Tuesday, November 3, 2015

J.T. Barrett's Drunk Driving Punishment Displays the Worst of College Football

On Monday, when Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer announced updated punishments for quarterback J.T. Barrett's recent drunk driving arrest -- a one-game suspension and revoked scholarship for the summer school term -- it exemplified everything wrong with college football.

No, I'm not talking about an underage kid making the terribly dangerous decision to drive while intoxicated (although I obviously don't condone anything about Barrett's actions).

I'm talking about a college football powerhouse placing its own interests over those of its so-called student-athletes, prioritizing wins on the field and the appearance of running an upright program over actually imparting life lessons, helping young men grow or doing the right thing.

Meyer's choice of discipline only sidelines Barrett for one game, which minimizes the impact on top-ranked Ohio State, a team trying to defend its national title. Instead, by taking away future financial aid, Meyer is forcing Barrett himself to pay, literally, for his mistake while essentially repudiating any institutional responsibility.

Barrett screwed up; there's no debate about that. Some form of penalty is warranted. But it's indefensible to hit Barrett in the wallet, a wallet that is not allowed to carry any of the millions of dollars the quarterback makes for his school. It's equally inexcusable to postpone the punishment until next summer. What kind of message does that send to the rest of the team -- or to the world?

This is just another example of the big money "amateur" athlete machine, a system that allows guys to suit up after allegations of sexual assault, but suspends those who sign their own autographs for a little needed cash.

Ohio State is hiding behind a school alcohol policy that does not mandate suspension for first-time underage offenders. But coaches have pretty wide leeway to govern their programs as they see fit, and Meyer would've had no trouble justifying a different -- perhaps a more suitable, more immediate -- penalty.

If you want a 20-year-old to learn from a mistake, don't treat him like a glorified workhorse (the metaphor rings pretty hollow right now, doesn't it?). Treat him like a human being that you actually care about.

But, of course, winning is Meyer's god, and he's a biblically great prophet, despite a less-than-pristine record when it comes to discipline. While coaching Florida from 2005-2010, Meyer had 31 players arrested and faced recurring reports that his punishments may have been watered down for stars. Point in case, now-jailed-for-murder Aaron Hernandez, who was hardly sanctioned for an alleged bar assault and reported failed drug tests.

For all the trouble, Meyer has won three national titles in the past decade.

But back to Barrett. He's said all the right things, apologizing to the team and dutifully accepting the discipline. Still, who knows whether Ohio State will even have the chance to make Barrett pay for the summer term. He's a redshirt sophomore, which means he's eligible next year for the NFL. He might be long gone from Columbus by the time the school is meant to come collect.

With Commissioner Roger Goodell's questionable history of enforcing college penalties on former Buckeyes, maybe Barrett will be fined the monetary equivalent of a biology class, two textbooks and a gym membership.

Regardless, as Ohio State races toward another College Football Playoff with J.T. Barrett at the helm, just remember that he's winning games for a coach who makes almost $6 million a year and represents the worst aspects of college sports.

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