In 1955 the late William F. Buckley established National Review as the only US magazine that would “stand athwart history yelling Stop!” As the arrests, DUIs, and otherwise unacceptable behavior by many college football players continues to pile up, we here at Coaches Hot Seat believe that it is time to yell “Stop!” We believe that most head football coaches deliver the message to their players that inappropriate and illegal behavior is unacceptable, but still the arrests and headline making stories continue. Why is that, we and many others ask? If football players will so blatantly disregard what their head football coach is telling them, and asking of them, something else must be going on here. We believe that over the past 20 years head football coaches have more and more turned their heads to inappropriate and illegal behavior, and that many players now know that they can get away with a lot more, especially if they are a star or in the starting line-up. It is time for head football coaches to draw a line in the sand and lay out in a very precise way what is expected of their student-athletes. If a football player crosses that line, then swift and just punishment should be administered. Of course, there are plenty of coaches that run very clean programs and do a lot of punishment behind the scenes to players that the public is not aware of, and no doubt those programs have a lot less arrests and players getting into trouble. It is time to return to the notion that playing on an athletic team at a college or university is a privilege, and that the privilege can be taken away for bad or unacceptable behavior. Putting winning or anything else ahead of the absolute and what should be the very clear responsibilities of a student-athlete to act in an appropriate way is not only a very bad idea for a football team, but something that can dramatically effect a college or university in a very negative way. Very simply, no player, group of players, or even the entire damn team is worth keeping around if they cannot act appropriately and represent their institution in a respectful way.
Several of us here at Coaches Hot Seat played on athletic scholarships at colleges and universities and we would like to relate the message that was given to us by the coaches of the sports we played. These messages were delivered to both entering freshmen and upper-classmen after a new coach was hired for a sport, and almost all of these messages were delivered in the 1980s when we were attending college. Although the exact message below was not delivered by one coach, the overarching themes were prevalent in how our coaches expected us to behave, and sometimes the coach did not address a particular subject because he assumed we knew what constituted good and bad behavior.
It is our general feeling at Coaches Hot Seat that many college head coaches are too lenient on their players for their illegal and inappropriate behavior, and that allowing players to get away with things only encourages additional bad behavior by other players. What is most needed is a clear and concise message with very clear penalties for behavior that falls outside of what is acceptable, and a firm discipline policy that is consistent with all players, whether they are starters or on the scout team.
A summary of the messages delivered by head coaches to Coaches Hot Seat members on behavior:
“Hello. It’s good to see that all of you made it here. I would like to talk today about behavior and what is expected of you as student-athlete at this school. First of all, it is a privilege to play on an athletic team at this institution and whether you are in uniform or not you are representing this institution in everything you do. That means that in class, out of class, on campus, at sporting events, at bars, at parties, driving your car, representing your school in competitions, and anything else you can think of, you are representing this institution in everything you do. I am going to assume that most of you know right from wrong, so I am going to focus on a few areas here today: illegal drugs, DUIs, underage drinking, getting arrested, inappropriate behavior, punishment, and lastly the real reason you are here at this institution, which is to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Illegal drugs. Now I want to be very clear on this subject. If you get caught with illegal drugs, and what I mean by illegal drugs is any drug that is illegal to use in this country, and that includes prescription drugs that are not prescribed to you, if you get caught with illegal drugs, if you test positive for illegal drugs and it is confirmed in a second test, or in any other way it is found out that you are doing or selling illegal drugs, you will lose your athletic scholarship, and I will recommend that you be suspended from this university. There is no wiggle room on this policy. If there is anyone in this room that believes doing or selling illegal drugs is more important than playing athletics at this institution, please get the hell out of here right now, and we will pull your scholarship. There is no room for illegal drugs at this institution, and we will not tolerate anyone breaking the law that is representing this institution. Now we are going to drug test you several times throughout the year, and I might even call you in during the summer to take a drug test as well, and if you test positive for illegal drugs, and it is confirmed with a second test, you will be off this athletic team and you will lose your athletic scholarship. Is there anyone here that cannot live with our policy on illegal drugs? Good. In the orientation pack you will find a list of illegal drugs and our policy on those drugs and how our random drug testing policy will work. Any questions? Good.
DUIs. We don’t look kindly on drinking and driving. If you get arrested for a DUI you will be suspended immediately from this athletic team. If you plead guilty or are convicted of a DUI, you will be suspended from this athletic team for one year. This is a very simple policy to understand. After one year of suspension, if you want to return to this athletic team, and you have not gotten into any other trouble, we will allow you back on the team with probationary status. If you plead guilty or are convicted of a second DUI, we will pull your athletic scholarship and I will recommend that you be suspended from this institution. We are not going to tolerate DUIs on this athletic team, and if I find out that you have been drinking and driving, even though you have not been stopped by the police and arrested, and I can prove it, I will suspend you for one year. Are there any questions? Good.
Underage Drinking. I am not going to lie to you. When I was in college, I drank alcohol when I was underage. It is my belief that the drinking age should be 18. It is outrageous that you can vote and serve your country in war, but you cannot drink a beer. I am not naïve enough to think that you will not drink alcohol in college, so I am going to tell you something, and if someone asks me about this, I will deny it, but if you drink alcohol before you turn 21 I would highly recommend that you do it in private, at parties, and most certainly not in bars. I am going to address breaking the law in a minute, and being in a bar underage is breaking the law. If you get caught breaking the law, there will be a heavy price to pay, so you as a young adult are going to have to decide what is more important: Playing on this athletic team and going to school, or drinking. Let me say this again. I would recommend everyone under 21 in this room to drink at home, if you drink at all. Now, on drinking alcohol, you can never forget that playing on this team at your highest level is the most important thing you will do at this institution, besides going to class and earning your bachelor’s degree. We are going to ask, and if necessary, make it a requirement that you not drink in the periods around our athletic events or during major parts of offseason training. If you are 21 or over, you of course can drink whenever you like, but if it starts to effect your play on this team, it will become an issue and may effect both your playing status and your athletic scholarship. Overall, I would recommend that you keep any drinking of alcohol to a minimum, and stay away from people that are only here at this institution to get drunk. Any questions? Good.
Getting arrested. If you get arrested for anything, you will be suspended from this athletic team. In a college town it is very easy to get arrested for things like rowdy behavior, not taking the orders of a policeman, or other non-serious things, but if you get arrested there will be a price to pay. If you get arrested for things like using illegal drugs, drinking underage, or other serious matters, you will be suspended from this athletic team until the court determines if you are innocent or guilty. Of course, it will have to be on a case by case basis, but if you get arrested for something “serious,” and my staff and I will determine what is “serious,” and you plead guilty or are convicted of that crime, we will suspend you for one year and maybe even pull your athletic scholarship. We are just not going to stand for athletes getting in trouble with the law, and the quickest way to lose your scholarship is to get arrested. Any questions? Good.
Inappropriate Behavior. Now when I say inappropriate behavior, I mean anything that would make this athletic team and institution look bad. I could list a lot of things that would fall under inappropriate behavior, being drunk in public, destroying things, disrespecting your professors or women, acting like an idiot, and many more things, but I think we all know what inappropriate behavior is. If you do behave inappropriately, there will be a price to be paid, and if it is bad enough it could lead to a year suspension and/or a loss of your scholarship. Any questions? Good.
Punishment. I have talked a lot about what can get you into trouble, and almost certainly someone in this room will do something wrong. If what you do wrong falls short of something that could get you suspended from this team, then that is where punishment comes into the picture. I am sure most of you have seen the football stadium here on campus, so just imagine yourself running up an down the steps of that football stadium with one of our grad assistants, who aren’t that great at counting, keeping up with how many times you are supposed to be running “stadiums.” The more you embarrass this team and this institution, the more you will run, and believe me you will run a lot. In addition, I am going to call your parents and tell them just what in the hell you have been up to and make sure they know what kind of an idiot you have been making of yourself. Of course, if it is bad enough, or if you do not work hard enough during your punishment, I might suspend you from this team, or pull your athletic scholarship. Players that are suspended from this team for any period of time, will be tasked to complete a very detailed plan of conditioning and other things that you will have to complete before we will consider reinstating you to this team. If you do everything that we ask of you during your suspension, you will not have a problem, but if you don’t, well…… Any questions? Good.
Now that we have an understanding of what we expect from you behavior wise, I would like to speak with you for just a few minutes about why you are here at this institution. You are not here to play a sport. You are here to get a degree and to play a sport in the process of getting that degree. Some people will tell you that you are here to get an “education.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Your education began the day you were born and you will hopefully still learning on the day that you die. You are at this institution to get a bachelor’s degree in a specialization, which will prove that you have advanced skills at the collegiate level. Now our staff is committed to helping you earn a college degree. Your major is up to you to choose, but we will work with you to find a major that both fits what you want to do in life, and is something that you can earn within a bachelor’s degree in 4 years, or 5 years max. Some people in this room are smarter than others, and some of you will be able to do tougher academic work than others, and there is nothing wrong in recognizing that fact. We want you to continuously be moving forwards toward earning a degree and my staff and I will be working with you constantly and making sure that you are making progress. Do not ever forget or let anyone tell you any different, that you are at this institution to earn a bachelor’s degree. If you do not get a degree, then my staff and I will have failed, because I know that everyone in this room can earn a bachelor’s degree. As far as earning that degree, the best way to do that is to go to class, to study hard, to do your out of class assignments, and to show up for tests prepared. All of you are adults, so I am not going to follow you around campus, unless you give me a reason to follow you around campus, but if we get to that point, I seriously doubt if you will still be on this athletic team. Later today, I will introduce you to our academic staff, and they will begin the process of moving you towards earning a bachelor’s degree. Believe me, I will ask you so many times about how you are progressing towards your degree in the next 4 years, that you will get sick of me asking about it, but earning a degree is damn important, and that is why I will always talk about it.
Okay, we went over a lot of stuff today, so let me summarize:
If you get arrested, you will be suspended until you are proven innocent or guilty of the crime you were arrested for. If you plead guilty or are convicted of a “serious” crime, your scholarship will be pulled. If you plead guilty or are convicted of a “non-serious” crime you will more than likely be suspended for one year from this team. My staff and I will determine what is “serious” and “non-serious.”
If you plead guilty or are convicted of doing or possessing illegal drugs or if you test positive for using illegal drugs, and it is confirmed with a second test, you will be thrown off this team and your scholarship will be pulled.
If you plead guilty or are convicted of a DUI you will be suspended for one year.
If you are going to drink alcohol and you are under the age of 21, do it at home. You did not hear that from me. If you get arrested for underage drinking or being in a bar underage, you will be suspended for one year. If you are under the age of 21 and are determined to drink alcohol be careful, drink in private, at home, and at parties, but you did not hear that from me.
Don’t get arrested for anything, or there will be a price to pay, which could include you being thrown off this team, losing your scholarship, and being suspended from this institution.
Don’t act like an idiot. If you act like an idiot or inappropriately, as defined by me, get ready to do some running. Wearing a lampshade on your head, while dancing in a toga is not inappropriate in college, unless you are doing it in the dean’s office. Just don’t act like an idiot.
If you do something wrong, and the punishment is short of being suspended from the team or having your scholarship pulled, then you should get ready to do some running. How much running you may ask? Lots of running. If you are suspended, then you will do more than lots of running, you will do tons of running. Let’s hope no one in this room is ever suspended.
Remember, you are here at this institution to earn a bachelor’s degree. That degree is only a part of your life’s education, and my staff and I are going to work like hell, and do everything short of cheating, writing papers for you, and taking tests for you, to help you earn a degree. If you do not have a degree in 5 years, then I will have failed, and I don’t like to fail.
We are very proud to have you at this school and on this athletic team. Remember, it is a privilege to play athletics at this school, and not only do you get to wear this school’s uniform, we are paying for this very important portion of your education as well. Don’t ever forget that.
Lastly, my door is always open. If you are having a problem, if you get into trouble, if you are struggling in school, if you have any question at all, just come by office and we can discuss the issue in private. I will do whatever I can within my power to help you out, and you can be damn sure that what is best for you is uppermost in my mind at all times. If I think you are doing something wrong, you won’t have to wait long before I tell you that you are wrong. If you have a disagreement with me on something, speak up and tell me about it. More than likely I will tell you that I am right and you are wrong, but you never know. Any questions? Good.
Now that you know what we expect from you off the field and in the classroom, let’s turn to the goals of this athletic team. (The coach turns to write the following on a chalkboard):
To dominate our main rival
To win the Conference Championship
To win the National Championship
Now let’s talk about winning championships……..”