Working on a free-lance piece for Basketball Times last summer, I wrote about how a couple of Bay Area teams in the West Coast Conference, Santa Clara and San Francisco, appeared poised to make a move toward the top and challenge Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s in the 2011-12 race.
Right on schedule, Santa Clara today is winless in 12 WCC games and holder of a school-record 13-game losing streak.
It’s been a thoroughly forgettable season for the Broncos, who host Gonzaga Thursday night minus a player whose personal travail provides a window into discipline in today’s college athletic environment.
Kevin Foster is a strong, 6-2, 219-pound guard who has made a habit of killing the Zags. He scored 36 against them in a Santa Clara victory last year in the Bay Area, and in the rematch in Spokane — you can look it up — he scored 10 points in a span of 22 seconds.
He averaged 20.2 a year ago and was at 17.8 this year when he was picked up in the early-morning of Jan. 22 — only hours after a home loss to Saint Mary’s — and arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. According to the San Jose Mercury-News, he is scheduled to be arraigned March 7.
Monday, Santa Clara announced it was suspending Foster for the season after he went through the school’s student judicial process. Foster has sat out the past seven games, and he’ll be out Santa Clara’s next four, plus any the Broncos play in the WCC tournament.
That’s a minimum of 12 games, which, for me, at least, comes across as a harsh penalty. That’s in no way to minimize the severity of the offense or its implications. Thankfully, society is viewing drunken driving much more seriously than it did in decades past.
Maybe I’m merely jaded by all the examples of wrist-slap penalties thrown out by some prominent programs in the name of discipline — especially when an athlete hasn’t been convicted.
A few years ago, Hassan Adams of Arizona got a DUI late in the season. Then-coach Lute Olson suspended him for two games of the Pac-10 tournament but he was able to play in the NCAAs. Adams was acquitted months later.
Locally, there have been all sorts of infamously light penalties. At WSU in 2003, Bill Doba suspended star linebacker Will Derting for a DUI — for a little more than a quarter. Derting didn’t get his regular start, and came in when his substitute cut his arm.
Another ex-Cougar under Doba, defensive end Mike Graise, was picked up for DUI twice within six months, pleaded both down to negligent driving, and told the Times the discipline was “missing a couple of workouts.”
Rick Neuheisel, the former Washington coach, also was notoriously soft on punishment. When troubled tight end Jerramy Stevens ran his pickup truck into a retirement home, pleading guilty to $10,000 worth of property damage in 2001, Neuheisel suspended Stevens — for half of a game.
Earlier, when Mac Tuiaea, a defensive tackle, got stopped on suspicion of DUI in Seattle before the 1999 Holiday Bowl, Neuheisel sat him out for the first half of the game.
That’ll show ’em.
It’s been five years now since Gonzaga’s celebrated case of Josh Heytvelt, who was apprehended with hallucinogenic mushrooms and charged with a felony. That happened on Feb. 9, 2007, so his season-long suspension was considerable, including the rest of the regular season, the WCC tournament and the NCAA. But a felony arrest seemed to warrant the penalty. (Heytvelt entered a diversion program, performed some 300 hours of community service and returned to the team the next season.)
Some programs take the path of least resistance — you know, no punishment until the legal system plays out. In this case, I have to believe the sanction is complicated by the in-season nature of the incident. In season, there’s no time for everybody to step back and take a deep breath, no time to mitigate the hurt with community service, no time — in theory — for anything but practice and games. So instead of a combination of off-season restitution and perhaps suspension to start next season, it’s slam-the-door-shut-on-this-season.
A skeptic might say Santa Clara’s season is already such a lost cause that it’s easier to be stern. In any case, the Broncos are sending an unmistakable message.