’s fingerprints are the same. But too many things have to align perfectly – and often don’t – for them to be 100% reliable as a singular background check tool. Fingerprints need to be clearly readable and stored properly. They also need to be entered correctly into a local database and then shared with state and federal authorities. There is honestly no way to tell how many times a fingerprint has been recorded poorly and then not passed up the chain of command at all.

The use of FBI fingerprint checks also lacks the oversight given to CRAs, the formal term for agencies like Protect Youth Sports who perform background checks. The screening industry and its providers is heavily regulated by the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as well as state and local consumer protection laws, most notably the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). This is an important distinction between fingerprint checks and CRA checks because the oversight defines the responsibilities employers are held to while investigating candidates’ backgrounds, and it provides the rights consumers have in disputing background check results.

FBI fingerprint checks should not be dismissed or discounted entirely. They should, however, be used as one component of a comprehensive background check process by an NAPBS-accredited CRA like Protect Youth Sports

Certainly, there are more reasons why youth sports groups should not rely solely on FBI fingerprint checks and we’d love to talk with you about them. Give one of our expert team members a call today at 1-877-319-5587 or email us at

Still in the research phase? Check out our awesome library of FREE instructional videos that will help you understand the process of coach and volunteer background checks and show you how to handle this delicate topic with your volunteers and staff.