As you are probably aware, 11 Spartans were named to the Academic All-Big Ten Team this week. The media was frenzied. Such great news. Good role models. This was the main focus of Dantonio’s press conference on Saturday. Oh, wait – these weren’t the headlines we saw, were they? Dantonio didn’t get to answer any questions about these good guys, did he?
Instead, we were treated to descriptions of footballers with ski masks beating up fraternity members in dorm halls. We got to read about players who are so selfish, they couldn’t even wait 90 minutes after celebrating their teammates’ 2009 accomplishments before they slipped out of their suits and ties and into a weak mentality of gang-like thought processes. Out of 10 guys, you think 1 could have prevented the storm that was to come.
“I would describe this like it’s like a hurricane… the end of the storm is pushing through… hopefully, the sun is going to come out here soon, and we will be able to resolve this and we will be able to move forward…”
As is my oldest son’s custom when he awakes before the rest of the family, he turns on the TV and replays past Michigan State football games, soaking it in like only a 2nd grade kid can do. When I walked down the stairs Saturday morning, it was the Michigan game again and Glenn Winston was running well against the Wolverines. Elijah – 7 ½ years old – said to me, “Dad, I bet Michigan wishes they had Winston.” I winced. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’m sure they were glad they didn’t.
“I’m a football coach at a major college institution, but in the pure sense of it, I’m a teacher, a mentor and someone who wants to try and take their players, help them play good football on that field and take their players and allow them to be self sufficient young men when they leave here.”
It’s a tough situation, to be sure. A coach going through a very difficult situation, trying to balance the interests of the University, the team, the players who were smart enough to not get involved, and the fans. I’m sure Dantonio is just as sick as I am that the questions aren’t about Blair White and his Senior Day but instead are regarding how many chances football players with free educations are going to get.
“I think it’s extremely important that our football fans and our players and our players’ families and everybody associated with this football program understand that we are going to deal with this from a position of strength. We are going to do the right thing, and our integrity will not be questioned in terms of how we handled this situation.”
When a coach is handed a situation like this, he has punishment to dole out. Too lenient and your program suffers. Too rough and your program suffers. I think the key phrase in this paragraph is that the program will suffer.
“But in regards to this, our integrity will not be in question as a program, in terms of how we handle the problem. I think it’s very important that we look at things and we handle this problem with strength and resolve and that’s exactly what we will do. We are going to gain ourselves respect back as a football team and as a program, on and off the field.”
I am actually amazed that the MSU Athletic Department was still able to garner a bid to the Alamo Bowl throughout all this mess. I think that speaks to the reputation of our University, our Athletic Director, our fans, and most importantly to the way that Coach Dantonio handled – and is handling – this situation. He has a solid foundation; he doesn’t get rattled, doesn’t make decisions rashly and truly has the correct big picture mentality to realize that a short term bowl game loss is worth it if it puts our program on the right path with the right kids and the right attitude.
“I feel like it’s something that I have to deal with as a head football coach, and I feel strength, and I feel like as a leader… when in times of crisis, you’d better have somebody strong who is going to be able to lead and that’s my place, and that’s what I’ll do and that’s my role.”
The remaining good guys on this team can use this event as a rallying cry. They can play with Spartan pride on January 2. They can follow the example of their leader. Mark Dantonio is indeed a leader for his football team. But he also speaks for us fans when he says:
“I have been disappointed before. Our football program has been disappointed before, and we will rise above this. We always will.”
Let’s hope it’s true. Now, for the record, here is the news that we should have been focusing on this week:
Swenson will play in the Senior Bowl and White – who was also named an Academic All-American – will be playing in the East-West Shrine Game.
Joel Nitchman earned Second-Team All-Big Ten and a total of 11 Spartans made the Academic All-Big Ten Team. Great job guys… you deserve the headlines you should’ve received for these awesome accomplishments. Thank you.