UNI coach Ben Jacobson is drawing heat from all sides today. The reason? Jordan Eglseder.
Eglseder is Northern Iowa's 7-foot center and second leading scorer. He's also, unfortunately, in some trouble. Mere hours after UNI's loss to Bradley Saturday, Eglseder was pulled over and charged with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. As punishment, Jacobson suspended Eglseder for ... three whole games. Harsh, dude. Harsh.
This rather lenient punishment happened for obvious reasons -- UNI can't afford to lose any more league games and stay on the right side of the bubble, and the Panthers desperately need Eglseder to make sure that doesn't happen. Losing Eglseder for the rest of the season or the NCAA tournament would be dire for UNI's chances to make waves in March.
Of course, that's also a somewhat cynical approach. From College Hoops Journal's Matt Norlander:
Eglseder is a key player for the Panthers. He accounts for more than 12 points and nearly eight rebounds per game. He’s a 7-foot lug in a conference and a sport that lacks them. Northern Iowa is on the bubble right now, and with another two losses, it would likely mutate from an at-large candidate to a sure-fire NIT squad. Making The Tournament would be an economic boost to the school. So with that in mind, it seems, at this hour, that head coach Ben Jacobson is content with the perception that he goes easy on his players when they break the law. Three games is weak, I don’t care how thin your bench is.
[...] That’s version 24 out of How to React to Controversy coach’s handbook, I believe. The games Eglseder is schedule to miss: Creighton, Old Dominion and Evansville. ODU is noteworthy because it’s the BracketBusters game. I wish Jacobson would send a message and pine the kid until the conference tournament at least. Creighton and Evansville would struggle to beat UNI this year even if the Panthers only played four guys.
Norlander isn't the only person making this case; Andy Katz's first tweet on the subject was met with the same reaction. Most people are comparing Elgseder's punishment to Brady Morningstar's, the Kansas guard who was arrested for a DUI in the fall and suspended for an entire semester. There are a couple of pertinent differences there -- Kansas is super-deep, the fall semester isn't nearly as crucial as UNI's stretch run and Morningstar had previously been involved in a fight on Kansas' campus between football players and the basketball team.
Still, the general concern is the same, and critics of Jacobson have a point here. Eglseder's punishment is lenient. It's driven less by educational concerns than by the desire to get a star player back on the court as quickly as possible. For all of college basketball's highfalutin rhetoric about student-athletes and academia, the core of the sport is no more noble than any other.