College football fans seem to be fixated on issues like off-field team discipline. While I certainly think a team has to take care of really nasty and embarrassing off-field incidents like sticking a gun in someone's face or being a professional drug dealer, other things don't really bother me that much. How a team handles a scuffle with a bar bouncer is, in my opinion, totally up to the team and I'm not going to get into a tizzy about it no matter what they do.
Coaches, for reasons that are probably obvious, when they feel they need to give someone a short suspension, usually suspends the player for a game that should be an easy win and brings the player back for the game which is tougher. Some clear examples of this trend include Bama's decision to suspend linebacker Prince Hall, their most experienced linebacker, for three non-conference game and to have him return for the first conference game against Arkansas. Also, Mark Richt at Georgia has suspended several players for nonconference games against Georgia Southern and/or Central Michigan, both of which should be easy wins for the Bulldogs, and have them return for the conference opener against South Carolina.
First, I don't think it's a coincidence that these players are returning for the start of conference play. Second, it doesn't bother me one bit.
Oh, but doesn't it show that the discipline is a farce? Doesn't it show that these coaches aren't willing to suspend players when it really matters?
No, and no. Granted, Georgia's going to beat Georgia Southern by multiple touchdowns almost no matter who is on the field. Therefore, suspending multiple players for this game will make little difference, except to the players themselves.
And that's why it doesn't bother me. When a player screws up such that it requires, in the coach's opinion, a suspension in order to properly punish the player, why should that coach go out of his way to hurt the team as well? The idea of it strikes me as silly, and I wonder why anyone takes it seriously.
Well, I don't really wonder. I think I know why. People, for some reason, do not consider it punishment for a player to miss a game against weaker competition.
Au contraire, I say. These games are rewards for players, especially for young players and backups who will get more playing time in these games than they will in most other games. The starters will probably rack up some gaudy stats and the backups will get more snaps in these games than in all other games combined. The huge talent disparity also means that the pressure of the game is less, and all told it should be a lot of fun for the players to play in these games.*
If I was a player, I would be very upset about having to miss games like these because of my own stupidity.
Assuming I think like an athlete, which I am perfectly willing to concede is possibly not true, I would consider it a great punishment to have to miss a game against a team like that, especially if I'm a backup, but also if I'm a starter. This is not to say that suspending a player for a conference game is not a punishment (because it clearly is), but it's just to say that a suspension for an OOC game is also a punishment. So if I'm a coach, and I if I feel I need to punish a player with a suspension, would I rather punish him in a meaningful way that does not ultimately hurt the team, or would I rather punish him in a way that makes it more likely I will lose a key loseable game?
The answer is obvious.
And this doesn't even get into the question of whether it's any of my business, as an LSU fan, how opposing teams handle their discipline.
*Clearly this rationale does not apply very cleanly to Alabama's first three non-conference games, which includes the season-opener against highly regarded Clemson, who should be favored over Bama. However, it still applies in that the game against Arkansas and the subsequent conference games are all much more important than that tough OOC game.