Zemek Blog: Losses Off the Field. Ore & More
Former Virginia Tech RB Branden Ore
Former Virginia Tech RB Branden Ore
Posted Mar 25, 2008

Matt Zemek's weekly blog takes a look at the off-season dismissals and suspensions

Dismissals, Non-Dismissals, and Differences

It's been a strange month of March in the college football world. Programs are deciding whether to keep, suspend, or dismiss players, and the nationwide outcomes of these decision-making processes paint a picture that is anything but consistent.
Virginia Tech, Clemson, and South Carolina offer three different examples of how student-athletes can be treated. Each case study stands out because the overall scorecard from the three situations suggests a record of one win (Tech), one loss (Clemson) and one "tie" (South Carolina, where an ultimate decision has yet to be made).

The Hokies and Frank Beamer recently dismissed star running back Branden Ore, ostensibly for reasons pertaining to attitude, but likely for transgressions that outsiders won't ever know. At any rate, the move is encouraging for the simple reason that Tech once allowed Marcus Vick to become a living, walking train wreck. Clearly, a program that had a discipline problem is showing signs of being more responsible and exercising greater due diligence. That's good to know. Chalk up an ethical victory for the program in Blacksburg.

The "loss" comes from Clemson, where coach Tommy Bowden stripped Ray Ray McElrathbey of his scholarship. You know about McElrathbey, the Tiger running back who adopted his younger brother and took him under his wing in the face of numerous daunting circumstances. The moving story gained national attention on College Gameday and numerous other media outlets. This decision to deny McElrathbey two more scholarship years is so odious because Clemson abandoned a player who gave the university so much positive publicity. And while he was offered a graduate assistant position along with room and board, it's still not quite the same.

In this respect, the revoking of Ray Ray's reward mirrors Notre Dame's decision to fire Ty Willingham after three years on the former Irish coach's contract. Schools who reap the benefits of positive publicity from certain actions are morally and ethically bound to honor commitments made toward those publicity-generating persons unless extraordinary developments warrant urgent action. In the same way that Notre Dame dumped Willingham (who saved the school in the immediate and embarrassing aftermath of the George O'Leary resume-fudging fiasco), Clemson's run away from Ray Ray has created a particularly foul stench in the world of big-time collegiate athletics.

The "tie" comes from Clemson's in-state rival, South Carolina, where quarterback Stephen Garcia has once again demonstrated wayward and irresponsible behavior (for the third time in the past year, to be exact). To be honest, this "tie" feels a lot like a loss, given the continuous parade of police blotter activity in and around Columbia. But with coach Steve Spurrier not making a final verdict himself, it's hard to give a final assessment to this situation (hence, a "tie"). One hopes, though, that the Gamecocks will follow Virginia Tech's lead and not put up with more unlawful behavior. Spurrier, historically a demanding competitor who believes in fighting as fairly as he fights fiercely, didn't have many encounters with bad behavior at Florida, but ever since coming to the Palmetto State, he's had trouble keeping players in line. As the New England Patriots of 2001, '03 and '04 showed us, character-rich football teams are winning teams. (Then Tom Brady started to fool around with supermodels, and golly gee, the Super Bowl rings have stopped flowing into Foxborough. Rodney Harrison's drug use and Randy Moss's arrogance have detracted from the team-first persona of the Patriots in recent seasons as well.) It's high time that Spurrier--who also witnessed less than exemplary behavior from Blake Mitchell, a quarterback who held the program back--start insisting on first-rate behavior (not the mere avoidance of wrongdoing) from his kids. After all, this is the man who--talented as he is as a play-caller--needed the character, courage and poise of Danny Wuerffel, a first-class individual in word and deed, to attain especially lofty heights in the annals of SEC history. Only when Spurrier gets another Wuerffel-like signal caller will he be able to set his sights on another SEC title.

Three programs, three unique case studies, three examples of how to handle difficult situations. The college football world is looking at Virginia Tech, Clemson and South Carolina with an eye toward scholarship juggling and crisis management. One can only hope that other schools, when faced with their own wrenching decisions, will choose wisely.