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July 15, 2008

House of Cards - Doesn’t crime-plus-sports usually equal winning?

U of L football has careened off its collision course. 

It doesn’t make sense. If the Pakistani Graduate Student Theory (details below) is correct, the Cards should be BCS perennials, not rebuilding. That players are getting shot and arrested is not really the problem. If the hypothesis is legit, Cardinal prospects for the upcoming season should be a lot higher because of — not despite — turmoil and team turnover.

Some perspective is in order.

Bill Olsen hired Howard Schnellenberger in ’85 to upgrade a program on life support. The football messiah soon pontificated — all together now — “We’re on a collision course with the national championship, the only variable is time.” The savior privately lamented that the squad he inherited had too many players who were “too nice.”

Schnell surely ascribed to the renegade axiom known as the Pakistani Graduate Student Theory. Simply stated: For a school to compete at the highest BCS levels, a certain number of its student football athletes must be willing to beat up a foreign-exchange student simply because he or she is walking across campus in foreign garb. 

Yes, it’s bracing. Truth makes even hardcore fans cringe. But check the police logs in Tuscaloosa, Lincoln, Tallahassee, Norman, Baton Rouge. 

Since Schnell’s proclamation, the Cards have, except for the Ron Cooper era, clawed up the totem pole of tradition. Along the way, there have been as many criminal-court arraignments as Top-25 appearances. It comes with the territory.

Schnell had four guys busted for shoplifting at Shillito’s, a gentle start. Another trio of pigskinners, according to their lawyer, “were always getting in fights.” Mark Sanders was stabbed not long before the Fiesta Bowl win over Alabama. Superstar linebacker Carlos Bean had a monster breakout game at Cardinal Stadium. That night he was busted for assaulting a woman. He never even lettered.

John L. Smith repeatedly forgave Jonta’ Woodard, despite a criminal record that included a felony drug charge. An observer familiar with that affair compliments Smith for saving Woodard from a life of gangbanging in Los Angeles. Fans were less forgiving during a severely disappointing season. Woodard’s teammates played soft in protest of Smith’s perceived double standard.

The company line now lists Bobby Petrino as scapegoat du jour. He’s the guy who recruited bad apples. Players like Rod Council, who was arrested for armed robbery in North Carolina in February. An insider with knowledge of that incident advises that Council claims he needed ransom money to free a younger sister kidnapped by a rival gang. 

The stories are many and manifest. Eleven-time loser Willie Williams was arrested for pot. Chris Vaughn and Scott Long were busted for shooting a coed on campus with a paintball gun. JaJuan Spillman, following his wayward brother’s lead to infamy, found himself arrested for the second time in 18 months and dismissed from the team a few weeks back. 

Most recently, 20-year-old Trent Guy — not to be grouped with the aforementioned bad dudes — was shot in the back behind Club Villa Fontana at 2:30 a.m. Guy got into an altercation at the club two Saturdays ago when another man laid his hands on Guy’s fiancée, according to the police report. They took it outside. Shots were fired. U of L advises that four teammates, who the school won’t identify, were with him. 

“Coach (Steve Kragthorpe) is aware of the situation and will deal with them individually,” says Rocco Gasparro, team spokesman.

OK, college kids smoke pot. They hang in bars until the wee hours. Footballers are no different. The gun thing, assaults — now those are bothersome. But here’s what vexes football philosophers, those believers in the Pakistani Graduate Student Theory: If U of L has mean guys who will pop somebody if they feel “disrespected,” guys packing heat, looking for trouble, how come the Cards were so bad last season? Why are predictions for the upcoming campaign so dire?

Several insiders were asked for perspective. They spoke on condition of anonymity. 

One former player, shaking his head, called the current situation “disappointing,” sarcastically adding “it must be Petrino’s fault.” “Kragthorpe is hands-off. He’s treating them like pros or something. They’re not responding.”

Another mentioned a “disconnect” between the players and head coach, offering that the team “would find a way around the (recently imposed) curfew and ban on going to bars.”

Here’s a suggestion: Send an assistant to recruit Pakistan.