Michigan State Football Suspends Eight Players; More Than Bowl Game at Stake

Nick MordowanecCorrespondent IDecember 2, 2009

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 1: Wide receivers B. J. Cunningham #3 and Mark Dell #2 of the Michigan State Spartans warm up before play against the Georgia Bulldogs at the 2009 Capital One Bowl at the Citrus Bowl on January 1, 2009 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Michigan State’s football program endured a tumultuous season full of disappointments and shortcomings. Now, the team is facing bigger issues off the field.


Michigan State has suspended eight players following a widely publicized altercation at a campus residence hall. The events stem from a Nov. 22 incident with a fraternity, as well as a fight at a local nightclub a night earlier.


Last week, coach Mark Dantonio dismissed sophomore running back Glenn Winston from the team, along with junior safety Roderick Jenrette—two players present at the residence hall incident.


Other players suspended are wide receiver Mark Dell, wide receiver B.J. Cunningham, wide receiver Fred Smith, running back Ashton Leggett, cornerback Chris L. Rucker, linebacker Brynden Trawick, nose tackle Ishmyl Johnson, and defensive end Jamiihr Williams. Five more players may also be suspended when identified by police.


The incident is a PR nightmare for the Spartans, becoming a national story and putting a big black eye on the program and its players. Although not all players were involved, it included many big-name players who have started games, such as Rucker, Dell, Cunningham, and Leggett.


This is not what the team and the university should be talking about a few short weeks before a bowl game is played, which will be Dantonio’s third bowl game appearance in his three seasons at the helm at Michigan State. Whether it will be playing in the Alamo Bowl or the Insight Bowl, the Spartans will be heavily undermanned.


Look, I have defended Dantonio time and time again. I defended his decision to go with a dual-quarterback system, I supported him after the team’s porous 1-3 start, and I have said that he will one day get to the ultimate point of being at the top of the Big Ten.


But when it comes to the suspensions of key players and dismissing other guys off the team for good, it’s just gone too far. Dantonio’s goal as the head honcho of the program is to make sure incidents like these don’t happen, and establishing precedent is something most Spartan fans thought he had done in his first couple years here.


Dantonio has been mum on the incident, as has athletic director Mark Hollis. It is a situation which must be handled with care, but these players have made their coach and their university look like thug central.


The one player I look at most obtusely is Glenn Winston.


Winston is no longer a member of the football team, but before he was officially dismissed he had received a second chance.


Winston was convicted of assault and battery after being front and center in an altercation with the Spartans’ hockey team, receiving a 180-day jail sentence. When he was released, Dantonio gave him another chance, another opportunity to redeem himself on and off the field.


It looked as if Winston had learned his lesson. He was running hard, following team rules, and acting as the team’s workhorse tailback prior to getting injured. Nobody could have said anything bad about Winston—until now.


He was one of the first two names to be announced, and many more have come out of the woodwork since then.


Dantonio needs to address the media soon and make a strong statement regarding the state of the program, although I don’t think his job is in jeopardy. He can only control so much, and what his players do on their own time reflects on him but more so on themselves.


Winning a bowl game has just become increasingly more difficult, but the state of the program and how these issues will be resolved is what is more important in the long run.