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Some will call it stems and seeds of punishments considering the corresponding “crime” as it relates to Auburn’s normal protocol, but predictably (as said in this spot), Nick Marshall will be suspended for the beginning of the opening Arkansas game for a currently undetermined length of time … and you know what … great decision by Gus Malzahn.
Which side of the fence you fall on with this one is defined somewhere between your political views of policing pot in the modern age mixed with whatever biases you might have either for or against Auburn. For instance, if you wake up every morning and say “Roll Tide” before you even roll out of bed, Malzahn’s decision smacks of hypocrisy.
But the reality is, Malzahn made a great … and fair move. Some will point to last season’s dismissal of Demetruce McNeal over a marijuana arrest and subsequent verbal assault on drugs by Malzahn that this is some sort of depth-chart discipline.
Wrong. For one, Marshall was cited, not arrested. For two, McNeal was one of the team leaders in tackles for a returning player last year. He wasn’t exactly some schlep eating up a scholarship and taking advantage of the night life as an Auburn football player buried about 5th string on the depth chart.
The story that most people nationally don’t know is that Malzahn allowed McNeal to participate in Auburn’s Pro Day this past spring, so let’s cull down any narrative that the player punished was dismissed and excommunicated from any further opportunities within the program.
There are a few things at play here. For one, there’s always a back story. Always. When handing out punishments for players, you can bet your bottom dollar that coaches take things that media can’t see (yes, media doesn’t always have the full story, guys) such as interaction with teammates, coach-ability, interaction with fellow students, issues that may never come to the public light, but inside the confines of the team it is well-known that these things happened, etc.
For two, the world is made of color, and blanket policies sound nice and streamlined, but often don’t allow for the maleable reality of different situations leading to different results/punishments.
For instance, maybe a model student-athlete breaks up with a girlfriend, goes out with friends on a night he didn’t expect to, blasts a stick, and just happens to get busted. Maybe said student-athlete is a fixture at class, gets good grades, interacts well with teammates, all of that noise.
Maybe another one quarrels with teammates and coaches, gets the wind almost daily, struggles in class, and all that goes along with that. Disclaimer: I am NOT saying that’s so in the current case, I’m just outlining that black and white punishment for a set crime is not always the best route to go.
There’s been some suggestion too that since Nick Marshall has had a history of off-field issues in his college career, this must somehow be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Not so. Reasoning that punishment for Marshall be thought of including events that happened before he got to Auburn is like dating a girl who cheated on a few of her ex boyfriends and holding it against her even though she’d never done it to you.
“You’ve been a faithful girl to me this past year, but I can’t get over you cheating on that one guy two years before I met you. So no, I don’t want you going out having fun tonight.”
Go see how far that convoluted logic gets you.
Malzahn was put in a tough public relations position by being so lead footed with the punishment and subsequent commentary on the McNeal situation, and in the world of hyperbolic social media reaction, any two things with the same words in it are destined to be demanded that they’re treated the exact same.
Maybe this will end up teaching Marshall a lesson … especially if Arkansas ends up winning … or maybe it won’t and we’re down this fox hole in the future. But life isn’t black and white and you can’t always successfully streamline punishment.
Malzahn did what he thought was right, and that should be good enough. He’s in the locker room. The rest of us aren’t. What Malzahn has demonstrated that is consistent is that punished or not, the guy is invested in the future of players be they on the team or removed from it, and in the end, that’s probably the more important lesson here.