Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Price of Greatness

"Paranoia strikes deep, into your life it will creep."

It's been said that paranoia can be good in small doses. Problem is, paranoia, like meth, can be habit forming and bad for your mental piece. Famed educational philosopher, Robert M. Hutchins, put it more succinctly, saying of paranoia, "You know you've got it when you can't think of anything that's your fault." So here we stand on August 25, just 8 days away from the start of the 2010 college football season, a season that once appeared to hold so much promise for Steve Spurrier's University of South Carolina Gamecocks. The Gamecocks were coming off a record-tying 2nd consecutive bowl appearance in 2009, they had signed a really good running back on National Signing Day, and Stephen Garcia had gone at least 365 days without getting arrested for the first time since joining the program in 2007. There was even chatter of challenging Florida for SEC East supremacy. Then the bottom fell out.

In July, starting tight end Weslye Saunders became embroiled in an NCAA investigation into the legalities of an agent-sponsored party in South Beach last Spring, thrown for potential high-round picks in the 2011 NFL Draft. Though the school and the NCAA have been tight-lipped about the issue, MOAG has learned that officials are concerned with two things at this point. Who paid for Saunders to go on the trip, and what the hell was he doing at a party for 1st day draft picks? Despite this setback, the team still had reasons for optimism. After all, according to ardent Gamecock supporters, Saunders was officially listed as 2nd on the team depth chart behind noted hustler Patrick DiMarco. And though that was solely a product of his week-long suspension during the Spring, it was still a reassuring thing for fans to tell themselves. Besides, if they could get through the next few weeks without further trouble, the Gamecocks still had plenty of reasons to believe their magical season, the season they have waited on since (insert the year you were born here), was on the horizon. But so was something else...

"It starts when you're always afraid. You step out of line, the man come and take you away."

In early August, NCAA officials returned to Columbia. They even reportedly stopped practice and ordered Saunders to come with them for another round of You $#%@ed Up, Kid. Most South Carolina fans had believed that the issue had been put to rest. And why shouldn't they have, given the NCAA's history of starting and concluding major investigations in a matter of weeks? Despite their well-reasoned belief that it was over, the investigation was still active. Saunders' eligibility was now officially in question. To make matters worse, another investigation was underway. Various media were reporting that 3 players had been living all summer at The Whitney, an upscale hotel on Devine Street near Yo Burrito. Whitneygate, America's first gate scandal since Watergate to involve an actual hotel, was dismissed by fans as a non-issue. After all, coach new about it and compliance signed off on the lease. Yet it was still proving to be a distraction for a team that, at one point, appeared poised to do great things. Assistant Head Coach for Defense Ellis Johnson even admitted such.

Over the past two weeks, it has come to light that as few as 7, and as many as 10, players were living at the hotel. The NCAA is concerned that the players might have been staying at the hotel rent-free, or possibly at a reduced rate not offered to the general public. If their investigation bears that out, it could be deemed a violation. For a team that showed so much promise, these investigations so close to the start of the season could prove costly. Assistant Head Coach for Defense Ellis Johnson said yesterday that he didn't know exactly what the penalty - or penalties - would be, but that the staff has been given a range of potential punishments depending on what the NCAA finds. As a precautionary measure, the school told all the players to move out immediately and settle up on their bills. As a precautionary measure. In Saunders' case, being at the heart of two investigations could sideline him for some or all of the season. Coach Spurrier has said he expects the NCAA to let him know something before the start of the season next Thursday. But Saunders, apparently not content with just having his eligibility at risk, has decided to up the ante this week. On Monday, Spurrier announced that Saunders has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. He'd missed several team meetings and was late to a scrimmage last Saturday morning. When questioned by coaches about his tardiness, Saunders realized he had two options. He could tell the coaches the truth, whatever it was, and accept his punishment, or he could lie. In a stunner, Saunders chose option 2.

"Stop, hey, what's that sound, everybody looks what's goin down."

Many coaches will tell you they would sooner coach scrubs than liars. Coaches need to be able to trust their players on and off the field. At the beginning of the initial agent investigation, Spurrier went to bat for Saunders, saying, "Weslye told us he didn't do anything wrong, and we believe him." And it was the right thing to do, because players need to know their coach has their back. A lack of reciprocal trust can destroy team chemistry, but every now and then such truisms need to be put to the test. Sensing that now was one of those times, Saunders decided to conduct an experiment to see if he could somehow find the perfect blend of selfish behavior, public humiliation, and total lack of respect for the school and coach who gave him a free ride to college. Not only did Saunders lie to the coaches about where he had been, the lie itself was that he had been - get ready for it - meeting with NCAA investigators about his case(s). A quick check with the compliance office uncovered that no such meeting had taken place. So not only did he lie, he actually used the investigation, that he created, as his lie. If there were ever three words that Spurrier wishes he could unsay, "we believe him" would have to be them. Now Spurrier not only has every reason not to believe a word that comes out of his mouth, but he also has a reason to believe that Saunders would lie to anyone, including the NCAA, to save his own skin. For his part, Saunders has skillfully played the victim card from jump street, accusing others of misunderstanding him and trying to bring him down, which brings us back to the paranoia issue.

For a long time it was just the crazy, crazy South Carolina fans who felt that the world was out to get them, but this summer has turned even the players into true believers. Even so, our focus here at Mind of a Gamecock is the crazy, crazy fans and the funny things they say. We don't yet know how these investigations and suspension(s) will affect the promising 2010 season, but we do know this - that 9 win, 2nd in the East dream season might be on hold until further notice. What I can give you right now is this:

- "Riddle me this.....a player at Clemson can be allowed to live in a house on Lake Hartwell (owned by a CU supporter) along with his girlfriend and their baby for 3-4 years and the NCAA doesn't find fault. A player at Carolina has a legitimate contract with a local hotel for an extended stay and the NCAA finds fauult? At what point will the playing field be level? Clemson has multiple players staying 'off campus' in 'put up' situations on or near the lake. Always have and always will. It's time USC stands up to the NCAA, The State, and any other group that is creating this constant harrassment."

- "This is a media created this whole story, before the season starts their looking for anything to talk about."

- "Just like the NCAA to do away with athletic dorms and then look into housing. What is up with these hostesses at Cheating Clemson Tech and Kiffin's kittens? Why doesn't ESPN run with that? That's what continuously gripes my tail. Spiller and his girlfriend living on the lake driving a Tahoe. Heck I can't even afford the gas for a Tahoe, how does he?"


- "Joe Person and The State rag need their media credentials pulled!!"

- "Joe Person has worked feverishly to report anything negatively on our program true or not. Joe's been busting our balls over this hotel situation almost every day and would like nothing more than to see it be true and NCAA sanctions befall our program. The state rag as been that way for as long as I can remember and I'm 60!"

- "Reading papers across the country over the years, I have never seen any local paper covers the local sports team with more negativity than The State. Plain and simple.

- "I really think it bothered the snake that our baseball team won NationaL championship this summer!"

- "If it were Clemmers players, you wouldn't read a damn thing about it in the snake."

- "This has been going on at the State for over a half a decade and it's time it STOPS!"

- "Why is it The State will turn a blind eye to a politician they like, but go after Carolina at the drop of a hat? If the hometown paper can't support the hometown team, what use are they?"

- "Last minute bad luck always seems to stab us in the back, and we have more than a chance to win the SECEast and the title."

- "This is no curse, this is a conspiracy."