College kids are notorious for the tendancy to be troublemakers, and college football teams are no different. From the BCS to the NAIA, discipline is required for student-athletes, and football players seem at times to lead the pack.
Coaches are often faced with difficult decisions in regard to situations that arise because of football players who did not — as the late, great Erk Russell would say — "do right."
Georgia Southern recently had to make some tough choices that ultimatly resulted in some kids being removed from the team. Eagle coach Chris Hatcher had a tough decision to make, because some of his student-athletes did not make the right decisions. His actions were swift and decisive, and the players in question were punished for their deeds. Oh, yeah, this is not unique to GSU in any way.
It happens everywhere. Often, it appears that the discipline issued by institutions is inversly effected by the success of the program, or the contributions of these troublemakers to their teams. A 1,500-yard rusher, for example, may be less disciplined than a walk-on third string kicker who makes the same mistake.
People know this goes on, and seem to take an apathitic approach, believing that "that's how it is," and "boys will be boys."
Joe Paterno — 80 year old coach of the storied Penn State Nittany Lions, a Big Ten team that has won 20 games in the last two seasons — has decided that the character developed by the young men who play college football is more important than the advancement of their careers as professional athletes, and that the lessons learned between the ages of 18 and 22 are more important than the wins and losses they amass in those years.
Six Penn State football players were arrested during a fight at which 15 were present. In Paterno's eyes, all 15 players were guilty, because they were there, and the entire team was guilty. Why? It is a team game, and according to "Joe Pa," it is a team embarrassment and they are all in it together.
The entire team will show up to Beaver Stadum — a facility holding nearly 110,000 seats — every Sunday after home games during the 2007 season... and they will clean it. Along with that, the whole team will volunteer for the Special Olympics and will build a house for Habitat for Humanity.
Why is this significant?
In a world where NCAA athletes get special treatment from their schools and from their coaches, what better way to prove the character of your team than by having it willingly accept a punishment like this?
Most college football teams have 100+ kids. All of these kids are not going pro. In fact, judging by the sheer number of kids playing college football in America, you're pretty darn lucky if you even get looked at by any of the professional leagues. This begs the question: What are college athletics really about?
According to "Joe Pa" it seems, the wins are for the fans, but the players build character that will be with them their entire lives.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.