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Harty: Dantonio’s decision to reinstate Rucker a horrible one

[ 17 ] October 29, 2010 |

The decision by Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio to reinstate troubled defensive back Chris L. Rucker in time for Saturday’s game against Iowa is a sorry example of what can happen when so much is at stake in big-time athletics.

Michigan State will put its undefeated record and its No. 5 national ranking on the line when it faces what should be an ornery Iowa team at Kinnick Stadium.

There already were enough intriguing storylines associated with the game, but now there is a disturbing one to add to the list.

No matter how Dantonio tries to spin it or justify his decision to reinstate a player on the very same day that player was released from jail after serving eight days for violating his probation, there is no justification for it. It’s a horrible decision any way you slice it.

Dantonio issued a statement that in part said Rucker didn’t deserve a lifetime banishment and that zero tolerance doesn’t mean an automatic dismissal.

Apparently, under Dantonio’s watch, it doesn’t even mean a week-long suspension.

Rucker is lucky that he doesn’t play for former Iowa men’s basketball coach Todd Lickliter and he could ask former Hawkeye guard Anthony Tucker to explain why.

But in fairness to Lickliter, it’s hard to poke fun at somebody who demanded that his players show good citizenship and then held them accountable if they didn’t.

It’s also hard to understand Dantonio’s decision without thinking that he is so caught up in the moment that he sacrificed his integrity and now looks like a coach that wants to win at any cost.

I believe in second chances, and sometimes even third chances depending on the circumstances.

But I will be disappointed in Dantonio if Rucker is allowed to play so soon after being released from jail.

It would be acceptable to have Rucker return at some point this season, but not during the same week in which he was released from jail.

Makes you wonder if Dantonio would’ve made the same decision if hapless Minnesota or injury-riddled Purdue was up next on Michigan State’s schedule instead of Iowa.

Of the four teams still left on Michigan State’s schedule, Iowa is without question the best among them followed by a mediocre Penn State squad, a Purdue team that Ohio State crushed 49-0 last Saturday and a Minnesota team that could be headed for a 1-11 record.

It’s no surprise that Dantonio’s decision also was endorsed by the team’s unity council. Rucker is a talented member of the Michigan State secondary and his teammates know how important he could be in slowing down Iowa’s two-headed receiving monster of Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe Dantonio wants to give Rucker a chance to redeem himself, considering Rucker is the player McNutt beat on his game-winning touchdown pass last season.

What’s even more disappointing is that Dantonio said it will be Rucker’s decision as to whether he travels with the team to Iowa City.

So let’s get this straight; Dantonio has put the decision in the hands of somebody who is not only a senior, but also decided to drive while over the legal limit and while already on probation for a previous offense.

For those not aware of Rucker’s situation, he has been a key player for the Spartans, but also was one of 15 Michigan State players at the scene of a dorm altercation last November. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery and received 12 months probation. Part of his probation meant that Rucker, 22, was prohibited from buying, owning or drinking alcohol.

Rucker didn’t learn his lesson because approximately three weeks ago he was arrested at 2:19 a.m. and charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated. As Mitch Albom from the Detroit Free-Press wrote, drinking alcohol would have been bad enough. Getting behind the wheel was reprehensible.

Dantonio had become a sentimental favorite with how he overcame a mild heart attack following his team’s Sept. 18th victory over Notre Dame. The team rallied in his absence and showed just how sturdy the foundation is at Michigan State under Dantonio’s watch.

But now we’re reminded that nobody is perfect, especially when a chance to be perfect is on the line.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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