College football is more popular than it has ever been. The crowds are bigger. The TV ratings are higher. Coaches are paid millions and assistant coaches now make more money that the previous generation ever dreamed out.
That’s the upside. The downside is that we’ve created a monster of expectations that encourages–almost demands–some risky behavior.
The case of former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is a prime example. Masoli is talented. No doubt about that. Oregon will probably be the best team in the Pac-10 this season even though Masoli is not there. If he was still there, we’d be talking about the Ducks in the national championship mix.
The reason Masoli is not there is that in June coach Chip Kelly kicked him off the team after his second legal incident in six months. In January Masoli and a teammate were charged with second-degree burglary for stealing laptop computers from a fraternity house. He was charged with a felony which was knocked down to a misdemeanor. In March Masoli pled guilty and received a year of probation. He was suspended for the 2010 season by coach Chip Kelly and told that if he screwed up one more time, he was out.
On June 7 Masoli was stopped for a traffic violation. He was driving on a suspended license and a search of the car revealed that he possessed less than an ounce of marijuana. He pled guilty on the marijuana charge and paid a fine. His attorney, Daniel Koenig, told the Oregonian newspaper that the suspended license charge was thrown out.
Kelly then booted Masoli from the team.
Understand that Masoli already had a rap sheet before these incidents. He spent three months in a juvenile detention center in 2005 after it was determined that he took part in a strong armed robbery. Nobody knows all the details because his juvenile records are sealed.
Did I mention that while all of this was going on Jeremiah Masoli earned his degree from Oregon? That means if he can find a Master’s degree program that Oregon does not offer at another school and gets enrolled, he will be immediately eligible to play in 2010.
Ole Miss is considering bringing Masoli to its campus. Coach Houston Nutt has been calling around trying to gather as much information as possible. He’s called Kelly. He’s called members of the media to get their take on it. The administration, all the way up to Chancellor Dan Jones, is going to get involved in this one.
Here’s the reality. My first instinct is to tell Ole Miss not to touch this kid with a 10-foot pole. The upside is that once he learns the offense, the kid is talented enough to help Nutt win an extra game or two. The assembled SEC media picked Ole Miss to finish last in the SEC West when they voted last week.
The downside, however, is that this guy could be a profound embarrassment to your institution if he screws up again. If you’re Ole Miss, you’re going to get criticized if you take Masoli. That is a given. But if he gets arrested in Oxford, certainly a more conservative place than Eugene, Oregon, Ole Miss will be embarrassed on a national stage. Columnists and taking heads from sea to shining sea will use Ole Miss, a proud institution that has worked incredibly hard to build its reputation, as the butt of jokes about the very worst excesses of college football. They will say that Ole Miss sold its soul for a kid who had already proven that he was not trustworthy. That criticism, sad to say, will be justified.
But again, that’s easy to say. Another reality is that Nutt’s backup quarterback, Raymond Cotton, just announced that he was leaving the team. That leaves Nutt with starter Nathan Stanley and a JUCO transfer, Randall Mackey, who just joined the team.
Nutt sent a text to Parrish Alford of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal about this and acknowledged that criticism will come if he takes Masoli. But Nutt told Alford that he was also concerned about the “criticism I might receive if something happens and I don’t have a QB to finish the year.”
There, in the final analysis, is the rub. The reality of today’s game is that the same people who would criticize you for taking a Jeremiah Masoli would also call for your head on a platter if you go 6-6 because you didn’t have a healthy quarterback.
Like I wrote a while back: These things really fall on the adults who run college football and who consume college football as entertainment. Either they want discipline or they don’t. If you want discipline, you must be willing to live with the consequences of it. If you don’t want to live with the fallout of discipline, then don’t pretend that you really want it. You’re just paying lip service to it.
Here is my advice for whatever it is worth.
1. Chip Kelly, the Oregon coach, is a straight shooter. If I’m Houston Nutt and Kelly tells me that this kid is worth the risk, I’m going to be inclined to take that risk. But if Kelly doesn’t recommend the kid, that would give me pause.
2. Jeremiah Masoli will have to come to Oxford, put on a coat and tie, and march into the office of Chancellor Dan Jones. He has to prove to the Chancellor that he deserves this chance and will not embarrass the university.
3. If accepted at Ole Miss, Masoli must have a press conference before he ever steps onto the practice field. He must stand before the cameras and give a huge mea culpa. He must say something like: “Thank you for this opportunity because I know by my past actions I really don’t deserve it. I promise you that you won’t be sorry.” And he has better sound like he means it.
Also, Ole Miss needs to bring commissoner Mike Slive into the loop. This is an institutional decision. I get that. But after a summer of SEC players behaving badly and administrators like Damon Evans behaving badly, the commissioner needs to get his two cents worth into this conversation. The SEC does not need a self-inflicted wound on this front.
So what do you think? This is a risky proposition for Ole Miss. We can all sit on our moral high horse and say that it shouldn’t be done no way, no how. But what do you do if you’re in the toughest football conference in America and this guy can help you win? And let’s not kid ourselves. Houston Nutt is not going to get fired for dealing with the Jeremiah Masolis of the world.
If he gets fired it will be because he didn’t win enough games, period. That is why this is a difficult call.
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