Personal accountability and responsibility have no place in college athletics, it seems.
The collective sports world has piled on the NCAA in recent months (rightfully so) for its lack of leadership, consistency and willingness to take responsibility for poor decisions and actions.
Yet we continue to coddle so-called student-athletes in the process.
We collectively claim schools should stop using them as free tools to make gazillions of dollars and should pay the athletes. The world of sports is sympathetic to Johnny Manziel’s violations of NCAA policy and understands his desire to make a few bucks. Urban Meyer has made a career out of giving his players fourth and fifth chances, even when the charges are gravely serious or felonious.
But our ongoing, simultaneous willingness to absolve athletes from taking responsibility for their actions persists. It is perhaps best illustrated in the University of Texas’ Desmond Harrison case.
Here’s the timeline on the story to get you caught up:
Harrison grew up in Texas but played high school football in Greensboro, N.C. He worked toward playing at Contra Costa College in California.
Harrison needed to improve his grades to be eligible to play, so he enrolled in BYU’s Independent Study program to replace some poor prior marks.
Contra Costa accepted the credits and Harrison played two seasons there before committing to Texas to play for Mack Brown this season.
Texas, likewise, accepted the Independent Study credit which had previously been accepted by CCC.
At some point this year, BYU learned Harrison was a student-athlete when he took the course, which per BYU policy — agreed to by the player when enrolling — made him ineligible to receive credit.
BYU made Harrison aware the credit was rescinded, and Harrison on Tuesday made an appeal to the decision.
BYU reviewed his request and according to another OrangeBloods.com report has deemed Harrison's credit invalid.
Meanwhile, according to reports, the University of Texas is saying Harrison is prepared to take legal action to have the credit reissued, stating that BYU has allowed other student-athletes to earn the credit without rescinding it post-transfer.
The NCAA may also be willing to intervene in Harrison’s behalf, as mentioned on Horns247.com, despite the fact that in 2010 it adopted a policy that disallowed high school course credits from BYU’s Independent Study program.
Other athletes doubtlessly have done what Harrison did since 2006 when BYU implemented the rule that student-athletes weren’t eligible for the Independent Study credits.
But what is BYU supposed to do? Hire a private investigator to check every single student in the program and verify they aren’t trying to become academically eligible to play sports somewhere?
It's also doubtful that Texas won’t legally have to keep Harrison ineligible since the credit was accepted by Contra Costa and the University of Texas prior to being rescinded. BYU’s action won’t really mean much, once the dust settles.
Bottom line is Harrison will likely play — but that’s not the issue.
The problem is this: once again we are enabling a student-athlete to willingly and knowingly break the rules and get away with it.
Everyone in college football knew BYU offered programs that could be exploited to improve grades. It was explained in detail in Michael Lewis’ popular book about Michael Oher, "The Blind Side." They also knew very well when BYU made it unavailable to non-BYU student-athletes in 2006. It crippled some schools’ and athletes’ abilities to quickly and easily gain eligibility.
Harrison accepted the policy that explicitly stated he wasn’t eligible to earn the credit. But now BYU’s supposed to be the bad guy for rescinding it?
Harrison made the decision to willingly lie, through omission, and take a class for which he wasn’t eligible. Yet the public and certainly Texas want to absolve him of that responsibility.
What’s the message Texas is trying to send? "If you’re an important athlete, don’t worry about the rules. We’ll work around them if you’re caught."
And we wonder why there are Aaron Hernandezes out there.
Don’t get me wrong: Harrison should be allowed to play. It has been too long since the course was taken, and the credits have been accepted already by two institutions.
But, sure as Texas fans will wear burnt orange, Harrison should get an earful about respecting the rule of law and taking responsibility for his actions. The blame doesn't lay at BYU’s feet — except to ask why it took so long to act on the policy.
Imagine an entry-level employee for a company that offers limousine service at no charge to senior managers decides to take a limousine ride that other entry-level employees have also taken, in the process signing a slip that says you know and agree the service is only available to senior management.
When the employer finds out the new guy can’t take the ride back. He would likely be held accountable — possibly fired or reprimanded and certainly no longer trusted.
Instead, Texas is standing in front of Harrison, shielding him from accountability for his actions, even absolving him of responsibility, and going so far as to point the finger at BYU.
If Harrison misses a block on the Cougars' Kyle Van Noy when Texas and BYU meet in Provo next month, do you think Mack Brown is going to pat Harrison on the head and tell him it’s no problem? Of course not. Instead, he’ll be in his face with colorful words reminding him where his accountability lies in the blocking scheme.
Too bad he’s unwilling to require the same accountability off the field.
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