Starting cornerback Jalen Tabor and quarterback Treon Harris, who started game one against New Mexico State, have been suspended for Saturday’s game against Tennessee it was announced Wednesday after practice by Florida head coach Jim McElwain. The suspensions couldn’t come at a worse time. Tennessee has some of the most talented wide receivers in the SEC and Tabor is second only to Vernon Hargreaves III in cover skills. With Harris suspended, the backup quarterback is Josh Grady, a great kid and a good athlete, but if you spend three years as the #3 at Vanderbilt, how dependable can you be if you’re called into action?
Even with Tabor and Harris available, Florida’s margin for error against Tennessee would be far too thin. Without them, the Gators can make it 11 straight wins over the Vols, but they’re a misstep in the secondary or a sprained ankle to Will Grier away from disaster.
There is absolutely no way to sugarcoat these suspensions. University policy forbids disclosure and generally speaking “unspecified violation of team rules” or “violation of university policies” has generally meant someone tested positive for marijuana. But, whether it’s marijuana or something else this kind of selfishness has gone on far too long in the Florida football program.
There is plenty of blame to go around. I had phone calls and texts from folks who blame Urban Meyer as if he had anything to do with recruiting Tabor and Harris. There were others who blamed Will Muschamp because he is the one who recruited these kids, but understand that neither Meyer nor Muschamp ever encouraged a kid to smoke dope and both were bound by NCAA-mandated and university-administered testing policies of which they have no control. Players missed games for smoking dope when Meyer was here; they missed games during the four years of Muschamp and this is the second wave of suspensions most likely marijuana-related just since August with McElwain now in command.
When McElwain blew his stack following the ECU game, it wasn’t just about a throat slash or a bunch of silly penalties. He was talking about an entire culture that is a cancer on the Florida football program. You can argue all you want that smoking dope shouldn’t be a rules violation, that it’s a victimless crime and that football players should be treated the same as any other student on the UF campus. Those kids with Bright Futures scholarships aren’t tested for marijuana so why are football players? That’s actually one of the texts I got today.
Okay, here’s the answer to that and the other questions.
These guys are on scholarship. They get free room, board, tuition, books and fees, free health care, note takers, tutors, 24-hour unlimited food, etc. As one former Tennessee quarterback told me earlier in the week, “You have to try very hard NOT to get a college degree if you are a football player in the Southeastern Conference.” If we add in the extra cost of note takers, tutors and other benefits, we’re talking an additional $10,000 (or more) in addition to the $18,000 of the basic room, board, tuition, books and fees.
For these and other benefits, they pay nothing.
Probably 80-90% of the players on this team qualify for Pell Grants, many for the maximum amount, which is $5,730 per year. Now, thanks to cost of attendance stipends, they also get something like $3,877 to cover the cost of transportation, cell phones, incidentals and spending money. So in very rough mathematical terms, the players not only get a platform to further their football careers in the most highly competitive conference in the nation but somewhere around $40,000 a year in free education and other benefits.
To receive all these things all players have to do is follow a few simple rules, among them (a) go to class; (b) pass the work so you can stay eligible to play; (c) don’t do steroids or other performance enhancing drugs; (d) don’t get arrested and charged with a felony; and (e) don’t smoke dope.
That’s not exactly a demanding set of rules and look what you get if you follow them for four or five years – a free education complete with free food and a place to live, spending money and a chance to perhaps improve your football skills enough that you’ll have a chance to make millions of dollars playing professional football.
That’s a pretty good deal any way you cut it. The players that can’t follow the rules are just what Mac says – selfish – and it’s past time for this culture of selfishness to end.
ELSEWHERE IN THE SEC
Alabama (2-0, 0-1 SEC): Bet the farm that Nick Saban takes Sun Belt Conference opponent Louisiana-Monroe seriously this week. ULM knocked off Saban and Alabama 21-14 in 2007, Saban’s first year on the job in Tuscaloosa.
Arkansas (1-2, 0-0 SEC): Offensive coordinator Dan Enos was brought in to stop opponents from stacking the box against the Razorbacks. Perception is that Enos has changed the Hogs from ground and pound to chuck and duck, but the stats tell a different story. Arkansas is running the ball 36 times a game, throwing it 31. Last year they ran it 43 times a game, threw it 30. The difference is they’re not grinding out the yards and sustaining drives like they did last year.
Auburn (2-1, 0-1 SEC): In August, Auburn was considered a surefire contender for the national championship. Now it’s doom and gloom. Writes Kevin Scarbinsky of the Birmingham News, “Unless something changes, unless Sean White is the answer and Will Muschamp is a miracle worker, Gus Malzahn is in danger of following the riches-to-rages storyline of Terry Bowden, Tommy Tuberville and Gene Chizik.”
Florida (3-0, 1-0 SEC): Without Jalen Tabor at corner, Quincy Wilson will start so there shouldn’t be a huge dropoff. But, without Tabor, Florida’s secondary is stretched thin which means Deiondre Porter will have to play a lot and Brian Poole might have to take some reps at corner with Duke Dawson taking over at nickel.
Georgia (3-0, 2-0 SEC): With Alabama looming on October 3, will Mark Richt risk playing Nick Chubb long enough against D1AA sacrificial lamb Southern University long enough to pick up 100 yards for a 12th straight game? Chubb is bearing down on Herschel Walker’s school record 13 consecutive 100-yard games. Chubb has 468 yards on 56 carries this year.
Kentucky (2-1, 1-1 SEC): Patrick Towles’ 8-24 passing performance against Florida was made worse by his inability to connect on short passes but Mark Stoops will stick with him rather than give redshirt freshman Drew Barker a shot. Stoops said, “The frustrating thing for him and for myself and for all of us is when there are layups and you can’t miss layups. That, he has to improve on and he knows that.”
LSU (2-0, 2-0 SEC): While LSU doesn’t want to overuse Leonard Fournette, Les Miles says, “He’s a guy that seems to get warmed up the more reps he gets.”
Mississippi State (2-1, 0-1 SEC): Freshmen running backs Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams can expect to get more carries moving forward but Dan Mullen says he will stick with his four-back rotation “unless someone really separates themselves.”
Missouri (3-0, 0-0 SEC): Tailback Russell Hansbrough (high ankle sprain) is expected to play against Kentucky. That’s a boost for a running game that is averaging only 107.7 yards per game and 3.2 per carry, but the real issue is the offensive line, which has given up five sacks and has shown no consistency with its run blocking. O-line coach A.J. Ricker says the Tigers have to “hold our blocks and finish our blocks.”
Ole Miss (3-0, 1-0 SEC): Hugh Freeze says the Rebels have to put the Alabama game behind them and concentrate on what’s next. “If we look in the rearview mirror we will wreck,” Freeze said, adding, “we can play a lot better.”
South Carolina (1-2, 0-2 SEC): True freshman Lorenzo Nunez will become the third starting quarterback Steve Spurrier has used this season Saturday against UCF, a non-conference game the Gamecocks have to win. Spurrier said, “We’re not where we thought we’d be. We’re not playing as well as we thought.”
Tennessee (2-1, 0-0 SEC): Butch Jones says Tennessee won’t lack confidence Saturday afternoon in The Swamp. “I believe our players expect to win every time they step out on the football field. Again, you look at where we’re at. We’re 2-1 right now. We took a top five overall football program (Oklahoma) into double overtime. We took care of business against a very, very good Bowling Green football team and we did what we needed to do to get the victory last week (Western Carolina).”
Texas A&M (3-0, 0-0 SEC): Although Arkansas is off to a very disappointing 1-2 start, Kevin Sumlin believes his Saturday opponent is still a very good football team. Sumlin said, “Nothing’s changed from our point of view how we view Arkansas. First game of SEC, playing where we play (Jerry’s World in Arlington, Texas), it’s going to be a big-time atmosphere and it’s a game both of us need to win.”
Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-1 SEC): Derek Mason knows that for Vanderbilt to have a chance against Ole Miss the Commodores have to handle Ole Miss’ fast tempo. Mason said, “The biggest thing we are going to do is make sure our guys get lined up. This is the first time we’ve played tempo. What we need to continue to do is make sure that we talk about communication, getting line up, tackling. We do those things and you give yourselves a chance to play really good defense.”
FIVE COACHES WHO ARE ON SEVERAL AD’S SPEED DIAL
1. Matt Rhule, Temple: Rhule, who could win 10 games this year, doesn’t have an on campus stadium or decent facilities and he makes $1.5 million. Someone with more money and better facilities will scoop him up. Soon. He’s only 40 years old.
2. Dino Babers, Bowling Green: He’s an offensive genius and he’s making only $500,000 a year. His offense will put fannies in the seats. He’s 54 years old and paid his dues working for John Cooper, Ted Tollner, Dick Tomey and Art Briles.
3. Matt Campbell, Toledo: He’s 28-13 overall and that includes 2-0 against Power 5 teams this year. He’s making $600,000 a year and he’s only 36 years old. He played and coached at Mount Union, so all he knows is winning.
4. Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky: NFL experience. Check. Good pedigree (Howard Schnellenberger, Bobby Petrino). Check. Great offensive mind. Check. Can be had cheap (salary is $625,000). Check. Young (44 years old). Check.
5. Justin Fuente, Memphis: You’ve got to love a guy who will call a double reverse, flea flicker pass with a game on the line. Memphis won 10 games last year and should get at least 10 this year. He’s paid $1.4 million and he’s not even 40 years old yet.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Speaking to Sports Illustrated, California coach Sonny Dykes had this to say about quarterback Jared Goff which includes a not so subtle jab at a former Heisman Trophy winner from 145 miles east of Gainesville:
“He’s humble, he’s hard working and he loves football. There’s not one single skeleton in his closet. He’s all the stuff that you want. He’s never stolen crab legs, any kind of that stuff. You don’t have to worry about all that with him.”
THE WISDOM OF LAWRENCE PETER “YOGI” BERRA
In the spring of 1962, my dad took me to Tinker Field in Orlando where we saw the Minnesota Twins play the New York Yankees. This was the spring after Roger Maris had hit 61 homers and Mickey Mantle had hit 54. So many kids wanted autographs from Roger and Mickey that they just signed their names and rarely looked up. Down the third base line was Yogi Berra. The crowd around Yogi wasn’t nearly as big. I gave up on a Maris or Mantle autograph and went over to the much smaller crowd around Yogi. What I always remember is every time he signed a baseball or scorecard he would smile and say, “Hey, thanks for wanting my autograph.”
Years later at a Yankees spring training when I was a sports writer, I got a chance to talk to Yogi and I mentioned the smile and cheerful words for every autograph he signed. His comment: “People pay good money to see you play baseball for a living. The least you can do is appreciate them when they ask for your autograph.”
I wish more athletes took that approach.
Yogi is dead at 90. Here are some of the many Yogi-isms from one of baseball’s greatest and most colorful players ever.
“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
“You can observe a lot just by watching.”
“No one goes there nowadays. It’s too crowded.”
“Congratulations. I knew the record would stand until it’s broken.”
“Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.”
“You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.”
“You wouldn’t have won if we’d beaten you.”
“The future ain’t what it used to be.”
“Why buy good luggage? You only use it when you travel.”
“He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious.”
“I never blame myself when I’m not hitting. I just blame the bat and if it keeps up, I change bats. After all, if I know it isn’t my fault that I’m not hitting, how can I get mad at myself?”
“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going because you might not get there.”
“If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.”
Even though this does not involve a Rutgers football player, it is just one more incident that piles on an athletic program that desperately needs to clean house starting with athletic director Julie Hermann. In the last couple of weeks, Rutgers star receiver Leonte Carroo was arrested for allegedly picking up and slamming a woman into the concrete outside the Rutgers football stadium. Carroo’s mother has subsequently been charged with disorderly conduct after an altercation with two people, one of whom believed to be romantically involved with her son, outside the Rutgers training facilities.
Richard Williamson, a former player for Bear Bryant at Alabama and former head coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs, died Tuesday night. He was 74 years old. Williamson was passed over for the HBC job at Alabama three separate times: 1990 when they hired Gene Stallings; 1996 when Stallings retired and they hired Mike Dubose; and 2003 after Mike Price had his close encounter with a stripper in Pensacola.
UCLA’s chances of winning a national championship just took a big hit when stud linebacker Myles Jack was lost for the season with what has been termed “a significant knee injury.” Jack is considered a top 10 pick when the NFL drafts next spring.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Think back to your college days at UF. If someone had offered you a deal like football players get today and by following the rules, school was free, you had all the food you could eat, a free place to live and spending cash, plus tutors and note takers, would it have been worth it to you to follow the rules?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I started listening to Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers after hearing a couple of songs for the “Jam in the Van” series and that encouraged me to download their 2015 album “Loved Wild Lost.” This is a really good band with a nice sound and great vocals by Nicki Bluhm. One review compared her to Rickie Lee Jones and Maria Muldaur. Today’s music is a 2013 concert at Lincoln Hall in Chicago.