It's a Fine Line Between Alabama and Baylor


Alabama football players Cam Robinson and Hootie Jones were arrested on drug and weapons charges in May. The district attorney, with odd reasoning, declined to pursue charges in June. Coach Nick Saban, in July, confirmed that Robinson and Jones would not be suspended, as long as they don’t play with drugs and weapons again.

Robinson not being suspended is convenient for Alabama. He is the Tide’s starting left tackle, an All-American candidate, and a probable first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Saban’s decision surprises no one. It’s standard operating procedure in college athletics. No charges? No problem. Or, at least, no problem the stadium steps can’t fix.

A July discipline story will bounce off Saban. No one will be talking about an off-season lineman arrest come September. Everyone will be talking if Alabama loses to USC.

Robinson was not accused of assaulting a woman. Nothing that’s happened at Alabama (that we know of) approaches Baylor in severity or scale. But, what happened at Baylor stems from the same sort of small decisions and indifference to facilitate football.

Taking risks on questionable players? D.J. Pettway was dismissed from Alabama for his involvement in a violent on-campus robbery. But, he got off with youthful offender status. He spent a curative, All-American few months in junior college. Saban brought him back to campus. He played on last year’s national title team.

Georgia lineman Jonathan Jones was dismissed after felony domestic violence charges in July 2014. He spent a few months at community college. Nick Saban signed him in January. Jones was arrested again for domestic violence in March. Alabama dismissed him. His third chance came at Southeast Louisiana.

Saban is far from alone (and far from the most egregious) in his willingness to dispense second chances. Just in the SEC West, Dan Mullen and Mississippi State decided to admit a five-star recruit and suspend him one game for attacking a woman. Les Miles allowed players to vote Jeremy Hill back onto the team. Hill, of course, was already on the team with a second chance, after being charged with oral sexual battery of a 14-year-old girl as a recruit.

And yes, SEC country, we would be remiss not to mention Bob Stoops reinstating “super, super kid Joe Mixon,” who is super, super fortunate tape of him punching a female student and breaking four bones in her face did not go public.

Ignoring uncharged sexual assaults? Duke reportedly knew about sexual assault claims against Rasheed Sulaimon for a year before kicking him off the team. Mike Krzyzeswki responded to multiple inquiries with a no comment. Amazing. Sulaimon fell all the way to . . . Maryland as a graduate transfer.

This is, of course, the top of the food chain. The rest of the system feeds on troubled players better programs spit out. That’s how Art Briles was getting a talent to Baptist backwater Baylor. We don’t really hear how female students at FCS schools feel about football players charged multiple times for domestic violence roaming the campus.

While the situation behind the scenes at Baylor went tragically off the rails, it did not go that far off the track. It’s easier to cry “evil” at Art Briles and Ian McCaw than to grapple with that situation being an accumulation of similar types of decisions programs make every day.

Many outside college sports were taken aback by the Baylor scandal. We suspect inside it they were relieved it wasn’t happening to them.