Posted by Adam Jacobi
What do the words "zero tolerance" mean to you? A simple, straight interpretation of the term would mean that there are certain things that are beyond the pale of acceptable behavior, and violation of that rule would necessitate exclusion from whatever group set the rule -- in this case, a football team.
Oh, but Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio operates on a different level than you, and don't ever forget that, because A) he used a fake field goal to survive a heart attack and that is completely ballin' out of control; B) his handling of star cornerback Chris L. Rucker defies normal logic and he doesn't care. Back when Rucker and a good fraction of the Michigan State football team was involved in a gigantic fight with an academic fraternity (yes, they exist, and they're more prevalent than you think), Dantonio made a public statement about a "zero tolerance" policy toward the players implicated in the fight and his decision to grant eligibility to most of them. Rucker was one of those players.
Thus, one would this that Rucker was being held to the strictest of standards on and off the field. And yet, Rucker was arrested just this past week for OWI and thrown in jail for violation of probation after Rucker copped to a reckless driving charge. So, zero tolerance means Rucker's definitely off the Michigan State team, right? Oh wait:
Michigan State defensive back Chris L. Rucker was reinstated after serving eight days in jail following a drunken-driving arrest.
Coach Mark Dantonio said it would be Rucker's decision whether he travels with the team when the No. 5 Spartans play Saturday at No. 18 Iowa.
Mr. Dantonio? Some explanation?
“Our decision to immediately reinstate [Rucker] has been endorsed by the team's unity council and the program at-large,” Dantonio said in a statement. “This was a difficult decision. After much soul searching and dialogue with those who are vested in the program, I am comfortable and confident in the decision I have made.”
Well, wow. The excuse of "'zero tolerance' doesn't mean automatic dismissal," as Dantonio put it , doesn't hold an ounce of water, and it seems pretty clear that Dantonio knows that ... except Dantonio doesn't have a reason to care, and the fact that he won't be called out en masse about this decision only reinforces that point. If Dantonio can wrangle a logical justification to get Rucker on the field, he probably will, and it'll be less disadvantageous to Dantonio's job than if he leaves Rucker languishing on the bench.
That said, it's important to point out that there's a mountain of difference between Dantonio's description of Rucker's status (ssss) and outright reinstatement to the starting lineup. If a coach tells the press that something is "up to" a certain player, that statement is absolutely loaded with hidden meaning and conditions. What's up to Rucker? Does he have to give up alcohol forever? Is there an obligation he has to fulfill to the football team? There must be something of great merit that Rucker has to accomplish that'll let the cornerback stay on the Michigan State football team even after he serves 8 days of jail time as a punishment for violation of his probation.
But Dantonio seems to be okay with allowing whatever condition must exist be played out immediately, and if there's any reason why Rucker can't play at Iowa , it seems to be kept secret at this point. PRO TIP: if reasons why a star player wouldn't be able to play in an upcoming game aren't made public in any respect, they probably don't exist, and that player will play immediately. Absent any new information, that's what we should expect here.