Let me preface this by saying that I'm currently operating under the assumption that Weslye Saunders will be reinstated and, if all goes well with the pending NCAA issues, back in time for the opener against the Southern Miss. Golden Ealges. That's the report that seems to be out there right now, that Steve Spurrier and the coaching staff are willing to forego dismissing Saunders after Saunders lied to the coaches about why he was late to a recent practice, claiming that he was meeting with NCAA investigators. It's worth noting that I may be wrong in my assumptions. A lot could change over the next few days: we could learn that there were mitigating circumstances prompting Spurrier to forgive Saunders's indiscretions, or Spurrier could choose to dismiss him after all. Because things could change, you should read the following discussion keeping in mind that we shouldn't be too hasty to judge anyone for the time being.
The question this situation poses to me, if we've got the facts right, is whether or not Saunders deserves to retain his place on the team. His choice to use the NCAA investigation as the basis for lying to the coaching staff is a little startling. It's not only that he lied to coaches, although, considering that most coaches don't put up with lying, that's pretty bad in itself. It's also that this is a guy who has been suspended multiple times in the past, is notorious around the program for not always putting forth effort, never seems to be far from Spurrier's doghouse, and is at the center of a distracting NCAA investigation. At this point, you'd think he'd be on his best behavior. If he's not all in now, after having been given so many extra chances, one has to wonder if he'll ever be. I would think that for many coaches, all of this would be enough to consider giving Saunders the boot. Certainly, Spurrier's reputation for not putting up with this kind of behavior is going to take a major hit tor this one. One can just imagine what rival fans will say; if Saunders were to make a big catch to give us a victory over the Georgia Bulldogs, can't you imagine the UGA fans sounding a lot like we sounded after Jarvis Moss gave Florida a win over us back in 2006?
If you think that it's best for us to leave well enough alone and forget about Saunders's indiscretions because of what he provides on the field, it's worth considering the cost Saunders's services may be causing us at this point. Mr. SEC's John Pennington sums up some of the most worrisome aspects of this scenario as it now stands:
* A couple of weeks ago, Spurrier said that discipline on his team had improved going into Year Six. He said that in the past he’d had a hard time getting players to show up on time for team funcions. Perhaps the fact that Saunders — a talented player who has yet to live up to his hype — remains on the team despite numerous issues explains part of the problem in Columbia. This isn’t Saunders’ first time missing or being late for team functions. Yet he remains on Spurrier’s squad.
* It’s interesting that quarterback Stephen Garcia has been publicly criticized by Spurrier all offseason… while Spurrier has gone into very few details regarding Saunders’ multiple suspensions, the NCAA investigation surrounding him, or his living arrangements at the Whitney Hotel. In fact, he bristled yesterday when asked for more information. It would seem that Garcia’s recent issues lie with decision-making in the pocket and off-field study habits. Saunders has broken team rules, (apparently) lied to coaches, and drawn NCAA scrutiny. I would think Saunders would have been the coach’s whipping boy in the press, not the guy who threw 10 picks in 432 attempts last season.
* Coaches don’t like being lied to. Lying to a coach is akin to saying the magic word to basketball official. It often leads to ejection. Example: Zach Mettenberger — it is believed by those in Athens — would have survived his misdemeanor sexual battery charges had he not lied to Mark Richt when the coach asked him what happened on the night he was arrested. If it’s true that Saunders lied to his coaches and survived, that’s an interesting precedent to set.
I find the points about team discipline and the precendent Spurrier is setting here to be especially significant. How can our coaches be in a position to demand discipline if they won't give a meaningful punishment to Saunders for what he's done?
The counterargument here is that maybe we're making a mountain out of a molehill. After all, even if Saunders hasn't always been the first-there-last-to-leave type and seems a little self-centered, he's not a criminal. I've compared his case to Jarvis Moss, and Pennington compared it to that of Zach Mettenberger, but the level of the offense isn't exactly equal. While there's a slippery-slope dimension to that sort of thinking, it is worth keeping in mind. Early-twenty-somethings will make mistakes, and Saunders mistakes aren't at all of the gravest sort.
I'll admit that I'm a bit torn on this issue, and that being the case, I'm willing to trust to our coaches' judgment. But that doesn't change the fact that this incident is very worrisome to me--for a program that seems in constant need of that little extra bit of motivation to get over the hump, maybe a little bit stronger discipline would be a good thing. I'm eager to hear what the rest of you think.