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Throwing Darren Carrington a lifeline destroys 'student-athlete' myth

Former Oregon wide receiver Darren Carrington cools down after practice with the Utah Utes in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 28, 2017.
Former Oregon wide receiver Darren Carrington cools down after practice with the Utah Utes in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 28, 2017.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Earlier this week the Pac-12 Conference made it official: wide receiver Darren Carrington is eligible to play football for the University of Utah immediately.

Wait, isn’t he the University of Oregon receiver who ruined Utah’s season a year ago by catching a touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone with two seconds left?

The very same.

Oregon dismissed him from the team three weeks ago after he was arrested for a DUII. Now he’s a Ute. One team’s castoff is another team’s hope, especially one that is trying to build a passing game that has been chronically ineffective.

College football coaches love to talk about giving “student-athletes” a “second chance,” and this is no different. Well, except this: It’s not a second chance; it’s more like a fourth chance.

Besides the DUII charge, Carrington has collected a list of off-field offenses. NBC Sports reported that he has previously been suspended for failing a drug test, and that he was cited for having an open container of alcohol. He also was accused of pushing a man to the ground and breaking his arm (it was reportedly a simple case of mistaken identity — he thought the man was someone else he “had an issue with;” in other words, he didn’t mean to beat up this man, he meant to beat up someone else!).

So the DUII arrest was one offense too many for Oregon’s new coach, Willie Taggart, and he gave Carrington the boot. That alone ought to tell you about the serious baggage this guy carries because college coaches overlook a lot of sins to have such players on their teams, especially one who is an NFL prospect and collected 1,919 receiving yards and 112 catches for Oregon.

Which is why, on the other end of matters, coaches all over the country are so willing to give players “second chances.” They would have you believe this is altruistic on their part, but of course it’s much more pragmatic than that. A couple of years ago, Alabama’s imperious coach, Nick Saban, went on a rant to justify the “second chances” he had offered so many players who had run afoul of the law. His reasoning was this: It’s better to keep them on the team than have them on the street.

No, seriously, he said this. He said this exactly: “Guy makes a mistake. Where do you want them to be? Want them to be in the street? Or do you want them to be here, graduating.”

Apparently, Saban is running a halfway house. The choice: Put them on the football team or they’ll cause trouble for law-abiding citizens. Talk about setting a low bar for recruits.

Saban once invited Jonathan Taylor to join his team shortly after Taylor was dismissed by Georgia’s football team following a domestic violence arrest. Saban said Taylor deserved a second chance. Oops, then Taylor was arrested again for domestic violence and assault three months later and even Saban couldn’t keep him. There are no shortage of similar stories at Alabama and nearly every big-time program.

Well, coaches have the right to do what they want with their teams, but throwing a lifeline to Carrington destroys a few myths that proponents of college athletics like to promote. Let’s start with the myth that these players are “student-athletes.”

The Utes’ invitation to Carrington is purely mercenary. He’ll come to Utah for a few months, polish his game and his reputation (maybe), and then leave and the Utes will never see him again. It has nothing to do with being a student. Carrington already has completed his degree anyway.

Then there’s the notion that players are on a short rope and expected to be disciplined enough to follow team rules, to say nothing of the law. They know they’ll get second, third and fourth chances, especially if they’ve got athletic credentials. There’s little incentive for them to clean up their acts.

And what about this notion that “student-athletes” represent the university. Marketing is a big justification for funding college sports. How does that work when the athletes are breaking the law?

Then there’s the matter of team chemistry. What does this do to the morale of players who have been working for months to earn their spot on the team — following rules, lifting weights, doing everything asked of them — and then a new guy shows up at camp and moves to the front of the line?

And, finally, what does this do to a school’s reputation in football circles if they are willing to be that team that will take anyone who falls in their laps?

The Utes have been down this road before. Dominique Hatfield, a trash-talking cornerback, had brushes with the law and the Utes always brought him back from suspension. After all that, they made him team captain as a senior last year. It never worked out. The Utes suspended him again for the bowl game last December. His teammate was Cory Butler-Byrd, who went postal on a police car. The Utes brought him back, too, after a brief suspension.

With the addition of Carrington, the Utes are now going down that road again.