CHAMPAIGN, IL - NOVEMBER 12: Head coach Brady Hoke of the Michigan Wolverines congratulates Fitzgerald Toussaint #28 after Toussaint scored a touchdown against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on November 12, 2011 in Champaign, Illinois. Michigan defeated Illinois 31-14. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
NB: I wrote all of this before the news that Toussaint had pleaded down came about...however, as far as I know, this was an expected thing. I'm not sure that it changes any of the things that I've written in this post, anyway.
The issue on most Michigan fans' minds right now has to do with whether or not Fitzgerald Toussaint will be playing come this Saturday night. More specifically, the question that zooms in to the heart of the matter, is "What is Brady Hoke going to do about this?" We saw how he handled Darryl Stonum's situation, but this is a different issue entirely, mostly due to Fitz's value to the offense, the offense's proximity to the start of fall camp, and the quality of Michigan's first opponent. With Toussaint's mistake occurring in late July, only a couple weeks before fall camp was set to begin, the spotlight on the situation has been blindingly bright, as you'd expect it to be (especially with Michigan's first game being against who it is).
This isn't the most interesting or pleasant of subjects, especially if you wander outside the friendly confines of the Michigan blogosphere. This is to be expected, because this is how these sorts of things play out. After all, what would college football be without the judgment of 18-22 year-old athletes, often with little to no information or context? Since it must be said, I am by no means attempting to cover or make excuses for the actions of college athletes. Rather, I want to talk a little about the rationale behind "player discipline", and where it fails even though it is sort of set up to fail in the first place. It's an impossible situation, really.
The calculus of this decision (i.e. whether Toussaint should play against Alabama) is simultaneously clear and convoluted. It's a case without an appropriate answer because the question doesn't exist. What is the question?
But hey, these guys that we watch on Saturdays are role models and representatives of the state and the university and [insert other stuff that is dumb] /dies
I mentioned a couple of these points at HTR on Monday, but one that bears repeating: any decision based on any sort of public outcry, whether within or without the fanbase, is not a good or a sound one. That's not to say that they should be ignored, but should someone ostensibly possessing all of the facts (i.e. Hoke) reasonably take his cues from a body of people with only the barest knowledge of said facts (i.e. the fans)? In any case, we will all know what Hoke's final decision is very soon, and speculating as to what that decision will be is a futile exercise. Just wait and you will know. However, I am interested in the "theory" behind the discipline of collegiate athletes, if such a theory exists at all.
Just to get this out of the way, let me just say this: I don't think Toussaint should play on September 1st. Additionally, I predict that he won't (I'm not sure where these "indications" are coming from). I just don't see it; if the opposite happens I'd be very surprised, and it would mark the first time that I've been surprised by a decision of Hoke's in a non-positive way.
With that said, let me also say that the aforementioned public outcry should not enter Hoke's internal monologue.* All of this outrage, from the fans--fans of all teams, mind you--is just posturing. Bloviating, annoying posturing (yes, that is where we, Michigan fans, enter the picture). Again, as far as anyone knows, what Fitz was arrested for is a thing that he did in fact do...I don't think anybody is waiting for additional evidence to repudiate that fact. On a basic level, I'm just saying that maybe we should let the people who know what's what make the decision. I'm always hesitant to express the sentiment that I'm about to express, but here goes: I think that Hoke has earned a certain level of trust thus far.
Punishment for the sake of satisfying some sense of moral superiority, is the par excellence of what they call "missing the point." There is no Disciple National Championship, guys. In this vein, this is one of those times when the ridiculousness of the entire structure of college athletics rears its head, a head of 1,000 faces all facing in different directions, incoherent and nonsensical, blabbering in a 1,000 different dead languages. That is college football, at its core, although we do love it still for many reasons (many of which I will certainly talk about later on this week and throughout the season). It's just a shame that this has to be a topic of discussion right now. I mean, really...I just hate it. But, so it goes.
*I like to imagine that this is just mini cartoonish angel and devil Hokes on each shoulder going "Wellllllllllllllllllllllllll."
A final note. Another point that I mentioned elsewhere on Monday, one that refers back to the beginning of this post (specifically, where I talked about the lack of a "question")...I'm afraid that the discipline of players outside of the legal system is a concept that doesn't make much sense, when you really think about it. AGAIN, to be clear, I am not saying that players should not be punished by their coaches when they, the player, go astray. This is something that just has to happen, whether it jibes with purely rational sensibilities or not.
Like Hemingway's two-hearted river, the discipline question is one of two parts. 1) Is said punishment--in this case, missing the Alabama game as punishment for a OWI--equal to the crime? To say this is somewhat of a non sequitur would be an understatement. 2) Is said punishment strong enough as to be: a) reformative and b) preventative?
Do you see how ridiculous this whole concept is? Unfortunately, Fitzgerald Toussaint made a mistake, one that would be just as unfortunate if it took place in February or some other time far far away from football season. Still, like many things in the world of collegiate athletics, the notion itself doesn't make much sense (of player discipline, that is), even though it is clearly necessary, since doing nothing is clearly not an option. Like I said Monday:
The process must eventually find itself at the intersection of The Law, sports, and culture (the fans, a program's reputation, etc.), a place where there is no yellow light, the lights turn green or red almost instantaneously and without warning, and nobody is directing traffic. Also, it's raining, hard, and nobody can see, but the people continue to drive anyhow.
Anyway, I think this is enough semantics for one day. Saturday night can't get here soon enough.