College Football: For Fans, a Suspension Is About Themselves, Not the Players

Michael Felder@InTheBleachersNational CFB Lead WriterJuly 18, 2012

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 04:  Head coach Dabo Swinney (C) of the Clemson Tigers gets set to lead his team onto the field against the West Virginia Mountaineers West Virginia Mountaineers during the Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 4, 2012 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Yesterday, we talked about Clemson, Sammy Watkins and the head coach, Dabo Swinney, leaving the door open for the star wide receiver to get on the field for the opener against Auburn.

Not a big surprise to most, as the ball coach has been hinting at letting the sophomore play in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff since the arrest was fresh on the news wire. As it becomes more clear that Watkins will play, folks are reacting in a less-than-positive way. Brett Jensen, radio host at WFNZ in Charlotte provides an example:

Pure and total shameless. Unreal. RT @orangeandwhite:Dabo Swinney says there's 'a chance' Sammy Watkins could play vs. Auburn @aimclemson

— Brett Jensen (@Brett_Jensen) July 17, 2012

Shameless is a tough word to use, and Brett, having the long-time career as a beat writer, understands words well. That's a big one to use. The idea that Dabo has no shame because he's still working with Sammy Watkins and won't definitively rule the receiver out of the opener.

That's harsh, and I absolutely disagree. You see, in covering college football, this is something that has continually frustrated me as coaches handle their team's discipline issues: Outsiders think suspensions are the only punishments that count.

Perhaps it is because the suspension is the only punishment that fans actually see. That makes sense, because so many people are not privy to the inner workings of a college football program. Add to that the fact that coaches and players do not talk much about inner-team discipline, and it must certainly seem as though nothing happens to those guys.

While they don't broadcast punishments, the fact is that your college football team is disciplining their players all the time. No, they are not issuing press releases or doing press conferences on how five players had to snake the stadium, do early morning hills or the discipline circuit at 5:30 in the morning.

They aren't telling the media about the extra gassers or bear crawls after practice that players X, Y and Z are forced into. They don't mention a player running with the two's in spring as a punishment.

The fact is, it is none of your business. When a player violates team rules or runs afoul of the law, it is about him paying his debt to the team and possibly to society. Missing practice, being late to meetings, skipping class, citations and misdemeanors all fall into that same category—let the team decide what is best for the player and for themselves. 

Ultimately, if the issue here was players being punished and working their way back into the good graces, then fans would let teams handle it.

Unfortunately, players' punishments are not about repaying their debt to the team or to society. In the hyper-myopic world of college football, the punishments boil down to being solely about football.

The idea that "if a player doesn't miss games then he does not learn his lesson" is more aptly termed "if a player doesn't miss games then I don't think he can learn his lesson."

It is not about his accountability to the people who matter—teammates, coaches or the university. Rather, it is about if you think he and/or his team and coach have suffered enough. It is not about learning a lesson. Rather, it is about extracting that proverbial pound of flesh to sate your own selfish desires.

You don't care if a player learns his lesson or fixes the issue. You just want him to miss game time. It is not about him being accountable to his teammates or his coaches. It is about you seeing your rival go without or the guy you think is a "thug" miss game time.

Let the teams handle discipline. When an athletic department's rules stipulate missing time, then let that happen. Otherwise, let the coach and the legal system determine which method of discipline will work best for his kids. That's what he gets paid to do, not you.