SIDELINE SLANTS

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
When my agent, I.M. Slick, stopped by the other day, I was pretty sure he didn’t come by simply to wish me a happy New Year. I was right. He had a few choice observations to make about sportswriters, coaches and curfews.

Slick: Can you believe the mess K-State found itself in at the Fiesta Bowl?

Joe: That was unfortunate, all right.

Slick: I don’t know who I’m more upset with-the sportswriters or KSU coach Bill Snyder.

Joe: Huh?

Slick: The sportswriters took the affair, er, episode involving Ell Roberson and blew it out of proportion. That was unfair. I know plenty of sportswriters who don’t even know how to spell curfew. But if a college kid misses a curfew, they’re all over it.

Joe: So why are you unhappy with Snyder? Do you dislike the fact that he started Roberson?

Slick: Not really. And I’m not just upset with Snyder. I’m unhappy with all coaches who establish curfews and team rules. Why bother making rules? What’s the point? I know God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, but coaches aren’t God.

Instead of making rules, they should make suggestions, such as “Try to be in your room and asleep by midnight. Try to keep members of the opposite sex out of your room. Try to make it to the bus 15 minutes early.” Things like that.

Joe: What difference does that make?

Slick: Do I have to spell it out for you? It’s all a matter of perception. When a rule is broken, the coach has to deal with the potential fallout. In K-State’s case, Coach Snyder had to decide whether Roberson should miss all of the game, part of the game or none at all.

Look at the complexity of it all. Do you bench a key player in the biggest game of the year for missing a curfew? Will the rest of the team and the fans support you for standing up for a principle, or be upset because you hurt their chances of winning?

If a suggestion is broken, who cares? You can simply say that the player made an unfortunate choice. Then acknowledge that all of us make less than ideal decisions from time to time.

Joe: That doesn’t do much to instill team discipline. Do you remember about 25 years ago when Lou Holtz was still coaching at Arkansas?

The Razorbacks were underdogs to top-ranked Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, and Holtz suspended three starters for the game, appearing to sacrifice any possible chance of an upset. Arkansas went on to beat the Sooners.

Perhaps the team’s performance that night had something to do with the message they took from Holtz’s refusal to bend the rules just for the sake of wanting to win?

Slick: Listen, wise guy, discipline is overrated. Besides, I heard Roberson was going to be disciplined for the curfew violation after the game.

Joe: Oh, really? What kind of punishment can you dish out after the season? You can’t take away playing time. You can’t have a player run extra wind sprints. I don’t know if you can even ask a player to write, “I’m sorry I broke the team curfew” 500 times.

But, considering how much turmoil and negative publicity resulted, perhaps Roberson has suffered enough.

The fact remains, if he had abided by the curfew and taken a siesta, or more accurately, a good night’s sleep, the Fiesta Bowl would have been free of controversy.

Slick: And if there hadn’t been a curfew, no curfew would have been broken.

Joe: Thanks for sharing that inspiration.

Slick: I’m just doing the best I can.

Joe: Let me just make a wild guess. You aren’t big on curfews or deadlines.

Slick: Right.

Joe: Fine. Tell my editor that my next column will be a week late and see if I still get paid.

Slick: You mean he pays you for writing this drivel?

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