For the informed college football fan, there is no greater time to practice one's eye-rolling skills than the offseason.
With rare free time and the troublemaking opportunities it presents, college football players inevitably get into trouble. When you combine that inevitability with a bored and sensational media and illogical braying of some blogger/fans, the eyes get to roll in delerious pleasure several times a week.
Riddle me this:
A bunch of off-field nonsense happened to UCLA's football program under Bob Toledo. Now, similar nonsense has happened under Karl Dorrell. What's the connection? Well, since there are two different coaches, we can narrow this down to being an institutional issue. That's it, it's a UCLA problem. Those rascal Bruins, always up to trouble!
At least, that's the logic some employ.
In reality, UCLA's no different from anybody else, but their fan base and coaches are simply less willing to absorb the public relations hit that comes with winning football. The difference between them and say, Miami, USC and Ohio State is that UCLA has a glass jaw and folds when the punches start coming---firing winning coaches and complaining to no end about the next set of coaches while demanding they make angels out of their players.
That's fine, that's their choice as a program but it's one reason they're not a top 10 historical football program despite the university's tremendous resources. Every recent shot at winning football has been met with off-field issues. The sooner a program recruits guys that get tired of playing in these types of games (and these types of games), the sooner a program has happy fans. But there's a cost. That's the way the game works.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
As I explained last week, these problems exist all over D-I college football, at every institution.
Is it any surprise that the majority of off-field news in the last eight years has dealt with players from Oklahoma, Miami, Florida State, USC, Ohio State, Tennessee and yes, Texas?
Notice a thread? They've all won championships. It's a not so dirty little secret that every elite team needs at least a handful (if not many more---see Ohio State) of kids who are rough around the edges but are great football players.
Vince Young's a good kid now, but he had a rough background and hasn't lived the most perfect life. Think Texas wins last year's title without him or Ramonce Taylor? Mack Brown knew what he was doing when he recruited both (and several other marginal characters) and assumed those risks.
Eric Wright and Winston Justice were guys who would need a lot of babysitting to keep on the straight-and-narrow. That never happened, and they were a big headache for USC, but they contributed mightily to USC's football efforts in the last few years. Pete Carroll knew what he was getting into when he recruited them (and many other questionable players). He assumed the risks.
The bottom line is it's simply impossible to run a spotless program and win a national championship or ably contend for one. Every team that's reached the game's greatest heights (or new heights for non-championship teams) has gotten there on the backs of a bunch of players who the program's fans would otherwise not let associate with their fine institutions.
Is it any surprise, for example, that Georgia Tech's last 10-win season piggybacked various transgressions that put the team on probation? The Yellowjackets have just seven seasons of 10 or more wins in their history (and just three since 1956). Playing to the level of an elite team takes either a few miracles or mixing in players who are going to have classroom and/or off-field issues.
Say what you want about Mack Brown or Pete Carroll, Bob Stoops or Jim Tressel, but they're all shrewd, shrewd coaches, and know what it takes to reach the heights they've reached. It's not pretty but then, they're not interested in being second-rate coaches and assume the consequences of getting where they've gotten.
I don't intend to excuse poor behavior in writing this, but it's up to the rest of us to recognize certain realities and get over our hangups about what's happening each and every year with this great sport that we follow.
It's up to each individual program to do its best to discourage poor conduct and punish it faithfully, but they're not going to stop recruiting the best football players---thus taking a flier on whatever potential transgressions they'll commit while at school. Not when coach salaries are in the millions of dollars. Not when the available talent isn't through natural selection out of a school's student body but through recruiting. Not when ego is at play and the mood of a booster can determine the fate of a coach.
Even mighty Notre Dame isn't immune. The last time they had a contender was 1993. Remember the little brouhaha about players from that team that came to light? Or how about the coach during Northwestern's miracle run in 1996? One Gary Barnett. Think there's a little more to his stay at Northwestern than what's been revealed to the press? His downfall was at Colorado but he found the winning formula in Evanston.
These things come with the territory. The bloodshed spilled all over the message boards, air waves and blog sites is thus frivolous (for the most part). We're all guilty. I just want to see great football, personally.
Yes, I pulled this entry after writing it, as I continued to revise it over and over and over and finally just sat on it, figuring to keep working on it and maybe publish Tuesday... problem was it was already published and copied elsewhere (gotta love the internet), and at this point I'm not going to continue to chase links to further augment the arguments. Its' already out there, so here it is again, heh.
Peter at BON has a good point that it's about how you handle these situations that also matters (a point I make as well). It's a nod towards the supposed "loosey goosey" way Pete Carroll has handled USC's off-field messes. But in reading a lot of stories this offseason, it looks like he's got a policy of putting disciplinary matters into the hands of USC's Student Affairs office. Occasionally he'll step in after the fact and have some kind of internal discipline, but mostly lets others determine his fate. Interesting, and a bit risky if you ask me, but that's his way.
What I find notable is that a strict start doesn't always work. Look at BN's rundown of early transgressions at UCLA under coach Karl Dorrell. He suspended several players and sent a message that disciplinary issues would be met with severe punishment. But yet, things kept happening!
Same at USC, where Carroll watched the school suspend players like Marcell Almond and Winston Justice, who had to jump through all kinds of hoops to get back into school once their punishment had run its course. Allmond behaved upon his return, Justice didn't. He also effectively gave back Hershel Dennis a permanent benching after his non-charge, but curfew breaking night that saw him alleged for rape in 2004.
You can do only so much, but when you've got troublemakers, things are not going to stop. Phil Fulmer's been adding all kinds of new punishments over his career at Tennessee, but the bad conduct of a handful of his players never ceases. We're in a bizarre reality where a lot of guys simply don't get it and maybe never will.
So no, this wasn't so much an excuse for Carroll (or other coaches), but kind of a reality check. I simply get tired of reading all these nonsensical diatribes that some program is renegade and bad simply because of its name and a few knuckleheads that go there. Last year the team du jour was Tennessee (Fulmer Cup! 10 offseason arrests!), this year it's USC, next year, who knows, but at some point people are just going to look stupid hyperventilating about what's happening.