Blame BCS if LSU ignores brawl
And regardless of whether quarterback Jordan Jefferson actually kicked a Marine in the head — as several witnesses told a Baton Rouge television station — or had a less-specific role in a bar fight last Thursday that sent four people to the hospital, he has no business representing No. 4 LSU on national television the first week of the season. Let’s also agree on that.
But if Jefferson ends up playing in LSU’s opener, let’s also agree not to mock coach Les Miles or athletic director Joe Alleva for their lack of moral fortitude. Because I’ve got a much bigger culprit in mind: The BCS.
Even in an era of unmatched cynicism about college sports, there’s nothing more cynical than an organization that lavishes college administrators with gifts and corporate junkets while their schools spend millions every year subsidizing bowl games instead of profiting from a legitimate playoff.
That universities still allow the BCS to operate college football’s postseason is rotten on every level. But nowhere is the price of that decision more profound than on LSU’s campus today, as Miles ponders what to do with his starting quarterback and at least three other players whose absence against No. 3 Oregon could literally mean the end of their national title hopes.
If all that wasn’t at stake next Saturday, this would be easy for LSU. It’s bad enough that a number of players decided to break curfew last Thursday night and found themselves at Shady’s Bar at 1:30 a.m. The fact that an altercation turned into an all-out brawl with police reports and injuries is such an embarrassment that suspensions — if not outright dismissals — are thoroughly warranted.
But warranted enough to keep them out of college football’s game of the year? Don’t hold your breath.
This would be so much simpler if LSU were opening up with Louisiana-Lafayette or Texas-San Antonio, which is the way most SEC teams schedule because it serves two important purposes: One, it’s an easy win to start the season leading up to a brutally difficult conference race. Two, it allows you to suspend anyone that got in trouble in the offseason, talk about lessons learned and messages sent, then reinstate them the following week before there are real consequences. Everybody can just roll their eyes and move on.
But the fact that Jefferson hasn’t already been suspended by LSU, in light of an extremely ugly allegation, gives us a pretty good indication of where this is headed.
According to several reports, Jefferson and three other players are scheduled to meet with Baton Rouge police investigators today. The victims, who reportedly don’t have serious injuries, may or may not press charges. The football players have hired one of the best lawyers in Louisiana. There’s no video of the altercation. Both sides will undoubtedly have witnesses supporting their version of events. It’ll end up being a football player’s word against a bar patron’s word about what happened in a dark parking lot in the wee hours of the morning — and isn’t it amazing how much moral and legal wiggle room you can create by putting it like that?
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“At the appropriate time, we will take strong action,” Miles said Saturday, promising a punishment that will be purposefully vague and completely subjective.
And yet, it’ll be hard to blame Miles or LSU for failing to teach their players a lesson when this is what the BCS demands. You want a shot at the national title? The only way to guarantee it is to go undefeated.
Even then, it’s not always enough. Losing to Oregon wouldn’t completely eliminate LSU from the championship game, but they’d be pretty darn close. Even if Miles wanted to do the right thing here, it’s a pretty tough sell for fans who fork over big money and players who had nothing to do with the bar fight that their season could be over in Week 1.
Having no margin for error in the national championship chase is the main reason why schools are scheduling fewer big non-conference games in the first place. Outside of Oregon-LSU, Alabama-Penn State and Oklahoma-Florida State the first three weeks of the season, there are only a handful of others with national championship implications. The BCS, which purports to protect the sanctity of the regular season, has effectively made it less interesting.
Not only would a playoff keep more teams alive late in the season, it would allow more freedom for LSU to handle a situation like this with the seriousness it deserves. Lose a game? Your season isn’t over — not even close. If Jefferson’s bad decision cost his teammates a win on national television, it would be a worthwhile lesson for everyone. Heck, if this were the NFL, Roger Goodell would’ve already handed out a four-game suspension. Instead of coaches being at the mercy of a dysfunctional system, perhaps, for once, their players could be at the mercy of their rules.
Maybe LSU would play Jefferson no matter what, but at least they’d have a choice in a spot where the BCS doesn’t allow for one. By now, it’s not hard to find unintended consequences of the rotten system that runs college football’s postseason. Putting Jefferson on the field against Oregon would just simply be one more.