Anyone who has not recognized that, along with the rest of the University of Missouri’s Athletic Department, the men’s basketball program is now under grown-up leadership has not been paying attention. No longer is the coach just “one of the boys” as we experienced in the embarrassingly painful Quinn Snyder era; Mike Anderson says what he means and means what he says. Do not doubt that he has his players’ undivided attention.
All too often, today’s college athlete expects the pampering and the transgressions to be overlooked or condoned as experienced in high school. Scholarship athletes tend to have been the star performers at their respective institutions. The subsequent adulation from peers and adults alike, coupled with the win-at-any-cost mentality of the school, has provided a double standard in both academics and discipline in too many instances.
This can — and does — translate to a tendency to disregard rules and regulations infringing upon their ability to engage in the conduct to which they have become accustomed and now consider their prerogative. In any field, whether athletics, academic, business, military or civilian, to be successful, there must be a code of conduct established and administered fairly and firmly by the leadership to instill a sense of teamwork to the point that self-discipline becomes a mark of pride and professionalism.
That leadership, teamwork and mutual respect are hallmarks of superior accomplishment is apparent in the overall performance of Missouri’s athletic squads, particularly in the latest achievements of Coach Pinkel’s football, Coach Smith’s wrestling and Coach Jamieson’s nationally ranked and highly regarded programs. It now appears that the previous basketball regime’s lack of discipline on and off the court has come to a screeching halt.
Following some unsavory incidents, Coach Anderson instituted a “zero tolerance” policy for infractions of team rules. The indefinite suspension of five players, three of whom were starters, for violating curfew and engaging in disorderly conduct embodied courage and character by placing integrity ahead of winning. It was also the right thing to do as shown by the tenacity and character of those eligible to play.
Three games later, all save the injured Hannah have been reinstated, and one can assume that the message has been received, loud and clear. While some sportswriters and fans have opined that the punishment should have been more severe to include longer suspensions or dismissals, one must understand that second-guessing is the forte of those who have no responsibility for making decisions or for the consequences evolving therefrom.
The coach made his decision by considering the best interests of the players concerned as well as for the team and the university. While these individuals look like and for all purposes should be adults, the fact remains that they are in the process of maturation and, in some instances, this is the first time that they have been held accountable for their actions. They have been punished and should have the chance to redeem themselves.
The matter is in the capable hands of Coach Anderson, which is exactly where it belongs. He has eliminated all doubt that any individual player is bigger than the team and that his team rules will be observed by any and all who expect to continue in that exclusive membership. Woe be unto the next violator of the Anderson code of conduct, for he will be history.
Finally, I will air a longstanding irritant with one particular facet of intercollegiate athletics — the eligibility of freshmen to participate in varsity sports. I know I am not alone in my distaste for a program which places more emphasis on winning than in development of scholar-athletes for a future after sports. One’s first year should be spent in student activities, studying, attending classes, beginning a path to graduation.
Requiring the first year to be spent as a student would eliminate those who are interested only in a stepping stone to the professional ranks — a goal which is realized by fewer than 10 percent. It would also reduce the disciplinary problems faced by coaches and administrators by ridding the campus of those who should not be here in the first place.
Proposition 48, the NCAA’s 1986 granting of across-the-board eligibility for freshmen in varsity sports, can be repealed only by unity and courage exhibited by university and college presidents. I believe that time has arrived.
Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.