Violating team rules

The University of Missouri basketball team suspended starting guard Michael Dixon late yesterday. Coach Mike Anderson used the all-purpose vague phrase “violated team rules” to explain the action, which will sideline Dixon indefinitely.

Higher education institutions have been hiding behind that phrase for decades.

We remember one situation several years ago when a Tiger football player was suspended for “violating team rules.” A few days later the prosecuting attorney in another county charged the guy with driving around with drugs in his trunk.

Yep, that probably would violate team rules. In that case, the situation was so serious that it was proper for athletic department officials to avoid being specific because criminal charges were being considered. But this time?
Announcements like these are disappointing, of course, because we all want these young men and women to succeed as individuals and as members of our favorite team—whether it’s Missouri or some other school. It’s also disappointing that universities apparently don’t make the rules public.

It certainly would not harm any college or university to put its team rules on the athletic department web page. If the school doesn’t want to point out the specific sin, the fans and alumni would at least have an idea of what is expected of these young people.

“We have high standards for how we expect our young men to carry themselves,” says coach Anderson and there’s no doubt that such is the case based on his previous actions.

But what are the standards?

Using the vague phrase does not serve the student-athlete particularly well. Fans with memories of previous problems are left to speculate: Did he skip class? Did he miss a study hall? Slug a girlfriend? Drive with wrong things in his trunk?

Universities (and we’re not singling out Missouri with this) expect fans and supporters to fork over substantial sums of money to support the athletic program. Young men and women are recruited to perform at levels high enough to attract that financial support.

It seems to be inconsistent that schools would expect these athletes to assume a great responsibility in highly public arenas that can generate great status for the university in general and the sports program in particular and then argue that they need to be protected by some vague phrase if they stumble. On the court and on the field in front of thousands of people, they are publicly singled out by referees for violating the game’s rules. Fans can know specifically what they did. But when it comes to the rules of team membership, they are too tender for the same fans to know where they slipped up.

Is it privacy concerns? Odd that people recruited to be public performers are suddenly deserving privacy protections when they do something that keeps them from being public performers.

We’re sure there are some things we don’t understand. Our world, the one in which we cover public figures, is one that says those public figures are not immune from public knowledge when they cross a line of propriety. It’s hard to argue that a college athlete recruited to perform in large arenas are not public figures.

So: what are the rules?

And what was done that was severe enough to remove a young man recruited to perform in front of thousands of fans who have paid well to watch him perform from that role?

Maybe some Tiger fans would like to join the conversation. We wonder if they’ve ever had similar questions.

We’re open to being straightened out by athletic departments. But in a world where public institutions and bodies often are using the word “transparency” to describe a quality they’re trying to develop, we wonder why a public institution like big-time collegiate sports continues to rely on vagueness.

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