Urban Meyer called. Even he's shocked by your leniency. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
For those of you who don't read this site, I'm not someone to continually pick at a scab or go off on a crusade about any particular issue. It's not my thing. Personally, I've made enough mistakes, written some really stupid things, and generally embarrassed myself enough that I try not to jump on the soap box unless something really bothers me. Sadly, this is one of those times. ahem....
When Michigan State cornerback Chris L. Rucker was arrested for a DUI and placed in jail for violating his probation, everyone was dissappointed. I think it was extreme for people to call for his dissmissal from the team, but some kind of punishment was certainly warranted. Perhaps he'd be suspended a couple of games, maybe community service, something. Something to show those of us outside the Michigan State program that Mark Dantonio was taking his job not just as a head football coach, but as a molder of young men, seriously.
Were this an isolated incident at Michigan State, I probably wouldn't care about this. Brush it off as one kid being a dumbass and a coach giving him a lot of slack. But this isn't an isolated incident, it's not the first time Rucker's gotten himself into trouble, and it's not the first time Dantonio's shown that the only thing that matters to him is how well you play football. You may recall a little on campus incident last fall where Michigan State's football players not only disgraced themselves, but their school.
Witnesses and students involved in the incident said a group of 15 to 20 men, who some described as MSU football players, stormed into the dormitory and hit and injured about seven students, some of them women.
Brent Mitchell, a communication junior who said he was sent to Lansing’s Sparrow Hospital after being punched in the face, said some of the men wore ski masks, but others were recognized as football team members.
"I walked up and said, ‘It isn’t worth it.’ A guy with dreadlocks hit me and in the scuffle slapped, hit females to get them out of the way," Mitchell said.
The fall out was predictable. Eight players were "indefinitely suspended" by Dantonio. Those players included: B.J. Cunningham, Mark Dell, and Chris Rucker. All of whom were involved in the fight. Their indefinite suspension lasted one game. Today, Cunningham and Dell are 1 and 2 in receiving yards for the Spartans this season. Both of whom have kept their noses clean this season. Rucker is arguably their best member of the secondary, who unfotunately, has not. In the end, two players were dismissed for their role in the fight and because they were already there on second chances. One of those second chances was a player named Glenn Winston.
Glenn Winston's name is going to continue to come up because he is the poster child for Dantonio's lax policy on player discipline. Winston, let's be honest, was a bad man. Most notably, Winston was arrested, convicted, and put in jail for almost paralyzing a MSU hockey player. What was Dantonio's response to this? One of his players had basically tried to cripple another human being. To the shock of everyone, Dantonio reinstated him immeditately once he was released from jail. Winston went from a jump suit to the practice field without a second on the pine or a moment in the dog house.
Now this. Once is being lenient, Mark. Twice is a pattern.
I am in no way equating Rucker's DUI with Winston's intentional attempt to injure and perhaps kill another human being. But depending on how you judge Rucker's mistake with your own personal experiences, I wouldn't blame if you did. The issue here is not the stupidity of a young man, it's the decision of his head football coach. Rucker was on probation. He knew that. He entered a guilty plea as a result of his participation in the MSU fraternity brawl. He knew that if he ran afoul of the law, there would be consequences in real life. Sadly, it appears he also knew there wouldn't be consequences on the field.
Mark Dantonio is a good football coach. There is no denying that. But as a disciplinarian and someone in charge of molding the lives of young men, he has proven himself to be a fraud. Back on December 5, 2009, following the fall out from the campus brawl, Dantonio told the asssembled media that players who have received second chances for past issues face a "zero tolerance" policy if they are involved in future incidents. He went on to say that the violation of the "zero tolerance" policy was why Winston and Jenrette were kicked off the team.
Apparently "zero tolerance" meant "zero punishment."
This is no longer an issue of second chances. This is an issue of third and fourth chances being given to players that are good enough to help Dantonio win football games. I don't think anyone on this site has called for Rucker's expulsion from the team, but when you violate your parole there should be consequences on the field too. Added punishment to show your players that regardless of how good you are at football or any sport, you must behave within a certain code of conduct that reflects well on your school, your teammates, and yourself.
Instead, Dantonio immediately put Rucker back in the lineup. Straight from prison uniform to playing uniform. That's obscene. For everything that's happened with Michigan's coaching transition, discipline has not be something we've had to worry about. Justin Feagin? Gone. Immediately. Boubacar Cissoko? He was given a second chance and promptly blew it, at which time he was dismissed. That was it.
Since that time Michigan has had exactly two issues with the law. Darryl Stonum's DUI, which he is presently on his second chance, and Kenny Demens' association with Cissoko which resulted in a $10,000 civil suit for back rent. You might have noticed Demens on the bench for the first half of the season despite clearly being superior to Obi Ezeh as a Middle linebacker. Those are the warts Michigan's players have displayed under Rodriguez. And I'm very comfortable with the way those situations have been handled. [Editted for new violation: Fitzgerald Toussaint has been arraigned and suspended for driving on a suspended license]. That is my glass house. Lob away.
Here's the bottom line: I'm not calling for Rucker's dismissal. Not even a little bit. He made a mistake. However, it's clear his future involves playing football and not building rocket ships. That's a future that shouldn't be cast aside because of (what I hope) was simply an isolated case of poor judgment. Personally, I expected him to be suspended until the Penn State game. Instead, nothing. Come on down Chris, your pads are waiting.
I'm sorry, but there has to be some showing of discipline from Dantonio on this one. He put his own neck on the line back in December when he said "zero tolerance." Those are his words. That was his position. Dantonio knows he's gotten burned by this in the past. He knows that this isn't an isolated incident. He knows this isn't a second chance, it's a third or fourth. He also knows he's going against everything he's said earlier about discipline and responsibility.
But then again, he knows there's a big game this week and Chris Rucker makes it more likely the Spartans will win that game. I hope he also knows that, win or lose, no one will ever take him seriously again. And it's a sad day when a words like "discipline" and "Zero Tolerance" mean absolutely nothing.