If you want to see what’s wrong with big-time college sports, cast your eyes toward Gainesville, Fla.
There you have a football player who has no interest in being in college, and a college that is keeping him around against all of its best interest.
All except one, of course: Winning football games.
Neither party wants to be in their current positions, but this is how the system operates. And it’s not going to change no matter how many joints Antonio Callaway smokes or how many do-gooders say he should be kicked out of school.
How do I know he doesn’t want to be in college?
Because most college students, when faced with the possibility of getting kicked out of school, do everything they can to avoid that solution.
Most college students who want a degree, that is.
But here we have a young man who apparently can’t help dancing on the edge of the cliff. Incident No. 1 came as a freshman in 2016, when Callaway was accused of sexual assault.
He was suspended for spring practice and eventually cleared in a UF code of conduct hearing. His defense:
“I was so stoned, I had no interest in having sex with anyone,” Callaway testified.
That’s more of a red flag than an exoneration. Incident No. 2 came in May when Callaway was busted for marijuana possession while riding in an SUV driven by a fellow named Kendrick Williams.
The 40-year-old Williams had been arrested more than a dozen times for things like grand theft, battery, cocaine possession and lewd and lascivious behavior with a child 12 to 16 years of age.
Callaway pled no contest to possession of drug paraphernalia. That stoked the summer of speculation whether he would be suspended for the Gators’ big season opener against Michigan.
That specific debate became moot recently when Callaway and six others were suspended for the opening game. They reportedly used funds from their scholarships to buy electronics, and then reported the cards had been stolen.
At least Callaway wasn’t buying pot. A lot of college students do that and nobody cares because they don’t represent their schools in front of millions of people on Saturday afternoons.
Callaway does, and it’s become painfully apparent he’d rather be hanging out with career criminals than physics professors.
The real reason he’s in college is to pursue a degree in football and get to the NFL. And his skills are such that Florida is willing to put up with his behavior — to a point.
We don’t know what that point is, though it presumably exists. After each offense, coach Jim McElwain has toddled out like a wind-up toy and said Callaway needs to start flying right or there will be repercussions.
And there have been. Missing spring practice last year was a big deal. At least you’d think it was big enough to make Callaway realize he shouldn’t keep pushing his student-code-of-conduct luck.
Fool us once with Kendrick Williams, shame on you. Fool us twice with a credit-card scam, shame on us.
There’s actually a carnival of shame with this situation, which is hardly unique to Florida. The only innocents would be fans who say, “I’m not going to withdraw all my support until my school stops bringing in students based primarily on their 40-yard-dash times.”
Like Callaway, McElwain is simply playing a role in the system. If he doesn’t recruit studs like Callaway, he’ll be out of a job.
So he manages to keep a straight face while saying the young man is learning life’s lessons and we should all be patient. At least until the Gators manage to find another big-play receiver.
Urban Meyer turned Gainesville into a sanctuary city for wayward young athletes. Some really did get the hang of college and become proud alums.
Others, like Janoris Jenkins, actually smoked one too many joint and got kicked out. He continued his pursuit of higher education at North Alabama, got drafted and signed a $62.5 million contract last year.
Jenkins would be the first to tell you he went to college because he had no choice. If Florida’s image took some mud on the way to his happy ending, that’s just the cost of doing business in the current system.
In keeping those duties, McElwain said Callaway is about out of second and third chances.
“I’ll continue to be there,” he said. “I’ll continue to support. But obviously the consequences, you make your own bed, man.”
Actually, a lot of people have made this bed.
As long as their teams win, they are happy to lie in it. Even if it means sharing the blanket with teenagers too stoned to even think about having sex.
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