There has been a lot of criticism and vitriol directed towards all parties in the Jeremiah Masoli situation. Some have called Masoli a thug. Other's have said the admittance of the former Oregon quarterback to Ole Miss and his walking on to the Rebel football team is bad for the SEC's image. And still others - namely Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel - have called Houston Nutt "dirty" for seemingly initiating the situation. Even everyone's favorite Ole Miss Rebel sports blog has been called into question - by GonzoHog, of course, but if you've spent more than two or three days around here you've come to expect a little wackiness from everyone's favorite Arkansan here and there.
And this is all, of course, pretty damned stupid.
In reaction to the week's developments, people are branding poor circumstance and juvenile decision making as "thuggery"; muddling opportunism and accommodation with tactical "dirtiness"; and falsely applying misguided and overextended issues of morality in a typically morally ambivalent American subculture.
Remember, everyone, this is college football, perhaps the only realm of Americana which values wins and losses more than that of politics. And, in that light, no party has committed any football-related wrong here. But, even outside of that context or, perhaps more aptly described, when looked at in very general terms, it is still difficult to logically demonize those who have been the subject of significant chastisement as of late.
By now, you've all read the recent Sports Illustrated article which digs a little deeper into Jeremiah Masoli's past, his transgressions, and the circumstances which brought them about. You've also likely seen his new personal website which diligently works to repair the quarterback's damaged reputation. I, just as you, and just as the SI article's author, cannot at all be certain as to what actually happened. Nor would it really be a wise usage of time to even attempt to figure any of that out. What we can do, though, is keep it as simple and argument-free as possible; we can list what he was charged with:
- Stealing a guy's wallet when he was in high school
- Stealing a laptop from a fraternity house in January of this year
- Possessing a misdemeanor amount of marijuana during a traffic stop in June
- Whatever traffic violation resulted in said stop
That's what we have to work with because that's what's on the books. No frills, no context, no Paul Harvey style "the rest of the story" - just a list of crimes.
Now weigh those against the types of crimes committed throughout not only the Southeastern Conference, but all of football during this, the long offseason. Weigh those against DUIs, illegal firearm possession and use, assault, and general tearin' up of any and all venues which could be accurately described as "da club." When looking at the other poor behavior many, many college football players have seemingly routinely gotten involved with, what is it about Jeremiah Masoli that makes him in particular such a magnet for criticism?
I don't know, and any attempt for me to answer my rhetorical question would be nothing more than speculation. But the fact that Masoli's behavior has been the subject of such consternation on behalf of media outlets and detractors of Ole Miss alike (THEY'RE ONE IN THE SAME /omspirit'd) is, undeniably, ridiculous. Nobody will deny the young man's criminal past, but to direct such vitriol - many of the things said about him by rival SEC fans and reporters would lead one to believe Masoli something akin to a neo fascist - towards him, especially if you've ever been a fan of any college football team ever, is dripping with hypocrisy and wrapped in a double standard.
And to rebuke coach Houston Nutt for taking in Jeremiah Masoli is even more ridiculous. His job is to lead a football team to victory more often than not. As such, he'll do whatever he can within reasonable limits to achieve such an end. If that means taking on a player with relatively ho-hum legal trouble then so be it. If that means finding loopholes in NCAA or SEC regulations and driving a Mack truck through them, then so be it. He doesn't get a nicer Christmas bonus, nor would he receive media adulation, for recruiting Eagle Scouts and National Merit Finalists to play ball. He doesn't enhance his job security by being diplomatic. He doesn't get a self-satisfying feeling of a job well done by losing, but with an arbitrary dignity bestowed upon him by journalists and fans.
No. He gets all of those things by being astute, strategic, and a bit cutthroat. In a profession dominated by Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, and, until recently, Pete Carroll, there is no other way to approach college coaching. Coaches are in a constant state of brinksmanship, gamesmanship, one-upmanship, and various other vague and over used -manships. They're doing what it takes to win because that's what it takes for them to keep their jobs and, ideally, they're intensively competitive people to begin with.
Do the same criticisms which have been lobbed at Houston Nutt apply to Bill Snyder of Kansas State, Bill Stewart of West Virginia, or Dan Mullen of Mississippi State, other coaches who allegedly pursued the possibility of Jeremiah Masoli joining their football programs? What about Derek Dooley of Tennessee who, just today, reinstated two players involved in a fight which left a police officer hospitalized? Or any coach who has ever recruited or coached anybody who has done something illegal, from the insignificant all the way to the deplorable? No. And realistically, they shouldn't. No coach, especially any coach worth his salt, has avoided a risk or two if it would mean more wins. Anyone who thinks otherwise is simply deluding themselves.
Here is how coaches make these types of decisions: they look at a player's troubles and weigh them against his athletic abilities. It is really quite simple. If a guy's troubles, on field or off, are too much to warrant his being on the football team - and this can mean anything from poor team chemistry, to poor on-field performance, to crippling public relations - he won't be on the squad much longer. An unfortunately prevalent criticism of Coach Nutt's over the past few weeks was his dismissal of once blue chip recruit Pat Patterson at wide receiver, citing the ever-ambiguous "violation of team rules," just a couple of short weeks before bringing in a quarterback who was dismissed from the University of Oregon. But, when one applies a little risk/reward analysis to the situation (Also, it doesn't hurt to actually know the circumstances and nuances of a situation either, something which most critics tend to overlook.) it becomes quite clear that Nutt was simply doing what any coach would do. Patrick Patterson wasn't contributing to the team. He wasn't helping. He was a lazy athlete and an even lazier student. He half-assed his workouts and skipped team meetings. He had already been suspended twice and showed no resulting effort to right his wrongs. Why should any coach keep that around? Jeremiah Masoli, on the other hand, has issues which are all entirely removed from football. He has been to court and convicted of criminal activity twice just this calendar year, true, but such troubles never once hurt the Oregon football team on the field. Chip Kelly of Oregon really only dismissed Jeremiah Masoli because he had to in order to establish legitimacy of his own rules (he suspended Masoli after his burglary conviction), not because he actually wanted Masoli, a proven winner, off of his football team. Ridding the team of a Patrick Patterson type to pick up a Jeremiah Masoli type, from a purely football standpoint, is far too easy a decision to make.
After redshirt freshman Raymond Cotton's sudden and, frankly, foolish transfer out of Ole Miss and to South Alabama, Houston Nutt needed a quarterback. So he went out and got himself one. A very good one. This is exactly what any coach would do in his situation; criticizing him for such is absurd and short-sighted.
But, truly, the most myopic, misguided, illogical element to the ado resulting from Masoli's transfer to Ole Miss is the element of reputation - morally, academically, or otherwise - brought up by people on all sides of the discussion.
Is there an element of morals or academics at play here? No. Not at all. We are talking about college football, a multi-billion dollar industry and the second most watched sport in the United States of America (the NFL is, naturally, number one). The players are indeed students and the football programs are indeed associated with universities but, for the most part and on the biggest NCAA stages, this is only nominally so. Linking a university and the image thereof to the behaviors and decisions of the football coaches and players is stupid.
Is a Vanderbilt student a "loser" because he cheers for a program which is perennially weak (don't answer that)?
Is an alumnus of the University of Southern California guilty of under-the-table recruiting and agent deals by association?
Is a resume which reads "University of Miami, Class of 1988" one which should give any background-checking employer pause?
No, no, and no. And the reason is because athletics and academics are tied together by the thinnest of threads. It's a significant thread (hint: it's money), but it's still razor thin.
Academics is founded on knowledge, understanding, curiosity, integrity, and a sort of humanistic desire to better the world, as corny as that sounds. Athletics, on the other hand, and especially football, is founded on vicious competition, violence, aggression, arrogance, and callous strategy. The two are oil and water. Judging the actions of an actor in one realm by the standards and behavior of the other is illogical.
We need to stop pretending all of this is something that it's not. College football is a business; a big business. It is the NFL's de facto minor league. And, ultimately, in this business, you're judged by wins and losses. Doing what you can, so long as it is within the legal boundaries established by the business' governing bodies, to get more wins than losses is just a part of the game.
College football is not a polite competition amongst scholars. It is not a couth display of human ability. It is hardly dignified, just as it shouldn't be. It's entertainment, and a damn fine form of it at that.
No, despite anyone's most wishful of thinking and overwhelming delusion, Jeremiah Masoli is not a thug, Houston Nutt is not a "dirty" coach, and Ole Miss isn't any worse off as a university as a result of all of this. The Ole Miss athletics administration, Jeremiah Masoli Houston Nutt, and yours truly all care far more about winning football games than ill-formed opinions, preconceived notions, and erroneous perceptions - which is exactly the way it should be.
So don't hate the player; hate the game.
Remember that haters gonna hate.
And Hotty Toddy.