There was a lot of discussion last week about whether or not Mizzou’s approach to the Dorial Green-Beckham saga was performed with the right approach. The institution and the athletic department were in uncharted waters – a No. 1 recruit in the country had never been kicked off his team – and the way it was handled, in my opinion, was as good as could be expected.
The incident occurred in the early morning hours of Sunday, and Green-Beckham informed the coaching staff about it later that day. According to the final statement of his girlfriend, Samantha Bass (her first statement was that coaches had told her that charges would cause major problems), the coaching staff never talked to her. According a follow-up report written by Columbia domestic violence enforcement unit officer Randell Nichols, “Bass told me the coaching staff did not talk to her, that they had talked to Mr. Green-Beckham, and he had relayed that information to her. I questioned her on the specifics of her text, again where she said coaches talked to her. She would not admit to that happening other than saying she did send the text, but repeated the coaches talked to Mr. Green-Beckham and he asked her to relay that information.”
So, on Sunday, the coaches got the word from Green-Beckham and told him what his actions could mean. On Monday, they suspended him indefinitely. He never set foot in the Mizzou football facility again. But he wasn’t dismissed from school until Friday, and the deliberation that took place was smart.
The university had to ask itself some questions. “Is this story real?” “What will the ramifications be if we keep him, or if we let him go?” And even, “how will this affect our football business? We sell a lot of No. 15 jerseys, and his presence is probably worth at least a couple of wins.”
The first question may seem silly, but until the police report was issued on Thursday and Green-Beckham took responsibility for his actions on Friday, Mizzou couldn’t have been so sure. Eight years ago, three members of the Duke lacrosse team were accused of rape and, in a rush to judgment, the team was suspended and the coach was fired. Ultimately, the alleged victim turned out to deliver at least five different versions of the attack, and all charges were dropped.
Brian Banks, a USC linebacker recruit, was imprisoned for 10 years on a rape conviction that turned out to be made up. Ultimately, he got his accuser to admit that she had made the story up.
And right there in Columbia, a young man by the name of Ryan Ferguson was convicted and imprisoned for 10 years, finally being released last year, after it was determined that the Columbia police department coerced witness statements and that the facts of the case weren’t properly presented at trial. With those cases as a backdrop, in collegiate athletics and in Columbia, it only makes sense for Mizzou to be as deliberate as possible in regards to the legal issues faced by its athletes. There isn’t going to be an arrest in this case because the accusers refuse to press charges, but once they were satisfied that the story held up, Mizzou was able to make a decision on that part of the case.
In regards to public reaction, the university and athletic department had to ask a question about themselves: “Do we want to be looked at the way Nebraska still is because of Lawrence Phillips?” In 1995, Phillips was charged with assault after dragging his girlfriend down a stairwell by the hair. Phillips sat out six games and was reinstated for Nebraska’s bowl game that season, and that’s part of what they’re known for. When former Huskers coach Tom Osborne retired as athletic director in 2012, a headline in the Denver Post read “Failure to boot Lawrence Phillips taints Tom Osborne’s fine legacy at Nebraska.”
An article in Sports Illustrated joked, “last Saturday morning in Lincoln, Neb., a pair of Nebraska boosters greeted two friends who were about to be swept up in the sea of Cornhusker red roiling its way toward Memorial Stadium for the Huskers’ first home game of the season. ‘Game’s been called off,’ one booster said. ‘Nobody can make bail.’”
Did Gary Pinkel want his legacy to be tied to a criminal? Regardless of how well Green-Beckham did for his team, if Pinkel kept him, he was always going to be tied to the enabling of a criminal. The only way it would ever work out for Pinkel is if Green-Beckham was a great player and an angel off the field. And the odds of that being the case seem slim. He would need to completely reverse trends that he had established in a couple of years with the Tigers. He would need to avoid the distractions that come with being a high-profile player with a sordid past in Columbia. And he would have to deal with the inevitable heckling from fellow SEC fans when Mizzou went on the road.
From a business standpoint, Mizzou will take a hit. Along with the inevitable loss of jersey sales (a relative drop in the bucket), Mizzou will likely miss out on the chance to go to another high-profile bowl game (and lower-profile bowl games are money losers), and if it doesn’t win, will certainly lose donations it otherwise would have gotten. Losing their one remaining season with Green-Beckham will definitely be a money loser for the Tigers.
After making the decisions on the overall effect of not having Green-Beckham, including the effect on him, Mizzou decided to drop him. It was the smart move, and really the only move to make if the school wanted to avoid becoming a win-at-all-costs college punch line. If Mizzou had kept Green-Beckham on the roster, it would have been held up as a shining example of all that is wrong with college athletics.
Mizzou’s athletic program has a lot of problems. And keeping Green-Beckham would have exacerbated one of them. The Tigers’ review of the situation and distancing themselves from him was the right move, and win or lose, their institution will be better for their decision.