Don't Cry Foul

Junior-to-be Tommy Rees was among myriad students celebrating the end of Notre Dame's school year last Wednesday night. A series of poor decisions thereafter dealt a lethal blow to his bid to retain the team's starting quarterback role entering the 2012 season.

The arrests of Rees and linebacker Carlo Calabrese early last Thursday morning will be treated separately, both by the University's Office of Residence Life and head coach Brian Kelly.

A 21-year-old concluding his junior season, Calabrese, by all accounts and the public police report, showed poor judgment by engaging in more than standard aid of his friend and teammate, and then exacerbated his situation by reportedly threatening police.

Rees, 20, inexplicably ran from police presence, was subsequently slowed by a cab driver (not sure where to start with that aspect of the report) and then scuffled with a police officer. It wasn't bad judgment, it was a career-changing mistake.

Consider a 20-year-old drinking alcohol off campus on the last day of the school year that is subsequently cited by the police following a noise complaint in a residential neighborhood. Inconsequential.

That was the likely scenario that faced Rees and others when the police told them to stop fleeing the scene. Other stopped, Rees did not.

Prior to what had to be the longest run of his college career, Rees was facing something along the lines of a minor consumption citation and inevitable University, legal, and team-levied slaps on the wrist. The usual rhetoric:

"Don't drink again until you're 21 (wink, in public). Go tell some South Bend area kids not to drink to excess, and definitely not to disrespect authority. Tell the press you're sorry and that you made a mistake. Pick up some trash, stop turning the ball over, run some extra sprints, etc., etc."

Instead, four misdemeanor charges and a team suspension loom. A veteran quarterback with zero margin for error in a prolonged quarterback competition (it's not a controversy when none of the combatants proves worthy over the course of a calendar year), Rees faces one of three likely scenarios:

A.) Be suspended from team-related activities during the summer, a ruling that would greatly diminish his chance to retain starting job...

B.) Be suspended for all or part of August camp, thus destroying his chance to start the opener or even shortly thereafter...

C.) Be suspended for any of the above plus a game or more, opening the door to crucial game experience that greatly benefits one of his three competitors – the only skill set the trio lacks in comparison.

Over the last few months, and considering in congress all common sense, intermittent insider knowledge, my own observations, and Brian Kelly's words and brief history in South Bend, the following timeline summarizes my opinion of Notre Dame's starting quarterback situation to open the 2012 season:

  1. Pre Champs Sports Bowl: Rees, a 16-game starter, was a relative no-brainer to emerge at the outset vs. two rookies and one relatively untested backup.

  2. Post Champs Sports Bowl: In light of the offense's performance vs. FSU in the game and in the previous two contests vs. Stanford and Boston College, someone besides Rees would begin the season under center.

  3. Spring Practice and pre-Blue Gold Game: All signs again pointed to Rees remaining the man to beat, both because of the apparently foibles of his competitors and his own improvement per the coaching staff and regular practice observers.

  4. Post Blue Gold Game: Why not red-shirt freshman Everett Golson? Why Rees? Is it really that hard to tailor an modern offensive attack to a dynamic, multi-talented athlete? And if so, why can other schools do so with regularity?

  5. Present Day: I'll be shocked if Tommy Rees opens under center in Dublin.

That present-day belief isn't due solely to the arrest. I'm not naïve enough to think that Brady Quinn, for example, would be deemed unworthy of leading a football team because he played the role of a panicked 20-year-old at a college party. But "bad judgement" will doubtless be cited as part of the reason if Rees isn't at the helm.

Remember when you're weeding through the inevitable rhetoric: Poor decision-making on the field was actually paramount in the process.

Reconciling Floyd vs. Rees

There's no reason to do so as their cases are disparate, but since the final judgment impacts the same place -- between the lines on fall Saturdays -- some examination is necessary.

I wrote last year that a dangerous team precedent would be set if Michael Floyd wasn't suspended by Brian Kelly for a third alcohol-related offense, with the most serious the March 2011 DUI. I wrote then and still believe Floyd would have been suspended from school for a semester, or kicked off the team for violating team rules had he been a backup right guard rather than the team's best player.

That's a nod human nature and decades of team sports logic, not groundbreaking journalism.

This isn't a crusade for equal treatment among Floyd, Rees, Calabrese, and/or the next Irish player who runs afoul of the law. In fact, I don't find the act of leniency in Floyd's case altogether hypocritical, though when both Kelly and the Notre Dame fan base suggested Floyd endured the Trials of Job to return to the team, I admit incredulity.

It might not be fair, but its factual to say that Floyd had more to lose by being suspended from school or kicked off the team than would, for the sake of comparison, the backup right guard.

Both Floyd and the hypothetical backup right guard could come back to school and earn a degree from Notre Dame after missing a semester, but a backup right guard wouldn't be a semester, and therefore a football season away, from realizing his life's goal of NFL riches as was Floyd.

That football season meant everything to Floyd's future as an adult striving to enter the top of the profession he'd pursued the moment he stepped on campus in South Bend.

The decision to embrace Floyd and his gridiron greatness rather than delay it has appeared to work out for the best for the graduating senior, if not a Notre Dame team that started 0-2 with him following an off-season of angst suggesting they'd do the same without.

(Floyd caught 25 passes for more than 300 yards while notching two scores in those defeats. The kicker was that the two opponents managed to catch five Notre Dame passes and collect a quartet of dropped pigskins of their own.)

I'm not qualified to determine what's worse, the combination of drinking underage (Rees can vote, die in war, and go to prison for life, but not drink a bunch of beer?), running from police (anyone have a friend who hasn't?), resisting arrest (its getting worse), and scuffling with police enough to warrant two battery charges (now we have an issue), or possessing a .19 BAC and subsequently operating a weapon that's previously killed tens of thousands?

My guess is because far more people reading this have committed the latter mistake and not been caught, or were caught and didn't injur anyone, than have ever come close to considering Rees' reaction, thus believe Rees was "more wrong" than Floyd.

It doesn't matter who's actions were worse. As I stated at the top, my opinion on their disparate alcohol-related mistakes is irrelevant.

But I have an opinion on which of the pair of offenders will be treated more harshly.

Rees isn't a backup right guard. But he's not Michael Floyd, either. Top Stories