A year ago, Jeremiah Masoli was considered a likely candidate to win the Heisman Trophy. Today he looks more like a candidate for an orange jumpsuit.
The Oregon Ducks star quarterback, who led the team to the Rose Bowl in 2010, has been suspended for the upcoming season after pleading guilty to burglary charges in connection with the theft of items from a fraternity house.
The Masoli case was just the capper on a long and ugly series of criminal misdeeds by U of O football players over the past three months. Since the Rose Bowl, nine of them have been charged with offenses ranging from DUI to burglary and assault.
Next to Masoli, the most prominent is running back LaMichael James, who pleaded guilty to charges stemming from an assault on his girlfriend. Receiver Garrett Embry, who took part in the burglary with Masoli, has pleaded guilty and been suspended for the season.
Sports commentators outside of Oregon have been having a lot of fun at the Ducks' expense. "Ducks May Bankrupt Oregon's Bail Bondsmen," one blogger quipped.
To Oregonians though, this mess isn't funny - or shouldn't be. Players who commit crimes bring shame not only to themselves, but to the football program, the university and the state.
Coach Chip Kelly has told reporters that he's "not going to follow our kids around every Friday or Saturday night so I can see what happened to them." Nobody expects him to. But he is expected to set clear standards of behavior for his players and enforce those standards firmly and consistently.
Consistent discipline hasn't been a hallmark of the Kelly regime. When running back LeGarrette Blount punched a Boise State player after the first game of 2009, Kelly said he was off the team for the season. But by the Arizona State game on Nov. 14 Blount was back in the lineup.
Kelly and Athletic Director Mike Bellotti don't appear to be particularly zealous in vetting the players they recruit either. Masoli, it turns out, served a stretch in juvenile detention in California for what the Eugene Register Guard described as a series of "strong-arm robberies." Bellotti admitted he and Kelly knew about Masoli's record but said, "We did not have concerns."
Hey Mike, if being convicted of strong-arm robberies doesn't cause you to "have concerns," what would?
It seems pretty obvious that the football program has gotten out of the control of Kelly and Belotti, and it's time for U of O President Richard Lariviere to step in and remind them that the football team is an adjunct of the university, not the other way around. Lariviere then should appoint a special committee composed of alumni, former players and coaches to write a clear policy on what constitutes grounds for rejecting an athletic prospect and what penalties should be applied when athletes break the law.
In the meantime, here's a size 14 BOOT - with cleats - for all players, present and future, who disgrace the Ducks and Oregon by acting like thugs.