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Why Syracuse & Pitt Must Handle The West/Gonzalez Incident Differently

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Syracuse football has had its share of off-field problems recently, and the arrest of Jarrod West for underage drinking is at the very least troubling. But as much as the incident might complicate West’s future at Syracuse, the other college football player arrested in Bethlehem, PA last Friday night did much more damage to his program. West’s high school teammate, Pittsburgh backup quarterback Anthony Gonzalez, made things real messy for the Panthers.

For starters, there’s Gonzalez’s key role on the team. He had an excellent spring practice, and established himself as the clear cut backup to QB Tino Sunseri. Not only is backup quarterback normally an important position because of potential injury to the starter, but Pitt only carries three QBs. That’s an extremely low amount for a BCS program, and with the indefinite suspension of Gonzalez, it just got reduced to two.

On the larger scale, the issue of discipline and accountability (or lack thereof) within Pittsburgh football comes into play. A major reason Dave Wannstedt was led out the door at the end of the season was his inability to keep his players out of handcuffs.

Sports Illustrated conducted a study showing that Pitt led all of last year’s preseason Top 25 teams in players with criminal records. A whopping 22 members of the team had previous run-ins with the law. Last summer was particularly brutal for Wannstedt and the Panthers.

“In a span between mid-July and late September, four players were arrested for four separate, violent crimes.”

Most horrifyingly:

“First, senior defensive end Jabaal Sheard was charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest after allegedly throwing a man through the glass door of an art gallery. Authorities told SI that even after an officer arrived on the scene, Sheard continued to punch the victim in the face as he lay on his back, bleeding. Sheard was suspended from the team. But after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct on Aug. 4, 2010, he was reinstated for the 2010 season.”

Crime was something Pitt AD Steve Pederson was trying to get away from when he hired Mike Haywood. Turns out Haywood allegedly beats up women, so he was out after 17 days on the job. Then new head coach Todd Graham came in and vowed to finally stop all the crap.

“Sorry, in many cases, is just not going to be good enough. And, if we have those situations that happen, I can tell you that there is going to be accountability. I believe there needs to be values and standards.”

And that sounded nice, but what’s happened since Graham made that statement proves talk is cheap. There have already been a couple cases of player misbehavior in his tenure, and Graham hasn’t even coached a down in the regular season.

To the coach’s credit, he has laid down the law in both cases. In a Marrone-esque move, he suspended tight end Mike Cruz in March for “violating unspecified team rules.” If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Mike is the brother of graduated Syracuse TE Jose Cruz. Both are now done playing Big East football for good, because Mike decided to quit the team rather than hang in suspension limbo.

Now is when we finally tie Gonzalez – the second player in trouble under Graham -back in. Given all the problems Pitt has had with player discipline lately, it could ill-afford to have an important piece like Gonzalez get booked on a marijuana charge.

Graham is faced with the challenging decision of how long to suspend his backup QB. Let him come back for the season-opener and risk coming off as too soft on crime and too similar to Wannstedt? Keep Gonzalez out for a bulk of games or kick him off the team and risk cutting off your nose to spite your face?

Regardless, Pitt better hope that Tino Sunseri stays healthy. And the next time you catch yourself wondering what could have been with Malcolm Cater and Brice Hawkes lining up for the SU defense, you can comfort yourself in knowing that the Panthers have had it much worse.

Posted: Andrew Kanell

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