On Monday, Southern Illinois announced junior guard Diamond Taylor had been suspended indefinitely after he was charged Saturday with driving under the influence. First-year SIU coach Barry Hinson released a statement expressing his dismay at Taylor's behavior, and challenging his guard to get on the straight and narrow:
"I'm extremely disappointed in Diamond," Hinson said. "We're in the business of educating student-athletes and teaching them how to conduct themselves on and off court, and this is a significant setback."
"The question now is how do we react?" Hinson continued. "I met with Diamond this morning and issued a challenge to him to become a first-class student and resident of Carbondale. How he responds will determine his status going forward."
Taylor started nine games last season, averaging 4.3 points, so he's not exactly a future star or cornerstone of the deep rebuilding process Hinson began when he took over for former coach Chris Lowery in March. But he is a player, and the Salukis need players, and it is hardly unprecedented for coaches to suspended -- but not dismiss -- players who make even serious mistakes like endangering others behind the wheel of a car. Typically, such decisions are decided by how the player reacts from that brush with the law, and how he improves himself going forward.
The only problem here? Taylor has a rather long and illustrious history of poor decisions.
Hinson also announced in early August that Taylor would face internal disciplinary measures due to pending charges for theft of a bicycle. In September of 2011, Taylor was suspended from the team due to a violation of team rules. He was arrested for possession of marijuana in April of 2011, according to Jackson County court records.
Taylor was also kicked off Wisconsin's basketball team after being arrested for burglary in September of 2009. He later transferred to Southern Illinois.
It never feels good to argue on behalf of dismissing a player. These are college kids, not professional athletes whom we expect to act professionally, and I'm always loathe to assume a kid can't change his ways when challenged to do better by mentors and coaches who mean it.
But Taylor's history suggests a continued and rather willful inability to change his ways. He was one of Chicago's top area recruits when he originally chose to attend Wisconsin, but was arrested for burglary in Madison. At Southern Illinois, he has been disciplined for possession of marijuana, an undisclosed violation of team rules, and -- this summer, in the course of Hinson's tenure -- alleged theft of a bicycle. We're past three strikes.
At this point, it seems the only reasonable course of action for Hinson would be to dismiss his player from the team. That's not fun, and I don't like to say so, but how many chances should Taylor receive? And why hasn't he been dismissed already?
Do Southern Illinois' Academic Progress Rate hold the key? In June, Hinson's inherited program barely escaped APR punishment with a multi-year APR score of 908, the lowest figure among Southern Illinois athletics programs, and just eight points above the NCAA's multi-year requirement of 900. The NCAA is phasing in a much-publicized four-year requirement of 900 and a two-year requirement of 930 for the 2012-13 season, the same rules under which Connecticut was banned from the postseason in the coming season. In 2013-14, a four-year average of 930 or above (or a two-year average of 940) is required.
In Jason King's feature for our academic package this summer, he spoke with Hinson, who has supported academic reform but criticized the NCAA's policy for making it difficult to dismiss players that misbehave outside of the classroom:
Hinson said the thing that bothers him about the APR the most is that it can influence the disciplinary tactics that coaches use to maintain integrity in their programs. For instance, if a player gets arrested for selling drugs or is involved in a violent crime, the program will take an APR hit if the coach kicks him off the team with a GPA below 2.6.
"You could literally have a kid that walked out on the street, beat someone to a pulp, have everyone witness it and everyone see it," Hinson said. "But you can't get rid of him without there being a penalty on your team.
"If I have a burr in my saddle right now about the APR, something I'm really upset about, that would be it. I feel like, in some ways, the APR has handcuffed some coaches who really want to do the right thing with their programs. Right now, it is not flexible enough to allow a head coach to make decisions that are very important to the integrity of the team.
"We've had several incidents where, in years past, I would've just said, 'Bye.' But because of the APR, we've kept the kids. I've been fortunate that in each one of those situations, we feel like we're making great strides with the individual players."
But Tom Weber, assistant athletic director of media services at Southern Illinois, dispelled any connection between Taylor's suspension and Southern Illinois's APR score Tuesday.
"I think it would be unfair here to link as to whether or not you suspend or dismiss someone to the APR score," Weber said. "Our APR score for the past season is already in the can, and we don't expect to have any problems going forward. Any player you'd dismiss at this time would not effect your score for 2013. ... We're going to post a very strong APR score next spring, and we do not expect to have any NCAA sanctions."
Weber declined to speak specifically about Taylor's situation but did say that Hinson told all his players they had a "clean slate" when he arrived this spring.
The explanation, then, may be as simple as Hinson's hope to give his player one last benefit of the doubt, one more chance before finally cutting him loose. The indefinite suspension, and Hinson's statement therein, make that much clear.
But Taylor's chances at redemption are rapidly running out.