Do recent arrests indicate an Auburn program run amok?

The news that four Auburn football players, Mike McNeil, Dakota Moseley, Antonio Godwin and Shaun Kitchens, were arrested last week on five counts of first degree robbery was troubling. It’s always disturbing when young men with so much opportunity squander that promise by making catastrophic decisions.

All four were immediately and permanently dismissed from the Auburn football team by Tiger head coach Gene Chizik. Whatever the future holds for the four involved, Auburn football will not be a part of it. That’s disappointing for them and disappointing for the teammates who expected to rely on them in upcoming seasons.

As Auburn fans look to the future, the question that lingers is whether the arrests indicate a program run amok under Chizik.

Some in the state and national media have used the arrests as a referendum on all things Auburn.  Others with fringe platforms have taken the arrests as an indication that the bizarre message board rumors that fuel their agenda have legitimacy.  Many have mocked Chizik’s open professions of faith and family and claimed that the horrible decisions by four young men somehow indicate that his philosophy is not genuine.

Frankly, that’s ridiculous.

Four men made an unfortunate choice.  Their decisions are not consistent with the character and comportment Chizik expects from and has communicated to his team.  Because they failed to meet those standards they were removed from the team.

What else could or should Chizik be expected to do?

His response was immediate and it was appropriate.  No matter how much you mentor, no matter how well you teach, no matter what kind of role model you present people will still make poor decisions.

Look around the SEC.

Under Urban Meyer, the University of Florida set new standards for criminal behavior.  His discipline was so lax Brandon Spikes voluntarily extended his own suspension for an on field incident.  Off the field, Gator players racked up arrests like Charlie Sheen racks up Twitter followers.  At one point early in his career, more than 28 players had been arrested. How many were dismissed from the team?

At South Carolina, Steve Spurrier constantly wrangles with Stephen Garcia.  For the third straight year the Gamecock quarterback will spend all or part of spring training on suspension.  He’s been arrested for keying a professor’s car and a handful of alcohol violations.

Alabama’s Jimmy Johns was arrested for selling cocaine on campus in 2008.  His arrest was part of a string of scandals at the University of Alabama that included player arrests on The Strip, domestic violence charges, armed robbery on campus, a widespread textbook selling scheme that drew NCAA penalties and several players, including Marcel Dareus, Julio Jones and Mark Ingram, the team’s highest profile and biggest impact performers, running afoul of NCAA rules for accepting improper benefits.  All of that occurred on Nick Saban’s watch.

Where are the hand-wringing concerns that Meyer, Spurrier and particularly Saban are running renegade programs?  Where are the roaring cries that turning a moribund Alabama program that lost to Louisiana Monroe into a national title contender in the span of a year obviously means Saban must have violated the rules or turned a blind eye to indiscretions?  Why no outrage when most of those incidents were “handled internally?”

Sports Illustrated and CBSSports recently collaborated on an investigative report on criminals in college athletics. The report found that seven percent of the players in the preseason Top 25 — 204 in all (1 of every 14) — had been charged with or cited for a crime, including dozens of players with multiple arrests.  The report was widely panned for sensationalizing the story.  Many noted that the percentage of representatives in the US Congress who had a criminal record (alleged to be more than 13%) is higher than that of college athletes.

The CBS/SI report does, however, clearly illustrate that despite the opportunities, despite the potential, despite the leadership, despite the discipline it is impossible for any program to control every aspect of the lives of its athletes.  At some point the choices they make become their own.

People will always make mistakes.  It’s human nature.  Some choices, like the foolish decisions of the four Auburn players, are more egregious than others, and therefore worthy of more stringent punishment.  You teach, you mentor, you model.  But when the lessons don’t take, you punish.  That’s what Chizik did and that’s all that could be asked of him.

An outlaw program because four players made unfortunate decisions?  Hardly.

The point of this isn’t to point at other programs and justify the actions of the four Auburn players “because other programs do it.”   There is no excuse for the behavior allegedly exhibited by the dismissed Auburn players.  You cannot ignore the fact, however, that athletic programs across the country face many of the same type of issues.

When it comes to Chizik and the future of the Auburn football team the arrests are far less important than how Chizik handles them.  In that respect he’s done all he could humanly be expected to do. Hopefully it will be a harsh lesson learned.

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