A little more than two weeks ago, when MSU head coach Mark Dantonio suspended senior cornerback Chris L. Rucker for being charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated, or OWI, I had an immediate gut reaction: It was nice watching you in a Spartan uniform, Chris, good luck at the next level.
It was the second time Rucker found himself in trouble with the law in less than a year after he was involved with an altercation last November at Rather Hall.
Rucker was put on probation for that incident, and part of the probation stated that Rucker was not to buy, consume or be in the possession of alcohol. Ignoring that, Rucker went out after a big win against Michigan, drank enough to put him over the legal limit, got in a car and eventually got caught for doing so.
So why should I have sympathy for Rucker, who already had been given a second chance by Dantonio, for doing something so stupid? I thought Rucker should be kicked off the team immediately. Forget about suspensions, you’re done wearing that MSU jersey.
Fortunately, Dantonio is a bit more rational than myself.
Rucker went on to serve eight days of a 10-day jail sentence for various reasons, not for the OWI which was reduced to a reckless driving, but for the violation of his probation. After Rucker was released Thursday, Dantonio also announced that Rucker was reinstated to the team, giving him the option of whether or not he will travel and play with the team this Saturday against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.
With almost three weeks to think about what happened and how it should be handled, I formed a new opinion for what Dantonio should do. And with his announcement Thursday, I found Dantonio to be half right in his decision.
Rucker’s reinstatement to the team is absolutely the correct choice. It will be viewed by many as Dantonio, who has said he has zero tolerance for second offenses, going back on his previous statements.
But he knows more than any member of the media or fans ever will about the situation. He evaluated Rucker as a person, not just as a player who broke a rule.
There shouldn’t be cut-and-dry protocol for every time something such as this occurs. Like Dantonio said in a statement Thursday night, he must look at situations such as Rucker’s on a case-by-case basis.
The decision Rucker made the night of the U-M win was a bad one, no doubt about it. He put his coaches and teammates in a tough situation and forced Dantonio to make a very tough decision.
But was it enough to take away his last five games as a senior at MSU and possibly create more trouble for him? I don’t think so.
Which brings me to the part of Dantonio’s decision I have to question.
Allowing Rucker to again be a part of the team was correct, but he should not be playing Saturday — two days after being released from jail. It hasn’t been decided yet if he will play or even travel to Iowa, but Dantonio said it will be Rucker’s choice.
Put yourself in Rucker’s shoes. You haven’t played the game you love in two weeks for a team that is undefeated and now ranked No. 5 in the country.
I for one know exactly what I would be doing this Saturday. I’m going to be on the field, dressed and ready to play in what is the biggest game for Spartan football in the last 20 years.
But Rucker shouldn’t be anywhere near the field at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday. Rucker let down his teammates by forcing Dantonio to suspend his best defensive back in the middle of what is turning out to be a very special season, and although he has served a two-game suspension and jail time, letting him play this weekend would be wrong.
Would it be acceptable for a coach to allow a player to take the field after skipping a week of class? No. So why would it be OK for a coach to put a guy on the field after spending the entire week and a few extra days in jail?
Dantonio said the players wanted Rucker back on the team, but he should be the only one to determine if Rucker plays. I’m sure Dantonio has a reason for taking this approach, and maybe if he explained it to me, I would agree.
Right now, though, it sure doesn’t seem right.
If Rucker never saw the field the rest of this season, I wouldn’t complain. If he gets in against Minnesota in two weeks, I wouldn’t have a problem with that either.
But playing him Saturday would be the wrong call for a coach who has made so many good ones this season.
Jeremy Warnemuende is a State News sports reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To see more reaction to Rucker’s reinstatement, check out the MSU Football Blog.