Unnecessary Roughness

Vols' outlet for aggression is on the playing field

In other words, the old adage stands that a few rotten apples can spoil the barrel.

And so had entirety of the

University

of

Tennessee

's student population.

It was supposed to be an eventful offseason for the Vols: There was a great quarterback battle brewing among three capable guys; the team was coming off a blowout win over Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl; and a possible pre-season top-five ranking already had some fans talking about a possible national championship run. As it turns out, the off-season has been way more eventful than anyone expected, as this edition of the Vols seems to be as dangerous before and after the game as they are on the field

The recent spate of UT football-related arrests had one of my radio show callers dubbing Saturday's annual spring Orange and White game in Neyland Stadium the "Orange and Stripes" game. The week prior, no less than five current players were front-page news for various off-the-field indiscretions. Four Vols—quarterback Brent Schaeffer, receiver Bret Smith, defensive end Robert Ayers and linebacker Jerod Mayo—were formally charged with assault in a two-day span leading up to the contest. Compounding this is the running tally of 11 football players who have been either arrested or issued citations since the end of February 2004.

In Schaeffer's case, the player decided that it was more important to fight for his girlfriend's cell phone than for the starting job of a pre-season top-five team. After receiving a phone call from his distressed girlfriend, sometime after 3:30 a.m. April 10, Schaeffer recruited his favorite target, Bret Smith (Tennessee's leading touchdown-maker from its receiving corps last year) and proceeded across campus in the small hours of the morning. The duo then confronted and allegedly whipped a student in the lobby of Clement Hall. Much of the sickening incident was captured by a residence hall camera. It makes you wonder how much of a PR firestorm would emerge if media outlets were successful in petitioning UT for the video.

A chronic offender has been UT linebacker Daniel Brooks.

Two things are clear about this Jackson native: He likes to fight guys half his size, and he seems to harbor ill will toward fraternity members. Last winter, he helped clean out the Kappa Sigma house at the behest of backup quarterback Bo Hardegree, who was escorted from a party only to return with an angry Brooks. Brooks hits the frat house like a tiger jumping at raw meat, the first of three fraternity-related scrapes the Jackson Central-Merry product has been involved in within the past 14 months.

There was also his fight in the Old City the week of the SEC Championship Game. The police report described Brooks beating down a guy half his size. And in March, Brooks was named in a UT police report as a suspect in a brawl at the University Center that resulted in the arrests of teammates Jarod Mayo and Robert Ayers. Somehow, charges were never brought against Brooks in any of the three incidents. He remains one of the Vols' most dangerous weapons, off the field. On the field, the University Center incident landed him a three-game suspension for the '05 season.

Believe it or not, though, there are plenty of good kids, guys with a tremendous amount of character on this Vol team. There are great stories of perseverance, with guys like Kevin Simon, who's been able to overcome a succession of knee injuries to emerge as a team leader and an outstanding citizen. Then there's Jason Allen, who decided to put off NFL riches and come back for his senior year because he loves Big Orange Country so much. The worst part of the deplorable off-the-field incidents is that they overshadow the good stories and cast the whole team in a negative light.

In other words, the old adage stands that a few rotten apples can spoil the barrel. So it's high time for Coach Fulmer to separate the bad from the good. The only thing you can take from an elite Division One college player that truly matters is playing time. Everything else is window dressing. The punishments doled out to guys like Schaeffer and Smith—a summer suspension, some extra running—won't work. Like Brooks—who finally received his suspension—both Schaeffer and Smith should be held out for three games, at the very least. Keeping a player of Smith's ability off the field—especially on trips to Gainesville and LSU for contests to be televised on CBS sports—would get the point across. Some might argue that it would punish teammates and coaches by depriving them of a talented player in those games. But those are just the breaks of the game; the greater injustice would be to condone awful behavior with a weak response.

If this spring is any indication, the rest of the SEC had better beware. And so had entirety of the University of Tennessee's student population. With 11 off-the-field "mishaps" in a little over a year, the pre-season top-five Vols may achieve another, more dubious ranking as well.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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