Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Count on Pelini to make the punishment fit the crime with Paul

They are many things in life that are an inexact science.If there’s one thing I have learned about covering sports (both as a paid journalist for two weekly newspapers and as a recreational blogger) that “inexact science” applies on many fronts.

As Nebraska football fans, we can count junior wide receiver Niles Paul’s recent flap with the law among the discussion.

The Lincoln Journal Star reported that Paul has been suspended for the rest of spring practice after being pulled over early Sunday morning and arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.The LJS also added that Nebraska State Patrol Lt. Mike Jahnke said Paul, 19, was also cited for driving with a suspended license and being a minor in possession of alcohol.Jahnke said Paul was pulled over at 2:08 a.m. Sunday after he was clocked going 53 miles an hour in a 45 mph zone. The traffic stop happened just south of Capitol Parkway West on U.S. 77, according to the patrol.

“I am aware of the situation involving Niles Paul, and have discussed it with him,” Husker coach Bo Pelini said in a released statement. “Niles has been suspended from the remainder of our spring practice, including Saturday’s Spring Game.”

It is possible that Paul’s suspension could go beyond the Spring Game. Paul started four games as a sophomore last season. He caught 23 passes for 214 yards and also handled kickoff return duties. His biggest moment came when he returned a kickoff 85 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown to help Nebraska break open a game against San Jose State. Paul was also on the 2008 Academic All-Big 12 second team.How Pelini deals with the ramifications of Paul’s actions remain to be seen but one feeling you get with Pelini is that he will help youngsters in any way he can but he does not have much patience for knuckleheads.

While the Huskers struggled on the field with Bill Callahan as the head coach, the players generally stayed out of trouble. Yes, there were a few issues. Who doesn’t have them? But the players generally kept their noses clean.

When Pelini’s current boss, Tom Osborne, was the head coach, his biggest strength was often his biggest weakness. Osborne took on his share of “at risk” younsters. Sometimes it worked (i.e. Kenny Walker). Other times it didn’t (i.e. Lawrence Phillips). Throughout the course of any athletic season, a coach is going to face a discipline issue with a player or players. Even though I’m 36-years old, I find it pretty laughable to refer to college student-athletes as “kids.” Give me an ever loving break! Yes they are still young and impressionable but if they are old enough to vote or go to war in Iraq, then dammitt they are old enough to be accountable for their actions. If they haven’t been taught right or have had a tough upbringing then dammitt, teach them now!

Why? Because they will at times show poor judgment. Heck, 50 year old adults show poor judgment at times, too, so why should 18-21 year old college students be any different?These behavior issues can be something like talking back to a teacher or being disruptive in class, blowing off practice for unexcused reasons or even worse, alcohol or drug-related issues.Pelini operates with the approach of student-athletes need to realize that they are representing their school, their program, their community and their family from the time they get up in the morning until the time they go to bed at night.

Some people might see that as a “holier than thou” statement, but I believe it to be true. Another term you hear a lot of when it comes to behavior issues is “zero tolerance.” Pelini held a meeting emphasizing such to the players after taking over as head coach last season. What exactly does zero tolerance mean?It means different things to different people. Some folks might interpret that term as any offense big or small, and you are kicked off the team. Period. End of sentence.

Zero tolerance is the concept of compelling persons in positions of authority, who might otherwise exercise their discretion in making subjective judgments regarding the severity of a given offense, to impose a pre-determined punishment regardless of individual culpability or “extenuating circumstances.”I see zero tolerance as implying that if you screw up, there will be ramifications. The severity of the offense then determines the discipline. I mean, seriously, should I get six months in jail if I park illegally on downtown O Street? I doubt it. In a nutshell, it’s about making the punishment fit the crime and also to a certain degree, the offender.

Paul in all likelihood was slated to be a starter at wide receiver. Therefore, he needs to be held to a higher standard. I wouldn't say it makes him a bad guy, but it was an idiotic, irresponsible decision that could have been very costly. I'd like to see a one or two game suspension, not only because of this act, but also because a message needs to be sent, to Paul, the rest of the team and the Nebraska community. For whatever reason, his license was already suspended, so he's had a run-in before. Driving with a suspended license, out at 2 AM, and while drinking alcohol (being underaged). Just idiotic, and I hope he realizes the seriousness of his actions and vows to never repeat them again.

As for making the punishment fit the crime, outcomes should go on a case-by-case basis. For example, if a youngster is caught downtown for spraying graffiti on the wall, then they should have to repaint a wall at school with graffiti — or something like that.Anything alcohol, drug or criminal-related that a youngster is guilty of must be dealt with in a severe fashion.I’m certainly all in favor of coaches, administrators and parents laying down the law, but one also has to consider the impact of those ramifications on the youngsters. It’s about considering the whole picture of the incident, not just the infraction in and of itself.

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