Auburn QB Nick Marshall Benched, Not Suspended for Opener

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Nothing like a little fake punishment to swirl up some controversy in SEC football.

With the news of Auburn Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall being benched for the season opener, but not suspended, the values of the school, head coach Gus Malzahn and the very moral fabric of college athletics are under fire.

So, yeah. Sigh.

We have done this song and dance before–you know, like, a billion other times before. A university, usually a relatively prestigious one, has a player that got in a little bit of trouble.

People typically outside of the school’s own fanbase wants more blood than there was in Sharknado 2, and the school opts for a slap on the wrist rather than a Tombstone Piledriver (which is my preferred method of punishment).

That is why the backlash to Auburn’s not-so-strict punishment of Nick Marshall comes as a surprise. We all know the deal. Star player does something stupid, but usually not heinous, and the school provides the least discipline as humanly possible.

Then, because the internet is fickle, we want more explanations. Why doesn’t the coach, player and university do more or care about off the field indiscretions? We already know the answer: cash money.

Marshall’s benching for the opener is not even the worst example of schools choosing winning (which equals loot) over suitable punishment (just admit, you want corporal punishment).

The SEC should hire Corporal Punishment for enforcement purposes.
The SEC should hire Corporal Punishment for enforcement purposes.

Basically, unless a player is convicted of killing three elves with his bare hands, the protocol in college football dictates as lenient a punishment as possible.  

Well, unless of course the player isn’t that good and kicking him off the team opens up a scholarship for a highly rated recruit– which would just be another move that benefits the program more than the player.

Nick Marshall, cited by police for possession of marijuana last month, is not the sole Auburn player with Malzahn’s backing after landing in some hot water this offseason. 

Jonathon Mincy, a three-year starter, was arrested and charged with second-degree marijuana possession in late June.

In an interview Malzahn stated that Marshall’s benching in game one, while the duration of it until he enters the game has yet to be decided, is only “part of the punishment”, he did make it clear that he was backing both players.

“I will say this: Nick Marshall is still our quarterback and Jonathon Mincy is still our cornerback,” Malzahn said per the Ledger-Enquirer. He also mentioned how both players have “responded well.” to the punishment and that he hopes that this disciplinary action will help them in the future.

So, again: Sigh.

Whether Malzahn is motivated by what the university hired him to do–win football games–or if his sentiment is genuine, here is what we know: business is a lot better for the Auburns of the world when they have a Heisman hopeful quarterback behind center, and not wasting away on the sidelines as some scribbler’s cautionary tale.

All of that is in no way of me bashing Auburn’s decision. Theirs is just the latest in a number of decisions from athletic programs — and the NCAA as a whole — that leads to so much fan cynicism. The pervasive belief is that, because winning generates revenue and revenue benefits both the football program and university, those charged with leading the student-athletes will choose victory over values.

This issue is not specific to Nick Marshall, Auburn or Gus Malzahn. It is, as per the usual in college sports, an issue with the system. Whether in the SEC or another conference at any level of the NCAA, there’s no uniformity for discipline.

In reality, individual programs are given too much wiggle room. Either the NCAA or each conference needs to adopt universal disciplinary policies.

A universal policy takes the onus for discipline off individual coaches, so we avoid vastly different punishments within the same conference, as is the case when comparing Auburn’s situation to that of Mark Richt’s at Georgia.

A universal policy might also eliminate some of the concern-trolling so prevalent from columnists and tweeters whenever a football program doles out a seemingly lenient punishment for off-field issues (irony noted).

That’s it. A uniform disciplinary structure is all college sports really needs. Whether it’s agreed upon within individual conferences or by the (inept, I know) NCAA as a whole, college sports would be better for it. It’s simple, but a positive step closer to actually upholding universities look out for athletes–the main crux of the ongoing charade of amateurism.

Otherwise, the alternative is acknowledging that coaches need to win because those wins make money–and that pretty clearly means college football is a business. In that case, each program operates as its own little corporation with its own individual rules for each employee, which is exactly what the athletes are in that scenario.