First and foremost, Andy Baggot had a good column in the Wisconsin State Journal about how the student-athlete discipline process appears to work:
A vital member of the UW football team is arrested. He is suspended by the school in accordance with its student-athlete discipline policy. He is reinstated just in time to suit up for the next big on-field assignment.
It's happened three times since last September, which makes you wonder: The powers-that-be at UW have to know how this looks, don't they?
It looks calculated and dubious. It looks like powerful people are playing the privacy angles, all in the name of making sure UW Athletics runs at optimal speed.
And importantly, we get commentary from Barry Alvarez on the issue:
UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said he isn't worried about how it looks to us.
"I know the facts," he said. "We're not making the decision (based) on timing or concerned about how it appears. We're doing what we think is right and what we think is fair for the kid."
Baggot goes on to list the details of the incidents involving Elijah Hodge, Jack Ikegwuonu, and Lance Smith. And here's "how it appears:" it appears that the police were involved every single time!
Now, Barry's been around the game a long time, and one thing he ought to know is that appearances matter. They matter a whole hell of a lot! College football is mostly about the results on the field, yes, but it's also in large part a fashion show. Remember back in 2004 when Auburn was left out of the title game? Why was that? In part, because their preseason ranking did not compare well to that of USC or Oklahoma ... it was all perception.
And what about the case of a recruit who's considering Wisconsin? Is the concerned parent of a star player going to want his or her son to attend UW if it looks like the players can get away with whatever they want? Or is the parent of a middling recruit going to hesitate when they see that the star players get off easy, but if their son makes a mistake that the coaching staff might just sell them out?
Anyway, the whole situation stinks. It reeks of "Just Win, Baby," and that's not what college football -- and in particular, Badger football -- ought to be about.
My other post received a couple comments earlier today; they make good points, so I'm going to address them:
Ummm.... no. Here's what I predict is going to happen. The charges against Ikegwuonu are going to be dropped after he wins a suppression hearing. He and his brother are good students. I'm almost positive this was some big misunderstanding.
Lance will enter some first offender program, complete a bunch of counseling and community service, and his charges will also be dropped.
Compare this to Florida's offseason. I think they've had three or four people arrested for things like DUIs and bar fights.
Jack and his brother Bill (also arrested on the criminal trespass charges) might well be good students and are probably very good people. I have only minimal doubts about this. Good people do stupid things. Some very good people are capable of doing very stupid things. If this was just a matter of Ikegwuonu being in someone's apartment, I can see it just being a "big misunderstanding." But the dude had an Xbox in his hands. That looks like attempted theft, and that's not good. Additionally, if this had been a "big misunderstanding," I severely doubt that it would still be a legal matter. Finally, there is no joy in winning a suppression hearing. Woohoo, he was sprung on a technicality! Validation at last!
And of course, it is unwise to to talk to the press about active legal proceedings. But there's a right way and a wrong way to address the situation. The wrong way is what Bielema did: to be antagonistic and standoffish to the press, lecturing them about what they can and cannot ask, acting like there is something to hide. What Bielema did goes way beyond the laudable goal of protecting a player. The right way is to prep Ikegwuonu before his media time, telling him, "You know the off-the-field stuff is going to come up. Tell them it's an unfortunate situation, it's not going to affect your preparation for the season, and you can't comment because the legal proceedings are ongoing."
As for Smith, it's clear he did what he did. Nobody was seriously hurt, and in the end, what's the worst that happens? The girlfriend breaks up with him? He'll do community service, he'll undergo counseling, he's issued a public apology and seems sincerely sorry. That's all very good. So sit the guy for a while. Get by without him against Washington State, at least for the first half. Give the appearance of propriety if you're not committed to propriety itself.
Then there's this comment:
Didn't Coach Bielema kick Booker Stanley off the team as one of his first orders of business when he became HC? That's a hell of a lot more than five downs.
Let me be clear about something: Bielema's booting of Stanley seemed staged at the time and it looks even more so now. What I mean is that this was such an obvious move that Coach deserves almost no credit for doing it. Call me a cynic, but it almost looks like Alvarez kept Stanley on the team just so Bielema could kick him off. Kind of a "you can't fire me, I quit!" scenario in reverse. Of course I don't know whether that's the truth or not. But based on the type of disciplinarian Bielema has appeared to be since then, is it that much of a stretch?
Bielema is a very smart, savvy man. He showed this with the offsides kickoffs against Penn State; he was going to take advantage of a stupid rule and win based on that. He knows the number in W column is what most fans are going to remember long after the season is done. What he's expecting fans to forget is that his backup RB hit his girlfriend. And most of them will. Hell, most of the people in Camp Randall on game day will never even know that happened. They won't remember the final score of the game. But they will remember that the game was a Badger victory ... and that Bret Bielema was choreographing said victory on the sidelines.
Finally, this action has caused a Michigan fan to call Bielema unlikeable and a Penn State fan to declare him a disgrace. Remember, these are teams who have bigger fish to fry, usually, than Wisconsin. They don't care about Wisconsin football. They're not supposed to care about Wisconsin football. And if they do think about Wisconsin football, generally it's with a certain admiration; after all Barry Alvarez built this program from the ground up, did it with class and deference, and won three Rose Bowls. People love that! Bielema doesn't have the luxury of becoming a "builder." He must be a "sustainer." And thus far, he's getting the victories -- he's sustaining the program's success. But the image is starting to fade, at least among fans who once saw Badger football in a positive light. Hopefully that stops.