Back when he was Florida’s football coach, Steve Spurrier had one steadfast rule that was never, ever altered: Hit a girl and you might as well start packing your bags because you’re through as a Gator. When Spurrier became the head football coach at South Carolina, that same rule was written into the player’s manual.
Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com says that Spurrier told him last year, “It’s a wonderful rule and, when you enforce it, you get results.”
To the best of my knowledge, Spurrier never once bent his own rule. If you know anything about Spurrier it is that he’s brutally honest and a stickler for rules. With him there are no mulligans in golf and no mulligans when it comes to one of his cardinal rules for life.
Of course, they think quite differently at Florida State, which wishes it were yesterday’s news when it comes college football and abuse of women, and Baylor, which is today’s news. As far as I’m concerned, FSU’s legacy is tainted forever because of Jameis Winston. That’s the story FSU wishes would die but lives on because the young woman Winston allegedly assaulted sexually will have her day in civil court. Winston won’t have the Tallahassee Police Department and a bend over backwards to help State Attorney looking out for his interests next time he steps into a courtroom.
But FSU isn’t front and center news today. Today’s news has to do with Baylor, where the Waco Police apparently have made the TPD look like rank amateurs in the way they’ve handled sexual assaults and the football team. Art Briles, who is the Baylor football coach, is a standup guy, well liked and respected, but two of his former players – Sam Ukwuachu and Tevin Elliott – have gone to jail for sexual assault and more recently, Shawn Oakman was arrested for sexual assault just a couple of weeks before the NFL Draft. At 6-9, 287 and with a 40 time of 4.8, Oakman would have been drafted no worse than the mid-rounds, but the arrest made him tainted goods that the NFL passed up.
Jon Solomon, the fine reporter for CBSSports.com writes that these three cases are merely the tip of the Baylor iceberg. There is a disturbing trend of football players involved in sexual assault incidents and an equally disturbing trend of the Waco Police Department keeping a lid on what is really going on.
If this can happen at Baylor and in Waco, a very conservative community that basks in the pride of being the home to the world’s most prestigious Baptist institution of higher learning, then imagine what is going on in college football programs that operate by the “rules were made to be broken standard.” FSU comes to mind. So does Oklahoma, which had no problems putting Joe Mixon on the field last year. Mixon hit a woman in the face so hard that it broke four of her facial bones. He missed a year of football then Oklahoma put him on the field in 2015 where he ran for 749 yards and 7 touchdowns and caught 25 passes for 345 yards and 4 more TDs while helping OU make college football’s final four.
It’s naïve to think that Baylor, FSU and Oklahoma are the only places where college football players skate for sexual assaults, drugs and other acts of violence.
You would probably be amazed at the number of big time athletic departments that keep a criminal defense attorney on retainer. The ones that can afford it have a “fixer” working for them. A “fixer” is typically a retired attorney or “friend of the program with political clout” whose job it is to assess the situation whenever an athlete is arrested and determine the course of action. In some situations, a criminal defense attorney is arranged. In other cases, a reduced or suspended sentence or pretrial intervention is arranged through the DA. And, there are occasions – rare in some places – when it’s recommended that the athletic department cuts all ties and the athlete is pretty much left to fend for himself.
Of course, there are athletes who are falsely accused. That has happened at Florida a couple of times that I know about and in both situations, there was a young woman determined to get her hooks into a player with star potential by any means necessary. As you’ve heard so many times, hell has no fury like a scorned woman, but it’s not just women. There are agents and runners out there with less than honorable agendas who don’t mind making a false accusation.
Realistically, I think the guilty to not guilty ratio is frighteningly out of whack in nearly every college football community across the nation. I also believe that for every football player reported arrested for drugs, weapons, sexual assaults, other forms of violence and robberies there are an equal number who you never hear about because there is an arrangement with the local police department. Don’t think for a second that in some communities the police, who love football season because of all the overtime pay they rack up to supplement their way too low salaries, aren’t told to turn a blind eye to as often as possible involving football players. And before I go any further, I am well aware that athletes in other sports get arrested, just not as many. Football, after all, does command 85 scholarship athletes at a Division I school, more than any four sports combined. So, if it seems as if I’m picking on football at the expense of other sports, there is a legitimate reason.
Suffice to say, I have reached my tipping point. As mad as I am with players who think they are entitled to do whatever they want and get away with it, I’m equally tired of the police departments that turn a blind eye and the coaches who enable because they are more concerned with protecting their hefty paychecks than protecting the women and other innocent people on campus and in their communities.
For years, I have defended athletes who come from horrendous circumstances and are ill prepared for life in a fishbowl where they are also expected to compete academically with kids who didn’t need an athletic scholarship to get in school and socially with kids whose parents could afford a BMW for their 18-year-old. But these same athletes that have so little in the way of preparation also have an incredible opportunity to earn a degree from a prestigious college or university and, if they’re good enough, showcase their skills so that they will have a chance to earn big bucks playing professionally when their eligibility is through. A good portion of them figure it out. It’s the ones who think they are entitled that you worry about.
At some point, the kids have to realize that they have been blessed beyond measure and that to keep the blessing flowing, all they have to do is follow a few rules and take responsibility for their actions. At some point, coaches have to decide that it’s not simply good enough to give lip service to rules of conduct; that instead they have to draw a line in the dirt and end the careers of those who choose to cross it. It might mean you have to part ways with a stud running back or edge rusher who is too quick for any tackle in the country, but at some point coaches have to do what is right instead of enabling some talented player whose brain is permanently jammed in neutral.
Now, if it’s mandated that there will be accountability there will be resistance. You know that athletes will bend the rules until coaches go zero tolerance and enforce the rules. And there are coaches out there who will look for shortcuts until someone starts firing them or reducing their pay every time one of their players appears on a police blotter. Send players packing and fine coaches often enough and sooner or later they’ll get the point.
But it’s time to stiffen the rules for both players and coaches and make a no exceptions mandate in an effort to clean things up. Do that and there is a chance to save football from itself.
We can only hope someone higher up the college football food chain figures this out before it’s too late.
QUEST FOR THIRD STRAIGHT NCAA SOFTBALL TITLE BEGINS TODAY
Can the Gators (53-5) make it three NCAA titles in a row? That journey officially begins today when UF hosts the Gainesville Regional of the NCAA Tournament. Florida, ranked first nationally and seeded first in the tournament, will take on Alabama State (28-25) of the Southwest Athletic Conference at 2:30. In the other game at Katie Seashole Presley Stadium, Florida Atlantic (50-7) of Conference USA goes against UCF (36-20) of the American Athletic Conference. If the Gators emerge with the regional championship, they will host an NCAA Super Regional next week against the winner of the Athens Regional, which is hosted by SEC rival Georgia.
Baseball: Weather got the best of the first game of the final regular season series between the #1-ranked Gators (43-9, 18-8 SEC) and #8 LSU (36-16, 17-10 SEC). The series resumes tonight at 7 p.m. at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge with A.J. Puk going on the mound for the Gators.
Women’s Tennis: The 2nd-seeded Gators saw their season come to an abrupt end in Tulsa Thursday afternoon when they were upset, 4-3, by 15th-seed Stanford in the NCAA Round of 16.
Men’s Tennis: The 9th-seeded Gators face off with unseeded SMU in the NCAA Round of 16 today in Tulsa.
HIGH MARKS FROM MEL
ESPN guru Mel Kiper is already putting together his lists for the 2017 NFL Draft. His list of the top ten at every position on both sides of the ball consists of five seniors and five underclassmen. Scoring high marks from UF were:
Jarrad Davis: ranked #2 among senior OLBs.
Jalen Tabor: ranked #1 among underclassmen CBs.
Marcus Maye: ranked #3 among senior safeties.
Johnny Townsend: ranked #1 among underclassman punters.
No Gators were top ten on the offensive side of the football.
PRO BOWL MOVING TO ORLANDO
According to a report at Bloomberg.com, the NFL is moving the Pro Bowl to Orlando where the game will be played in renovated Campers World Stadium, formerly known as the Citrus Bowl. The NFL has a contract with the Hawaiian tourism authorities that expires on May 31, so there will be no official announcement until then. Bloomberg reports that Orlando outbid Honolulu, Houston and Sydney, Australia for the game that has been hosted by Honolulu every year but twice (Miami in 2010 and Glendale in 2015).
The Big Ten distributed $32.4 million per school for 2014-15 per IRS tax returns, second only to the SEC’s $32.7 million per school. The SEC could be announcing its latest per school distribution as early as next week when it holds its spring meetings in Destin. Expectations are the next revenue distribution by the SEC will make last year’s pale by comparison now that the initial costs of funding the SEC Network are out of the way.
Phil Mickelson was not criminally charged with insider trading by the Securities and Exchange Commission although he will have to pay back more than $1 million that the SEC says was unfairly earned because Mickelson got a tip from a former corporate director who was a gambling acquaintance.
Last year’s #1 draft pick for the Jacksonville Jaguars – Dante Fowler Jr. – tore an ACL in the offseason causing him to miss all of 2015. This year’s #1 draft pick – Jalen Ramsey – has a torn meniscus. It’s bad enough that he’s going to see renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion.
Frank Vogel, the recently dismissed coach of the Indiana Pacers, wasn’t out of work long. The Orlando Magic hired him Thursday. There are reports that Jeff Hornacek, who was recently fired by the Phoenix Suns, is about to become the next head coach of the New York Knicks. Is it my imagination or has the NBA become this gigantic recycling bin where getting fired at one job simply opens the door to be hired by someone else in the league?
Marques Bolden (6-11, 250, DeSoto, TX) chose Duke over Kentucky Thursday. Already the Dookies are claiming “best recruiting class ever.”
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Is there a way to hold both players and coaches more accountable or is living with all these arrests for drugs, violence and robberies simply something we have to live with?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Since Bollesboy brought up the Dixie Dregs, it’s only fair to give these guys their due. This is one of the most unique Southern bands of all time, founded in Augusta, Georgia by Steve Morse and Andy West in 1970. The band evolved from Southern rock into this fusion of rock, blues, bluegrass, classical and jazz in 1973 when Morse and West were attending the University of Miami where their music was influenced by fellow students Pat Metheny, Bruce Hornsby, Jaco Pastorious and others. They band added violinist Dr. Allen Sloan in 1973 and their sound was changed forever. They haven’t done a new album since 1994 but they occasionally unite. In 1994, Morse replaced Ritchie Blackmore as the lead guitarist for Deep Purple.