Disciplinary power in wrong hands


The fact Dave Rice used more of a feather than a hammer when assigning punishment to senior forward Chace Stanback on Thursday goes to a larger issue at UNLV and other universities that employ similar drug-testing protocols in regard to student-athletes.

In short, there is too much leeway in these matters for those hired to win games.

The Rebels will be without their leading returning scorer and rebounder when opening the season against Division II Grand Canyon on Nov. 11, a game that will count as Stanback's one-game suspension for pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of drunken driving-marijuana from a traffic stop on May 13.

I don't care much that UNLV's policy of first-time offenders not facing a mandatory suspension falls in line with many schools across the country, including some of the leading major programs.

This is not the time to compare yourself in any way to the powers of college athletics, hardly pillars of moral and ethical standards. They are not guiding lights in any manner, unless you're lost and searching for the NCAA's enforcement office.

UNLV should strive to be better and institute a policy with the kind of teeth and deterrents that would make athletes such as Stanback think twice about breaking the law (marijuana use) and then compounding it by getting behind the wheel of a car.

Know this: College basketball is a results-oriented business, and if you have followed any of the long list of NCAA violations being committed of late in several sports and the egotistical, power-grubbing charade that is conference expansion, you know all that stuff about building responsible young men and stressing character and integrity and principles is a bunch of hogwash.

It's about winning and money.

For this, decisions such as the one Rice had should fall on a strict standard set forth by those who aren't paid to produce a lot of both.

When compared to some Mountain West Conference brethren, UNLV hardly appears to be at the forefront of severe responses to such actions.

Consider: One day following the arrest of junior Chad Adams for suspected drunken and reckless driving in May, New Mexico basketball coach Steve Alford suspended the player for two regular-season games this season, removed his scholarship for summer school, added 20 hours of community service to whatever the courts might impose and took away his car for the remainder of his Lobos career. This, for a first offense and on top of mandatory counseling, along with having to issue a public apology and anything the legal system eventually dictates.

Adams also was suspended for the exhibition season, but, as with Stanback, those games are meaningless and not worth discussing.

At San Diego State, sophomore guard Jamaal Franklin was arrested for suspected drunken driving last week and, if found guilty, faces an automatic three-game suspension under the policy within the school's student-athlete handbook, on top of which the coaching staff can add penalties.

None of these cases are apples for apples. Each one is different with its own set of circumstances. But a one-game suspension for Stanback even when one isn't mandated makes Rice appear to have hit more of a routine grounder than any extra-base knock in this, his first test as a head coach handling a disciplinary matter.

Two things matter to college players: public shame and playing time, and the latter matters far more.

Other UNLV athletes have tested positive for marijuana in the past year, but the public never would know because they aren't members of the city's most high-profile team. The university isn't putting out any statements about a tennis or soccer player smoking pot.

But kids talk. They know who did what and the consequences for actions, and not having a mandatory suspension attached to first-time offenders is a much softer deterrent than UNLV should offer.

It doesn't matter that this is the way other people do things or this is a policy that has been in place at colleges for more than a decade.

Does that mean the Rebels also should follow the off-field football ways of Ohio State and Oregon and Southern California and Miami?

Fans undoubtedly are joyful today that Stanback will miss only one game, and I'm sure they believe Rice was harsh enough in his penalty. They're fans.

"This stuff is always in the eye of the beholder," UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood said. "Sometimes it's too much; sometimes not enough. I understand that. It is what it is. I believe (Rice's) decision is fair and right."

I believe a bigger picture is here for the future, that first-time offenders should face a mandatory three-game suspension and that the head coach should be removed from the decision in a business where his livelihood depends on his record.

That way we'd probably see fewer routine grounders in response to athletes breaking the law out there.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday and Thursday on "Monsters of the Midday," Fox Sports Radio 920 AM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

 

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