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Published July 26 2009

Forum editorial: Spotlight on Bison is brighter

A cynic in the Forum newsroom said last week that the sports pages of late have read like the crime beat. He was talking about the recent brushes with the law by North Dakota State University Bison football players. Well, more than brushes, to be honest.

Several players have been cited for offenses ranging from driving while under the influence to drug trafficking. All are serious, some more than others. None should be excused as youthful indiscretion.

To his credit, coach Craig Bohl has not made excuses for his players’ behavior. He’s given none of them a pass. In broadcast interviews he’s been visibly upset and disappointed with them. In articles in The Forum he’s been consistent in his quick and appropriate responses to the situations. In most cases, he’s either suspended players or separated them from the team.

Nonetheless, there are a few unreconstructed Bison football boosters who are peddling the line that “boys will be boys,” and therefore harsh penalties were unwarranted.

That sort of nonsense might have won the day when the team was a relatively obscure Division II powerhouse, but times have changed.

As Bohl and other NDSU athletic officials have noted, the university’s ascension to Division I carried with it higher visibility and a new level of responsibility. The spotlight is brighter. The rewards are bigger. The image damage from player misconduct off the field is more significant than it was a decade ago.

Like it or not, football players in a high-profile Division I program attain star status. Indeed, many of them seek it. When they do their thing on the field, accolades are loud and long, as they should be. By contrast, when they engage in illegal activities off the field, they make a different kind of news.

To be fair, for every player who gets crossways with the law, there are a dozen model student athletes who don’t. But as Bohl has emphasized repeatedly to his players and to Bison fans, football is a team sport; the conduct of one team member reflects on all the others.

A coach can’t be held responsible for every mistake or bad choice a player makes. But a coach can create a no-tolerance climate for players who get themselves into trouble and embarrass the team and the university. Bohl has done exactly that. No matter how impressive their athletic skills, the privileged young players who don’t get his message don’t deserve to be on the team.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.