Too important to get this wrong
Jim Les repeated Thursday night that he is done punishing Bradley basketball players Theron Wilson and Tyrone Cole-Scott for their alcohol-related arrests early Sunday morning.
'It's over, in terms of the direct punishment from me,' the BU head coach said.
In that case, athletics director Ken Kavanagh has some work to do. He needs to order Les to suspend the two juniors for the Braves' game at Wichita State on Saturday night.
And if Kavanagh has any thoughts about passing this buck up the ladder to university president Joanne Glasser, he had better banish them right quick and think again. She does not strike me as a woman who would favor such inaction.
Glasser on Thursday blasted an e-mail to the entire campus community and copied it to the Journal Star. The four-paragraph letter, which addresses 'recent events' related to student abuse of alcohol, appears in the Forum section of today's Editorial Page (see A-4). Her final sentence: 'I can assure you that more will be done.'
I'm not a great codebreaker, but this one's pretty easy: Kavanagh, fix this.
Wilson, 20 years old, was arrested Sunday morning for speeding and, after taking a Breathalyzer, was cited for illegal consumption of alcohol by a minor. He was not legally intoxicated, according to an Illinois State Police spokesman, but state law mandates zero tolerance for minors driving after imbibing. Cole-Scott, also 20 and riding in the front passenger seat, also was cited for illegal consumption by a minor.
According to Bradley's policy governing student-athlete behavior, the two juniors will be on probation for the remainder of their BU careers, they had to meet with Kavanagh, a letter was sent to their families to inform them of the offenses, the players have to attend the university's alcohol-and-drugs education program, and they're subject to discipline by the student judiciary process.
Les said neither Wilson nor Cole-Scott had any previous violations of team rules, they understand the serious nature of their actions and are remorseful. He considered the mandates of the behavior policy, imposed 'physical punishment, conditioning drills' on the players in practice this week, and altered their standing in the rotation for playing time Wednesday against Illinois State.
Those sanctions, he believes, were fair and sufficient.
They are not.
Alcohol abuse is a major problem on our nation's college campuses. Bradley is not immune. A few years ago, a BU student died of alcohol poisoning. Last August, another Bradley student died in a house fire set by roommates who shot Roman Candles into his room after a night of drinking; four were sentenced to six months in jail Wednesday, scant hours before Wilson — after sitting out the first 2½ minutes as his final penance for underage drinking and driving — starred and scored the winning point in Bradley's victory over ISU.
The message to every aspiring young athlete in the Peoria area was loud and clear:
Party hardy, and play on. You can even be the hero!
Les doesn't want to put the players' actions in the context of what has happened in this community, whose recent history also includes last year's near-fatal DUI wreck involving former Richwoods High and current University of Illinois player Jamar Smith.
'Because of other incidents, these young men have to set an example for the whole community?' Les said. 'Now, we're asking them to carry the torch? That's unfair.'
No, it's not. Because they should be expected to carry the torch, even if this community had no sorry history.
I have heard too many people the past couple of days try to split hairs between a DUI and a drinking minor driver. There's too much concern over what Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich didn't do to Redbirds Levi Dyer and Brandon Sampay, who missed no game time after getting DUI's in the off-season.
But there's no splitting those hairs. And Jankovich was wrong, wrong, wrong.
Look, I understand the role of a coach as father figure. I believe in mercy and redemption and second chances. I totally get it that some people learn their lessons with a minimum of punishment, while others never learn, no matter what you do to them.
But these coaches, these athletics directors, these universities — they have a responsibility beyond 'what's best for the young men and women.' These young men and women must understand that the world is not always about what's best for them; that their actions have an impact on their communities and bear consequences beyond themselves and their teammates.
One game. That's all. Sit out one game.
Is that so awful and horrible a price to pay?
Wilson and Cole-Scott should have been in street clothes Wednesday night, even if it meant Bradley lost to ISU. But it's not too late to do get this right, and it's much too important to get it wrong.
If Les doesn't understand that, Kavanagh should.
And both had better know this: Their president — and this community — is watching.
KIRK WESSLER is executive sports editor/columnist with the Journal Star. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (309) 686-3216.