Remember the "Catholics versus Convicts" days of the Notre Dame-Miami rivalry? Fighting Irish radio analyst Allen Pinkett has apparently decided to pursue the "if you can't beat em, join em" philosophy, saying that Notre Dame needs "a few bad citizens":
“I’ve always felt like, to have a successful team, you’ve got to have a few bad citizens on the team,” Pinkett told The Score (670-AM) on Wednesday. “I mean, that’s how Ohio State used to win all the time. They would have two or three guys that were criminals. That just adds to the chemistry of the team. I think Notre Dame is growing because maybe they have some guys that are doing something worthy of a suspension, which creates edge on the football team. You can’t have a football team full of choir boys. You get your butt kicked if you have a team full of choir boys. You’ve got to have a little bit of edge, but the coach has to be the dictator and ultimate ruler.”
Look, overall, Pinkett's point isn't completely off-base. Many of the people kicking up a fuss about Notre Dame's players' recent run-ins with the law (which include quarterback Tommy Rees resisting arrest and getting pepper-sprayed, linebacker Carlo Calabrese getting arrested during that incident, and the suspensions of starting RB Cierre Wood and backup defensive end Justin Utupo) are making much ado about nothing. Every college program inevitably has athletes who have run-ins with the law or team rules, and these incidents are pretty minor in the grand scheme of things.
In fact, there's a case to be made that head coach Brian Kelly's suspensions of Rees and Calabrese (for Friday's opener in Ireland against Navy) and Utupo and Wood (for two games each) are too harsh. Notre Dame isn't somehow magicially above that (and they never really have been, at least not in the last half-century), which made even the "Catholics versus Convicts" setup a bit of a misnomer. Miami's players were never all bad and Notre Dame's players were never all good, and Pinkett's very right that you're not likely to win anything if you get rid of every player who's ever had any incidents with the law or has ever violated team rules.
With that said, though, Pinkett chose a horrible way to make that point. Saying that Ohio State used to win with "criminals" which "adds to the chemistry of the team," really isn't the greatest philosophy in the world. Moreover, you don't necessarily need "a few bad citizens" to win, and a team full of upstanding citizens isn't necessarily inferior. Pinkett's inferring a relationship between criminal behaviour and football skill, and that's not a fair conclusion to jump to.
CBS and Sports Illustrated tried to draw similar lines last year with an investigative report on criminal records in college football, but it was pretty easy to poke holes in that. There proved to be pretty much no relationship between teams' rap sheets and how they fared on the field. Only 7% of players on 2011 Top 25 preseason teams were charged with or cited with a crime, there was no comparison with the college population as a whole, and it's only slightly ahead of the 6.9% of the American population that has a criminal record. Moreover, only 40% of the incidents covered in the CBS/SI investigation were serious crimes, meaning that many others were for things as minor as public intoxication.
Thus, the relationship between criminal records and college football success is anything but clear or linear. Rather than lobbying for Notre Dame to bring in more "bad citizens" and proclaiming that you need criminals to win, Pinkett would be better served discussing the specific cases of the players involved and if Kelly's actions to suspend them were appropriate. Instead, he tried to make a larger point and did so in the worst possible fashion, embarassing himself in the process.
(via Chicago Sun-Times)