Column: Texas’ latest punishments harsher than other Big 12 policies

Jori Epstein

Texas head coach Charlie Strong has vowed to “put the T back in Texas” — toughness, trust, togetherness and team, as he professed during Big 12 Media Days in Dallas. Under the subsection of “team,” he should have listed one more — team rules. Maybe if he had, members of Texas’ 2014 football roster would have remembered to comply. But from all we know about Strong’s policies, they knew what was expected.

Nonetheless, Strong had kicked off a reported six players by the end of July, including dominant 2013 running backs Jalen Overstreet and Joe Bergeron. Both were dismissed for unspecified violations of team rules. Neither dismissal was announced officially by the program. The weed-out process was overdue, said senior cornerback Quandre Diggs.

“I don’t sugarcoat anything — that’s just how I am; how I was born, how I was raised,” Diggs told ESPN. “I love the way they’re taking the approach of getting guys out of here that don’t belong.” 

For some players, Strong hasn’t had to make the decision — the law did it for him. Receivers Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander were arrested and charged with sexual assault July 24. Student Judicial Services is reviewing their case to assess grounds for expulsion. The day of their arrest, Strong issued a statement:

“It’s been made clear to everyone on our team that treating women with respect is one of our core values, and I’m extremely disappointed that two young men in our program have been accused of not doing that. With the recent charges against them, they have been suspended indefinitely from our football team and will no longer participate in any team functions.”

Many Big 12 schools have seen similar instances of misconduct this offseason, with TCU’s policy most similar to Texas’. When Devonte Fields, the Horned Frog defensive lineman who garnered Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors as a freshman in 2012, was accused of domestic violence against his girlfriend, Fields was separated from the school. The university made clear in a statement that it “does not tolerate harassment or misconduct by a student.” Like Texas, TCU also committed to proceed with university disciplinary action.

But head north of the Red River, and the rules change — or at least OU head coach Bob Stoopes thinks they do. The Sooners recently picked up Dorial Green-Beckham from Missouri, after two drug-related charges and allegations of burglary and domestic disturbance sent the wide receiver packing. Oklahoma grabbed the former top recruit in the country, who finished the 2013 season with 59 passes for 883 yard and 12 touchdowns, after his dismissal in April. Now, Oklahoma is appealing his eligibility to the NCAA.

“We felt the person that he is, the potential that he has as a young man and as an individual, that we felt the opportunity to give him a second chance at our place could serve him well,” Stoopes said at media days.

Other Big 12 offseason dismissals this year include Robbie Rhodes, who Baylor let go after multiple drug-related incidents and charges for tampering with physical evidence during a traffic stop. His father said “he was in agreement on sanctions that [Baylor] made with him, and he broke the agreement.” Bowling Green State University, unconcerned, accepted Rhodes as a transfer, though he’ll have to sit out 2014 before resuming three years of eligibility. Up in the Panhandle, Texas Tech freshman defensive back Nigel Bethel punched Lady Raiders basketball lead scorer Amber Battle in the face during a pickup game. Both Bethel and Battle, who admitted to initiating contact, were disciplined with suspensions for 25 percent of their respective seasons. Bethel will thus miss three games, while Battle sits out in November.

Misdemeanors aren’t distinct to Texas football — the conference is chock-full of misbehavers, testing the limits of how far they can go before facing consequences. For some, the field of misdemeanors is vast and unbridled. But Charlie Strong doesn’t man fields of that type. Come the Red River Rivalry, the ideologically different programs will match up. And hey, aren’t the good guys always supposed to win?