What do we do about bad behavior?

Legal troubles for prominent ISU student-athletes have been the talk of radio talk shows and covered extensively in the newspapers as of late. Our columinist says the problem isn't ISU as much as it is society. Nonetheless, deterring that behavior largely falls on the shoulders of the coaches.

Two more Iowa State athletes were arrested in the last few weeks for OWI. I'm not sure what's worse: that this actually happened or that it's really not that much of a story anymore?

After all, when the Cyclones' top returning passer and runner are BOTH charged with of drunken driving — and the offenses are within a few weeks of each other — it's news. Or at least it should be. Can you imagine the uproar if both of these guys had broken their ankles doing a new agility drill? How quickly do you think that drill would be history?

Unfortunately, it seems that alcohol-related arrests are becoming more commonplace in big-time college sports. Or maybe I should say alcohol-related stupidity, as was the case with former ISU coach Larry Eustachy.

This is certainly not a dilemma that is limited to Ames or the state of Iowa. It's everywhere. Just ask former Alabama football coach Mike Price. It seems to be a fact of life. But does it have to be? You wouldn't think so. Yet who has the answer on how to stop this downward spiral?

A few of the suggestions I've heard include:

    • Don't let the student-athletes go to the bars at night. Make these places off limits.
    • Don't allow the student-athletes to drink. Period.
    • Stop the charade. Get rid of big-time collegiate sports as we know them and set up a "minor league system" for the NBA and NFL. The student-athletes should be students first and foremost.

Ideas like these are nice, I guess. The people who offer them up are probably well-meaning. However, it is more likely that monkeys are going to fly out of Beano Cook's butt and tap dance on Dick Vitale's bald head than it is we'll see student-athletes stop drinking or realize a major structural change to the "money machine" that is NCAA football and basketball.

So let's try to deal with this in the real world.

Here's the thing: kids are kids. Although these 20-year old football stars seem to be larger-than-life at times, and people twice their age look at them as "heroes" every Saturday in the fall, they are still kids. And kids make mistakes. They do things that you can't believe they even THOUGHT about doing. Just like I did when I was 20. And probably just like YOU did.

Sometimes kids get away with mistakes. Other times, they don't.

"Yeah, but you never had your youthful indiscretions plastered all over the Internet or sports talk radio or the newspaper," someone might say.

No, I didn't. I never had my entire college education paid for, either. I never had a packed stadium cheering my every move on Saturdays in the fall. The newspaper didn't run stories and photos highlighting my successes. That's the trade-off. Anyone who enters into big-time college athletics without that knowledge ought to be taking verbal exams with Maurice Clarett.

But I digress. There appears to be a problem with alcohol and/or drugs for ISU's athletes. Some of the Cyclones who have been arrested due to alcohol- or drug-related offenses in the last six months include:

Obviously, when you're talking about four basketball players on a roster of 12 or 13 athletes you've got quite a problem. On the other hand, when you're dealing with two football players on a roster of around 100 athletes maybe it's not such a big deal. After all, that's probably not far off — as a percentage — from the rest of the student body.

But just because other kids are doing it at that rate, does that make it OK? Two wrongs don't make it right. Or as my grandma used to say, "There's room in hell for all of you."

Perhaps that's a bit strong.

The reality is that when the #1 quarterback and the leading returning rusher are both arrested for OWI within a few weeks, it's a black eye to your football program big time. Coach Dan McCarney is surely aware of that. This is why he hinted a week or so ago that Antonio Alfonseca would have to win the Cy Young Award before Love makes it back on the field with ISU's top unit.

I'm guessing that Rutland finds himself in the same doghouse. The official word is that both are suspended for the season opener against UNI. What's being said and done privately? Who knows?

Maybe a behavioral policy with a little more teeth in it might curb some of these lapses in judgement. What if an OWI offense meant that you were suspended for a season with no questions asked? What if a repeat offense meant dismissal from the program?

What if being charged with "possession of alcohol while under legal age" meant that you were suspended for a third of the season? What if a second offense cost you an entire season? And a third offense meant dismissal?

What if a combination of alcohol or drug-related violations — "public intoxication and possession while under legal age," for example — meant a one-year suspension?

Would these black-and-white repercussions act as a deterrent for anyone? If not, I'm guessing that the wrong type of person is wearing the "cardinal and gold" on game days.

The bottom line is that it's up to the head coach and his staff to do what it takes to head off this trend. I'm not saying that McCarney or Wayne Morgan need to become "babysitters," so don't bother with that rebuttal.

What I'm saying is this: there are three ways that the coaches can try to police this situation:

    1. Recruit kids who have good heads on their shoulders. Not that a "good kid" is one who would never make a mistake. ALL kids make mistakes. Rather, he might be more likely to exercise good judgement, avoid certain situations and if he screwed up he would accept the consequences and try to learn from it.
    2. Set a good example. If they're going to ask their student-athletes to act responsibly, then they can't party with Sean Devereaux on the weekends or after games.
    3. Implement tougher discipline. Part of the problem, as I see it, is that we live in a society where people don't just get "second chances." They get "third, fourth, 15th and 50th chances." Especially if they have a cannon for an arm or can run a 4.3 40-yard dash. We condition our young people that — if they're REALLY talented — they may never have to accept responsibility for their actions. Obviously, Iowa State can't correct a nationwide problem like THAT, but the Cyclones can certainly try to teach the right lessons in their own backyard.

But talk is cheap. We'll see what happens if Stevie Hicks pulls a hamstring against UNI. Or if Waye Terry and Austin Flynn both look overwhelmed in the first couple of games. What will happen then?

What messages will McCarney want to send when it's third-and-goal against Ohio and Hicks isn't healthy? What lesson will be taught? You can bet that hundreds of eyes on the ISU sideline will be studying that decision.

Maybe it's not fair to put that much weight on the shoulders of coaches like McCarney and Morgan. They have enough to worry about trying to defeat the likes of Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri. Am I also asking them to teach some of life's toughest — and most important — lessons to a bunch of 18-to 22-year olds?

Yes, I think that's exactly what I'm saying. It's not an easy task, but I think it's part of their job responsibilities. McCarney and Morgan can't put an end to these types of mistakes by their players, but they definitely have the authority to deter them.

(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. His columns for CN online are published each Tuesday and Friday. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)


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