Duck fans were disappointed to learn of linebacker Kiko Alonso's Sunday night arrest on burglary and criminal trespassing charges. Alonso was suspended indefinitely by head coach Chip Kelly on Monday, and we may see Alonso's dismissal from the program, pending the outcome of the investigation. While it is frustrating to see a player of Alonso's talent wasted because he can't get his act together off the field, the disciplinary action taken, not only in this case but in the past, by Chip Kelly signals a paradigm shift in the world of college football. The old days, where programs like SMU, "The U," and Barry Switzer's Oklahoma teams reigned despite blatant disregard for ethics, are coming to an end. This new generation of college coaches is more connected to the goal of educating their players in all aspects of life, and setting a standard for the privilege of playing college football.
Two schools, both elite in stature, are moving in drastically different disciplinary directions. Most college football fans are aware of the NCAA violations faced by Coach Jim Tressel and a number of Ohio State players. Allegedly, numerous Buckeye players, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor and running back Daniel "Boom" Herron, received improper benefits by selling football regalia and memorabilia, or trading items in exchange for goods and services, most notably tattoos. Coach Tressel was made aware of these violations more than a year ago, but did nothing about it, and denied knowing anything when the allegations were made public in December 2010. What followed was the controversial decision to suspend the Buckeyes under investigation for the first five 2011 games, leaving them eligible for the 2011 Sugar Bowl, a game they won over Arkansas. At time of posting, Tressel is under NCAA investigation, and media members are calling for his resignation, though OSU President Gordon Gee has made it clear, Tressel wears the pants in their relationship.
On December 12th, 2010, three days after Coach Tressel was first contacted by federal officials regarding his players' transgressions, Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was named head football coach at the University of Florida. Muschamp replaced Urban Meyer, who brought 2 national championships to Gainsville, but also saw 30 arrests of his players happen during his six seasons, and was notoriously lenient when doling out punishments; in particular, his suspension of linebacker Brandon Spikes for one half against SEC doormat Vanderbilt for trying to gouge out the eyes of a Georgia player. The suspension was later changed to a full game after harsh media criticism. The Gators won 27-3 without Spikes, so clearly the punishment was felt.
Muschamp arrived in Gainsville and pledged to teach his players to live "The Florida Way," putting emphasis on student leadership and character building. Muschamp was faced with an immediate challenge when All-SEC cornerback Janoris Jenkins was arrested twice for marijuana possession in a three week span, his second and third arrests in his Gator career. Muschamp, rather than field the most talented football team while sacrificing ethics, chose to dismiss Jenkins, a possible first-round NFL draft choice had he chosen to leave school early, from the program. Jenkins claims Muschamp "washed his hands of him," but Muschamp is the head coach, and it is Jenkins' responsibility to jive with his coaching staff, or find somewhere else to play ball. Oregon had a number of transfers once Chip Kelly took over for that very reason.
The Jenkins situation at Florida is similar to what happened at Oregon in 2010 with Jeremiah Masoli. Both players, despite support from coaching, forced the hand of the administration with multiple arrests and a failure to show remorse and a drive to change their attitudes. And unless something drastic develops in the aftermath of his arrest, i.e all charges are dropped, Kiko Alonso should become the next "what if?" story in Eugene.
Alonso's story has nearly as much to do with his poor choice of timing as his poor choice of actions. His 2010 DUI came only hours after Chip Kelly was forced to address the media regarding the alarming number of off-field incidents. Now, only hours after wowing fans and the media at the 2011 Spring Game, and making his case to be the starting middle linebacker when the Ducks open the season against LSU, he winds up in Lane County Jail. There is nothing to indicate that Kelly would show any leniency if the charges stick.
The trend in college football seems to be leaning toward a new breed of coach that expects their players to act like adults on and off the field, and use their time as a student-athlete to make a difference in the classroom and in the community. Then again, should the Jim Tressel era come to an end in Columbus, the top candidate to replace him would be Urban Meyer. So maybe it will be out with the old, in with more old. But in the sports league with a number of ethical dilemmas, and the biggest legal gray area, isn't this one thing that could actually be fixable?