College student-athletes are asked for their signature, a signed contract. With that signature, they are provided a full scholarship to get a free education. All they must do in exchange is to play sports.
This is not about whether they should get paid for that participation. The rules are set up that the payment they receive is the free college education. Not all of us got that, and in fact, most of us had to pay out of our pocket, whether it was then or later, to get the degree.
This is instead about the frustration we feel when we see a college student-athlete squander the opportunity. How can someone throw it all away, when all they have to do is follow the rules, show up and play football?
On Friday, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson dismissed his star B-back Dedrick Mills, a sophomore from Waycross. It was the third strike for Mills, who had two suspensions last year for violations of the football team’s rules. The one that did him in was a violation of the athletics department’s rules.
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There are rules, you see, that must be followed for the student-athletes to get a free education. All schools ask is that they follow the rules. If they don’t, they are out. It’s that simple. And three chances are more than enough to give a young athlete a shot to get past any stupid mistakes.
That’s what is usually said when a student-athlete gets in trouble the first time. It was a stupid mistake. But when those stupid mistakes count up to three, they no longer deserve that free education.
Maybe this has struck a nerve because Mills is from my hometown, and to see a young athlete from where I grew up get an opportunity like that and then lose it is disappointing. Not all kids from Waycross get a chance to get a degree from Georgia Tech. Mills had that chance, and now it’s over.
It's also a shame that his departure could greatly impact Georgia Tech’s chances this year. It’s simplistic to say, “Next man up” in Johnson’s offense. But this was a running back who was so impressive 12 months ago that Johnson handed him a starting job. This was a kid who was so good his freshman season, in between his two suspensions, that he could have been one of Johnson’s best-ever running backs.
Johnson already must figure out who will play quarterback for him this month. Having Mills as the stable B-back gave him a bit of a cushion in case the new leader of his offense takes time to get settled in. Now, Johnson’s backfield is one big question mark with a need for new players to step up and perform.
Johnson said Friday that Mills is a good kid who just made some poor choices. Well, that’s good that he’s a good kid and I hope that’s true. The question is, however, why do these good kids make repeated poor choices? And in Mills’ case, why would he do something stupid, knowing one more strike would get him kicked out of Georgia Tech?
Mills won’t be the only one. There will be other student-athletes all over this country who will do something stupid or make poor choices and get kicked off college teams the next few months.
It’s simply a shame. It’s confusing that kids would waste a chance not all are lucky to receive. It’s a head-scratcher. Mills likely will get another chance. He’s talented, and teams will likely line up for a potential transfer. Maybe this will finally get his attention that to get that free education, all he must do is to follow the rules.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at email@example.com.