I expect we will see in early August the NCAA Board adopt most, if not all, of the Rice Commission recommendations. Of even greater importance than enacting recommendations is for those of us associated with intercollegiate athletics, commissioners, presidents, chancellors, athletics directors, coaches, staff members, boosters and student-athletes to all conduct ourselves with a level of integrity that properly presents the ideals and values of higher education.
To that point yesterday, former LSU basketball coach, Dale Brown, sent me an e-mail. I don’t know if you know, but he’s prolific with his e-mails. It was a quote from John Wooden. It said this, quote, no written word, no spoken plea can teach our students what they should be, nor all of the books on the shelves. It’s what the teachers are themselves,
End of quote. That’s a pretty good and timely reminder regarding our own expectations for ourselves.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said these words on a podium in Atlanta last July at SEC Media Days.
Six days ago, following a seven-overtime football game between LSU and Texas A&M, Aggies wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig ran across the field, shouting insults and vulgarities to the visiting Tiger staff.
As a result of his actions, a student member of the Texas A&M staff accosted LSU staff member Steve Kragthorpe — a man suffering with the eventually debilitating neurological condition Parkinson’s Disease. Which led to this student being punched by other members of the Tiger staff and team, in defense of their afflicted teammate.
Craig’s actions following his team’s emotional victory led directly to personnel at a visiting program, and a student member of his own program, being physically assaulted. That certainly doesn’t sound like a coach conducting himself with a level of integrity that properly presents the ideals and values of higher education.
What example is Dameyune Craig setting for students here?
Running across the field to celebrate in the face of the opposing head coach and players, while a student manager tries to hold him back.
Forget about the crassness and lack of sportsmanship. These actions do, eventually, lead to a violent incident.
One that could have been worse.
What if one of those young men in uniform, tired and emotional from an extremely long, extremely hard-fought football game, had acted impulsively and engaged with Craig? Would Texas A&M players have rushed in to defend their coach? Would that situation have escalated? How about the legions of excited fans rushing the field?
It doesn’t take much imagination to think of how dangerous this situation was for coaches, players, other personnel and those members of the stadium audience taking the field.
I’m also confident from my conversations and my expectations about how the individuals involved be managed, that both will take the appropriate disciplinary actions regarding each individual’s participation, and that’s my statement on that issue.
How does this statement, in light of the events mentioned, properly present the ideals and values of higher education?
Certainly, safety and security are a key ingredient in the learning process. We expect college students to be safe on their campus. We expect coaches to be responsible for the safety of the players they are trusted with teaching.
Last Saturday, a coach for Texas A&M engaged in conduct that directly led to a compromise of one student’s safety, and could have led to much worse.
Does Commissioner Sankey’s statement indicate these are significant concerns for him?
There’s no word on punishment. No reprimand. Not so much as even an explicit acknowledgement of the events or their result. Just generally vague comments about “behavior” and “individual’s participation.”
Let’s not mince words about this situation. A college football coach directly started a fight that led to a student that he is, at least partially, responsible for getting punched in the face.
If the commissioner would like to talk about the unacceptable, he should probably think long and hard about his own actions here. What example is he setting, with lukewarm, generalized statements that barely even acknowledge the scope of the actions, much less make it clear that they have no place in the Southeastern Conference.
Leadership comes from the top. The commissioner of the SEC should be setting the tone for what he wants to see from the athletic directors and coaches that he leads. He should be making the difficult choices — although disciplining a coach for unacceptable on-field behavior shouldn’t be all that difficult — and be a dynamic voice, explaining and laying out a vision for where the conference is going.
Since Greg Sankey’s promotion to the commissioner job, the opposite has happened. His predecessors, Mike Slive and Roy Kramer, laid out clear expectations and guided this conference with a steady, and firm hand. Greg Sankey has chosen to lead from behind. In the process, conference spats about things like scheduling or moving games have become public and nasty. This league is less a unified conference and more a collection of 14 teams.
And now, when given a pretty easy decision to make, the commissioner has punted and left discipline to the schools involved.
Greg Sankey is not capable of serving as an effective commissioner of the SEC, and should step down.
Actions like what happened last Saturday not only demand a reaction, and a decisive one. It’s not even really all that difficult of a decision. Or it shouldn’t be, when it comes to student safety.
But somehow, it was. Somehow, Greg Sankey sat silent for nearly a week, and then, once again, punted on taking action.
Even when the safety of students is at stake, Greg Sankey can’t bring himself to make a decision.
If a conference commissioner can’t act to protect the students of his conference, then he isn’t fit to do his job.
And if Greg Sankey is not fit to be the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, then the time has come for somebody else to do that job.