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Old 11-03-09, 11:23 AM
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Florida’s punishment of Spikes doesn’t fit crime

Florida’s punishment of Spikes doesn’t fit crime
By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports Nov 2, 2:56 pm EST


Eye-gouging is considered such a foul, filthy act that it’s banned by even our most blatantly combative exercises, including mixed martial arts and pro wrestling.

Sheriff Urban Meyer of the Gainesville PD isn’t as concerned, apparently.

Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes was caught on film purposefully jamming his fingers through the facemask of Georgia running back Washaun Ealey on Saturday in an effort to rip at Ealey’s eyes.

It was about as ugly and unbecoming of a play as there is in football.

For the act, Meyer will bench his star linebacker for the first half of the Gators’ game against Vanderbilt.

Repeat: one half. That penalty isn’t a joke, although the man dishing it out is acting like one.

There is almost no excuse for Spikes’ conduct. None. It was a dirty play and one with serious ramifications. There’s a reason violently poking your fingers at someone’s eye is a zero tolerance offense. The other guy can go blind. He has no ability to protect himself.

Football is an emotional, violent pursuit and acts like this happen more than the camera catches. “I don’t think that we did anything in that game that they didn’t do,” quarterback Tim Tebow told reporters.

That’s the excuse of a child though. The other-guy-does-it-too is never a justifiable defense. It wouldn’t even matter if Ealey had provoked him (the two had been jawing prior to the incident).

Spikes is the one who got caught.

Meyer ought to be man enough to know this, which is why his decision to dole out such a light punishment is more pathetic than Spikes’ original sin.

UF athletic director Jeremy Foley or SEC commissioner Mike Slive should’ve stepped in and issued a real suspension.

“I don’t condone that,” Meyer told reporters Monday of Spikes’ play.

Gee, really, you don’t condone it?

“We’re going to suspend Brandon for the first half of the Vanderbilt game,” Meyer said. “I talked to him, that’s not who he is. I love Brandon Spikes, the team does. We’re going to move on. He has our full support.”

Florida is begging for an adult to lead them. Meyer isn’t it when it comes to player conduct. He may be a heck of a football coach, great recruiter, perhaps even devout family man and charitable person.

It doesn’t change the fact this was a craven decision.

This is a sport, unfortunately, where you don’t need to run a program the right way to earn massive fame, fortune and support though. A large proportion of Gator fans wouldn’t care if Ealey’s eye had been damaged. It’s like that with every college team.

For too many fans it’s just about winning games. They’ll pretend Meyer is doing it the right way whether he is or not. They’ll justify Spikes’ act and the light penalty somehow.

Meyer and Foley know that. They know football runs the school and, as such, no one who runs the school will mess with football. So they’ll do as they wish and pretend it’s no big deal.

The fans will cheer anyway. The checks will clear regardless. Spikes may even have another 10-tackle, pick-six afternoon like he did against Georgia.

There ought to be more though. Dirty plays are dirty plays. Meyer may be correct that this act isn’t who Spikes is. Fine. No one is saying he’s a monster. Sitting him for a couple of games isn’t disproportionate punishment though.

A lesson needs to be taught. A standard should be upheld. Some discipline has to be displayed – both to those inside and outside the program.

The University of Florida should care about more than the pursuit of a glass football trophy.

This is about winning games by any means necessary, it’s about justifying and enabling out-of-control play, it’s about brushing off concerns about the safety of opposing players.

The timing is interesting that on the same day UF was giving a wrist slap for an eye gouge, Oregon was set to reinstate running back LeGarrette Blount for his sucker punch of a Boise State player and attempted charge at fans back in September.

It took less than 24 hours for Oregon to suspend Blount for the entire season back then.

“There is no place on the field of play for that kind of action, and his conduct was reprehensible,” school president Richard Lariviere said in a statement. “We do not and will not tolerate the actions that were taken by our player. Oregon’s loyal fans expect and deserve better.”

The initial punishment was too severe – you always want to allow for a player to rectify his mistake. Allowing Blount to work his way back to the team through contrition, sacrifice and action was the proper idea. In the end, the running back will have sat seven games.

It’s difficult to argue that Oregon didn’t act decisively and then properly.

Florida just acted in its best football interests. One of its team captains went after an opposing player with the dirtiest of plays.

He’ll sit out a half.

It’s all about blind ambition in Gainesville.
Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist.

http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/footbal...=lgns&expire=1
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