Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Hasta Ra Vista, Rance

UPDATE--- I am now officially sick to death and/or bored stiff by the Favre/Packers douchebaggery. I will ignore/refuse to opine on all such non-football related "news" regarding this "story" until Favre is traded or the team formally announces that he will not be traded. Or until ESPN headquarters is hit by a decent-sized meteor. Expect no commentary on recent "developments" like McCarthy and Favre having an unexpectedly lengthy "meeting" (oooo, the drama!) and the team hiring former Bush II obfuscator Ari Fleischer to a temporary PR consulting contract (cue palm smacking forehead noise). I am done with this non-football melodrama balogna.

So getting back to the non-football melodrama in Madison, shoe-stealing, girlfriend-assaulting UW running back Lance "Rance" Smith (nee Smith-Williams) has been dismissed from the football team, will leave UW-Madison and apparently enroll elsewhere. As readers of this blog and followers of UW football know, Rance was suspended for the team's road games last season after getting into a violent public altercation with his then girlfriend, also a UW student, about a year ago. Although the suspension was surely very frustrating for Rance, he got a good deal from the Dane County justice system, being placed in the DA's first offender program, which lets first-time offenders avoid jail time and any criminal record by completing a year's worth of counseling, reporting and community service. Coach Bielema also went to bat for Rance, lobbying the chancellor to reduce the suspension, arguing that Smith was contrite and had learned from the incident.

Then, this spring, with a pending overflow in the offensive backfield, UW offensive coordinator Paul Chryst went to great lengths to ensure that Rance (a rising true junior) would see the field this upcoming season. Coach Chryst essentially created a unique H-back type position for specifically for Smith, where he would line up in the backfield and in the slot and go in motion frequently, in effort to take advantage of his excellent speed and receiving skills.

But Rance betrayed this trust and blew these opportunities. As previously mentioned, he failed to comply with the first offender program, was kicked out of it, and will be sentenced for assault in ten days. He'll likely see some jail time, as the DA's office made it sound as if it had evidence of Rance continuing to have, umm, "inappropriate contact" with the victim/his ex-girlfriend. Not good. For a guy who has no academic eligibility problems, Smith is easily smart enough to have behaved and complied with the program. Unfortunately, this disappointment reflects his record on the field where Lance was a perpetual tease-- loads of speed, shiftiness and potential, but not enough consistency, toughness and follow through.

Some might ask-- how could it come to this? Did the coaches know he was flubbing the program? Was there anyone on the UW Athletic department who should have been on his case? As UW football beat writer Jeff Potrykus makes clear in the comments to this post on the Journal Sentinel's Badger blog, people at UW (including Bielema) knew that Smith in trouble with the program before the news broke, and no, it does not appear that Rance had a designated baby-sitter. He was expected to take care of his own business, like any other adult. A noble sentiment, I think-- personal responsibility. It's not something we always see a lot of in high-profile college athletics.

What remains interesting about this situation is that Bielema continues to put his neck out for Rance, apparently calling program after program, trying to find a good home for him as a transfer. Bielema-- "I know in the last 96 hours, I've probably placed as many phone calls as I ever have in my life." That's a sharp contrast to the personal responsibility approach the coaching staff seemed to show in regard to Lance's participation in the first-offender program. Personally, I think it's admirable that BB is trying to help Smith now, even after Smith has let him down repeatedly. But if I was in BB's position, I think I'd let Lance find his own way this time.

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