In Blount case, Oregon showed where its priorities are

BY foxsports • November 10, 2009

A player who could start on several NFL teams right now embarrasses a university on a national scale, makes nice-nice, and he gets to play football again during a run for the Rose Bowl. Spin it however you want to, but Oregon proved that it's just another big-time football program. Nothing more.

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On Monday, the Pac-10 approved the reinstatement of Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount, who famously was suspended for the year (at least we thought) by Ducks head coach Chip Kelly for punching Boise State's Byron Hout after the 19-8 loss to the Broncos to start the season. Not helping the cause was Blount's emotional tirade after the incident, during which he needed to be restrained by teammates to keep him from going after a few heckling Boise State fans.

According to Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott, Blount "paid a significant and appropriate price for the mistakes he made on the field," and he went on to say in the statement that Blount "learned important life-long lessons." Now he's available to play against Arizona State.

In Oregon's defense, the timing was never going to be quite right for Blount to return to the team. If he was brought back before the USC game, everyone would've said he was being thrown back into the mix to help win the biggest game the program has played in several years. If he came back after being suspended for the regular season, it would be argued that he's returning to help win a bowl game. Of course, after the Ducks got blasted by Stanford last week, you can argue he's being brought back to get the team back on track.

So it all doesn't seem quite right, even though Oregon continues to try to do the right thing.

Kelly and the program handled the initial controversy perfectly. It wasn't sidestepped, it wasn't ignored, and it wasn't treated with a first-half benching against a Vanderbilt-esque foe. By suspending Blount for the season, Oregon showed that the football program is a part of the university and not the be-all-end-all. If a major college football program is the most visible aspect of a school on a national scale, then it can't have the defining image of the university be one of its players punching an opponent and going berserk after a loss. Now the original punishment seems a bit hollow.

Blount wasn't kicked out of school. He wasn't denied a chance to get his education, which, of course, is supposed to be the overall goal of a college athlete, and he wasn't denied the ability to work out and hang around with his friends on the team. He just wasn't allowed to play football for the University of Oregon, and the school and the program needed to stand firm even though Blount has said and done all the right things to make amends for his actions. This isn't about forgiveness for past sins; this is about continuing to make the statement that the school originally made — that football, as big as it might be, is just football. It's a privilege to wear the uniform (or the several uniforms, considering Oregon's weekly change of garb) and that not releasing Blount from the scholarship was more than fair considering his actions.

Football programs aren't rehab clinics, and it's not the job of a football team to make a man out of a kid who makes mistakes. That's the job of the parents. Blount isn't a bad person, this isn't a Lawrence Phillips situation, and he's going to do everything right from here on, but that's not the point. The University of Oregon had a chance to show that it's bigger than its football team, and it didn't.