The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Speaking softly, but carrying a big stick

If you have ever seen Taylor Bon walking around campus he was probably on his way to one of three things: football workouts, class or rehabilitation for his torn ACL. He also was probably wearing something with an SMU Mustangs logo on it.

The 6- foot-5 SMU linebacker has spent the last three years bleeding red and blue on and off the football field. But on Feb. 10, Bon and eight other members of the team were given the shocking news that they would never play SMU football again.

Even when he was in high school, Bon had his heart set on SMU. He hardly even considered other universities.

“I came on an official visit and loved it. I liked the people, loved the program and knew we were going to win eventually.” Bon said. “I wanted to be a part of it.”

But football head coach June Jones is known for running a tight ship. While the rules are strict, they are straightforward. If a player wants to stay out of the coach’s doghouse and on the team, he has to obey Jones’s three-strikes policy: miss class, practice or a team meeting three times during a semester and serve a suspension. If the behavior persists for more than a semester, the player is gone.

It was this three strikes policy that resulted in numerous suspensions on the SMU football team last year, Jones’ first season at the helm. Fans and media assumed it was this policy that led to the nine players being released from the team on Tuesday, Feb. 10.

However, three of the released players said they never received three strikes. Another said that he did violate the policy, but he thought that Jones’ actions were too severe. When Jones called the players into his office to deliver the bad news, there was not much any of the players could say.

“I don’t think we said one word,” Bon said. “It was like someone knocked the air out of you.”

The removed players stand to lose their scholarships, a blow that could send them packing to another school. But they aren’t going without a fight. Redshirt freshman running back Ben Goldthorpe, redshirt sophomore linebacker Bon, and sophomore defensive ends Jordan Johnson and Anthony Sowe have decided to appeal the decision, claiming that Jones did not provide sufficient justification for their releases.

“I believe that I deserve a straightforward explanation on why,” Johnson said in a phone interview. “I just want to clear my name and finish school.”

“I did not do anything to warrant losing my scholarship at this fine university,” wrote Goldthorpe in an e-mail. He later said that he accumulated three strikes by missing a class, showing up late to a class and missing an academic meeting. But he said other players, who were not released by Jones, committed more serious violations.

“I know for a fact that many players on the team have more strikes than I have,” said Goldthorpe in a phone interview. “But since they’re [Jones’] recruits, he lets it fly. … It just goes right over his head.”

If Bon does not come out of his appeal on March 3 victorious, he plans on seeking an academic scholarship. If that fails, he’ll try other routes to remain a Mustang until he completes the 29 hours he needs to earn his degree.

“I plan to graduate SMU even if it takes getting a full-time job,” Bon said.

In fact, of the five players that The Daily Campus spoke to (Bon, Johnson, Goldthorpe, Sowe and junior linebacker Alex Odiari), none of them plan to transfer. Odiari is not appealing the decision.

Soon after the players were notified of their releases, Jones sent an e-mail statement to the media: “A few student-athletes failed to adhere to our department policies and/or team rules, and because of that, they are no longer part of our program.”

However, Jones acknowledged a week later at a Faculty Club luncheon that some of the players had not blatantly violated specific team policy.

“Usually 80, 85 or 90 percent of players have no objection [to the releases],” said Jones. “But there were two or three kids [that objected], and I shared with them that sometimes life isn’t fair. … I told them that you don’t have to agree with the decision, but life isn’t always fair.”

Bon was one of the players who received the “life isn’t fair” explanations. Like several others, Jones told Bon that he didn’t approve of his attitude, but Bon said that Jones didn’t cite any specifics.

“[Jones] just said that he didn’t feel like my attitude was ‘very conducive to the team,” said Bon, who has maintained a 3.25 cumulative grade point average in six completed semesters at SMU. “It seems very contradictory to what [Athletic Director Steve Orsini’s] No. 1 goal is, which is for us to graduate. Obviously, I’m on the right path,” Bon said.

In a phone interview, Jones said that grades had no bearing on his decision to remove any of the players. Rather, his resolution was made as a result of players missing class, practice, study sessions or having attitude problems on the field or in the locker room. He said that the problems varied with each player.

Phil Bennett, Jones’s predecessor, said he never had a problem with Bon, one of the players he knew well and is still in contact with.

“He’s an outstanding young man. A great student,” Bennett said.

Sowe is seeking outside help for his appeal today. Multiple faculty members are writing letters of recommendation him. Michele Houston, a senior lecturer and digital newsroom manager for the journalism department, is one of the professors.

“Anthony is a very good student,” Houston said. “He’s polite, he comes to class on time and he asks for help when he needs it.”

Houston believes that the university should help those who have lost their financial aid.

“They were given scholarships to play four years of football,” said Houston. “Not to win X amount of games.”

The appeals process

Each player and the athletic department will present their cases individually in front of a four-person committee composed of SMU staff, faculty and administrators. Marc Peterson, the director of financial aid and executive director of enrollment services, will also be at the hearings.

The player is required to provide the committee with a transcript of his argument 48 hours before the hearing. After the player finishes arguing his case, he leaves the room and the athletic department comes in and presents its evidence. Finally, the committee comes to a decision and notifies each party, both verbally and in writing.

Mary Beard, associate director of student employment and scholarships, said she hopes to hear all of the appeals before spring break. Sowe said that his appeal is today, and Bon is set to appear on Tuesday. Goldthorpe said he was told that his hearing likely will not occur until after spring break, and Johnson has not received a hearing date.

In determining the validity of Jones’ decision to release the four players in question, the appeals committee must decide how it interprets SMU’s athletic scholarship renewal policy, as it is stated in the student handbook:

Athletic grants-in-aid are given for a one-year period. They are renewable each year and generally are automatically renewed unless sufficient justification exists for non-renewal.

In Jones’s first few years at the University of Hawaii, where he coached for nearly a decade, he said he released as many as 20 or 30 players. He also explained that it is normal for programs to experience high player turnover rates when a new coach takes over.

“We’re doing what we have to do to put the best team out there,” Jones said after the Faculty Club luncheon. “Steve Orsini and I both encouraged them to appeal. I’m standing by the decision that I’ve made.”

SMU athletic department officials did not allow The Daily Campus to speak to Orsini, but he told the Dallas Morning News on Feb. 14 that he fully supports Jones’ decision.

“[Jones’s disciplinary policy] is a subjective thing, but we’re here to win athletic events,” Orsini said. “Some coaches need to have some enforcement and consequences if a player does not come and give us a championship effort or a championship attitude to help the team move forward in a positive way.”

Fear is the greatest motivation

Since Jones took over at SMU 13 months ago, he has sent his disciplinarian message loud and clear.

He benched then-starting quarterback Justin Willis before spring practice last year for a violation of team rules. Then, with two weeks left in a floundering season, he suspended the team’s top two offensive playmakers, wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Aldrick Robinson.

Former SMU punter/kicker Thomas Morstead said that Jones’ disciplinarian style was much needed, even though the results didn’t translate to the field in a disappointing 1-11 season.

“He doesn’t have bark, but he’s got a really big bite,” said Morstead, who is a prospect in this April’s NFL Draft.

Even the released players admitted a high degree of respect for their former coach.

“[Bennett] was more outspoken,” said Sowe. “June Jones is really quiet, but he gets his point across.”

“He’s trying to do whatever it takes to win,” said Odiari. “There are rules set, and if you violate them, there are going to be consequences.”

Jones said there would be no more cuts this semester, but next year he hopes and expects that he will have to dole out fewer consequences.

“It’s an honor to be on scholarship,” Jones said. “A person needs to be accountable.”

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