A few thoughts to jump start your Thursday morning.
TIME FOR RADICAL CHANGES
In most every city in America, Jameis Winston would have been hauled off to county lockup, fingerprinted and photographed and then put in a cell until he was arraigned before a judge. Harsh, perhaps, but that’s the way the rest of the world operates. Our 2013 Heisman Trophy winner is fortunate that he lives in Tallahassee, Florida, where he was simply cited for shoplifting crab legs from a Publix Wednesday morning. In Tallahassee, it seems that if you play football at Florida State University – especially if you are a famous football player at FSU and Winston certainly qualifies there – it’s fairly difficult to get arrested. And even if you do get arrested, sometimes your football coach (see Bobby Bowden) will lobby a judge to let you off the hook even if you did something serious and make statements such as “praying for a misdemeanor” when a regular student at the university would have been charged with a felony (see Peter Warrick).
Jameis Winston has yet to get arrested in Tallahassee even though he’s not exactly unfamiliar with the Tallahassee Police Department or the justice system in Leon County. He’s skated on three previous occasions – (1) his involvement in a BB gun fight in which several FSU football players shot out windows in a dormitory; (2) he was accused of sexually assaulting a female student at FSU but the Tallahassee Police Department slow played the investigation, somehow tainted evidence that could have been used against Winston; and (3) was accused of stealing soda at a Tallahassee Burger King.
Now the assault accusation is very serious stuff but even the state attorney office in Leon County admits there isn’t a whole lot that can be done now. The alleged victim – a young woman who found out the hard way what happens to those to accuse FSU football players of wrong doing – might still get a day in court in which her civil suit against Winston could offer monetary compensation but probably won’t do much to resolve the emotional scars if what she says is true.
The other two incidents wouldn’t exactly paint Winston as the second coming of Al Capone but when you throw them in with the assault accusation and then today’s citation for shoplifting, you see the signs of an athlete who seems to think he can do anything he wants and nothing can or will happen to him. There are probably a hundred other star athletes at a hundred other schools around the country whose egos are every bit inflated as Winston’s and probably a hundred local police departments who look for any excuse not to arrest kids.
But are they doing the kid a favor when they conveniently lose evidence or drop charges?
And what about the coaches who coddle the athletes? Aren’t they just as guilty as the athlete when they let a kid get away with running amok of the law?
There are kids worth saving. There are coaches determined to save them. But sometimes there are kids who convince the coach and everyone else they’re worth saving when they aren’t. And there are coaches out there so determined to save everyone that they sometimes keep trying when they need to tell a kid “there’s nothing I can do for you anymore.”
And there are coaches out there who feel such a pressure to win that they won’t allow anything to happen to a difference-making star.
I’m sure Jimbo Fisher thinks he’s doing the right thing to protect Jameis Winston, but even Fisher has to see a pattern here and make a decision just how many more times he’s willing to stick up for his quarterback. If Fisher doesn’t draw a line in the dirt and let Winston know that he’s got one chance and one chance only to get his act together, then he’s not doing any favors. If Winston thinks nothing will happen, he’ll keep doing what he’s always done and that can only lead to something worse than stealing soda from the Burger King. At some point Fisher has to demand accountability by Winston even if it means suspending maybe the most talented football player he will ever coach. And, at some point, Jameis Winston has to make a conscious decision to grow up. That sheepish grin and the plea of “youthful ignorance” is an excuse whose sell by date has expired. It’s about time he lost that sense of entitlement.
But it’s not just Jimbo Fisher, Jameis Winston, Florida State or the Tallahassee Police Department that need some serious re-evaluation time. It’s college athletics in general. On far too many campuses and in college towns, athletes get special treatment that only allows their sense of entitlement to grow. That’s not true of every college athlete nor is it true of every college town, but far too many fit that mold. These same athletes say it’s about time they were treated like adults, which is fine. As Matt Hayes of Sporting News wrote last week, athletes are demanding that they be treated like adults and demanding a seat at the table where the important decisions are made about their sport and how they will be treated. Hayes says if you want a say in your future, then start acting like adults which also means you face adult consequences when you screw up. Hayes goes further to advocate that enforcement of the rules be placed in the hands of a private company with no affiliations to any university.
I don’t know if I’d go so far as a zero tolerance policy, which is what Hayes advocated last week, but I do think something like a three-strike policy is the right thing to do because so many of these kids come from backgrounds where they’ve been coddled and appeased from the time they were just starting to show some ability. So many of the athletes who get in trouble once they hit a college campus really don’t know any better. That’s not making excuses for them. That’s just reality. Ever since they can remember someone has covered up for them and kept them from facing dire consequences when they screwed up. So, there is a learning curve, which is why I think a three-strike policy with increasingly harsh consequences would be in order. Make the consequences very clear, all in black and white with no gray areas and take the punishment decisions out of the hands of the coaches. Instead, have that private company that enforces the rules hand out the punishment so there is no favoritism.
When a player hits that third strike, he or she should be gone and not just for a game or two or even a season – but for good. Just to make sure that everybody gets it eliminate a problem athlete showing up somewhere else and getting a clean slate and three fresh strikes. When you’re gone, you’re gone for good and you can’t play anywhere – not Division I, not Division II and not Division III.
It would help matters if coaches were given back some of the control the well-meaning people at the NCAA have taken away over the years. Coaches are held accountable if their players screw up, so at least give them better tools to enforce the rules. Bring back athletic dorms and set curfews that must be met. Allow coaches more contact with players in the offseason.
There have been some folks who have advocated fining coaches whose players spend too much time getting fingerprinted and getting their picture taken before spending a pleasant evening in county lockup, but there is a better and more painful way of dealing with that instead of hitting coaches in the wallet. Why not take away scholarships? If a player gets a third strike and is eliminated from the program, his scholarship is gone for two full years. If more than five players hit the three-strike mark, then the school loses an additional scholarship. So instead of losing five, ten scholarships are gone for two years.
That would get everybody’s attention.
Will something like this happen? Not any time soon. You can count on that. Like every radical new idea – and make no mistake about it, this one is radical – it would take some time to implement and it wouldn’t happen without gnashing of teeth and some kicking and screaming by coaches and athletes alike. But it’s definitely time to think outside the box and come up with a new plan that actually works. The plan that’s in place right now only allows a Jameis Winston to think he can grin sheepishly and claim for the umpteenth time that he needs to “learn and grow from this unfortunate situation.”
There is an old saying: If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always be what you’ve always been.
It’s time for the NCAA and the power conferences to figure that out and make some changes.
QUESTION FOR TODAY
The question for today comes from Eddie P, who asks, “Now that spring football is over how would you rate the SEC top to bottom, #1-#14? I think Alabama is going to start #1 but are they really that good again? They lost a lot of people. Rate the teams if you will.
1. AUBURN: Gus thinks the offense will be better and Nick Marshall is the best QB in the league.
2. ALABAMA: Boom if Jacob Coker is as good as advertised; bust if he is not.
3. SOUTH CAROLINA: If Dylan Thompson throws it to the right people, they could be as good as anyone in the league.
4. GEORGIA: Watch for a slow start and a strong finish as the defense figures things out.
5. LSU: Remember this name: Leonard Fournette. He might be the best runner in the league in years.
6. TEXAS A&M: No Johnny Football. No Defense. They’ll still score a zillion points and win a lot.
7. MISSOURI: How can they fly under the radar a second straight year? But they will. They can play.
8. FLORIDA: Gators could be most improved team in the league and still go 6-6 with that schedule.
9. MISSISSIPPI STATE: Dak Prescott is the second best QB in the league and the defense will be vastly improved.
10. OLE MISS: Good enough to win eight games, maybe nine.
11. TENNESSEE: Break even would be an accomplishment.
12. VANDERBILT: Will the magic wear off now that James Franklin is gone?
13. ARKANSAS: Another long, hard season for the Piglets. They won’t fire Brett Bielema after two seasons. Will they?
14. KENTUCKY: Mike Stoops has improved the program, which is like saying they’ve put a necktie on a pig in Lexington. It’s still Kentucky and it’s not basketball season until November.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
One of the best CDs in my collection is “Four Chords and Several Years Ago” by Huey Lewis and the News, a 1994 compilation of some very cool rhythm and blues songs from the 1960s. One of my favorites is their remake of the JJ Jackson classic “But It’s All Right” which crossed over to #22 on the Billboard charts in 1966. Huey and the band are still touring and the segment of their concerts that everyone seems to love best is when they get into the old R&B songs including a few a cappella versions. They are playing Panama City tonight and will be in Orlando on May 31 at the music plaza at Universal Studios.