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Riley Riding Out The Suspension Controversy

Oregon St. coach Mike Riley has come under fire for his decision about when to suspend players. Has he put the team ahead of the individuals?
Oregon St. coach Mike Riley has come under fire for his decision about when to suspend players. Has he put the team ahead of the individuals?

Oregon St. head coach Mike Riley has come under considerable criticism this week for his announced plan to play DT Castro Masaniai and TE Connor Hamlett in the opener against Sacramento St.

With DT Kevin Frahm out with a knee injury for at least another week, and an even worse situation at the TE/H-Back position, where Joe Halahuni will miss 1 or 2 more games, and Tyler Perry (who eventually has a suspension of his own to serve) out until at least the UCLA game, Riley elected to not implement the suspensions Masaniai and Hamlett were assessed in the aftermath of a domestic dispute and an MIP party, respectively, citing the "best interests of the team".

DT Joe Lopez's weekend off has been deferred as well.

The decision has been widely criticized in the media, ranging from being blasted by the Oregonian's John Canzano, who used terms like ridiculous and absurd, to a less flamboyant, but equally critical opinion by the Corvallis Gazette-Times' Cliff Kirkpatrick. There were additional editorials in opposition as well.

Riley hasn't backed down in face of the fury, going on 1080 The Fan to explain his decision.

And to clarify, despite Canzano's statements to the contrary at various times, Riley hasn't rescinded any suspensions, and never said they would be served in the first game of the season. It was the media that assumed that they would be served against FCS opponent Sacramento St. in the opening game.

(John has never been constrained by facts, at least not by those not convenient to his position.)

Masaniai, Riley has said, will probably serve his suspension after the bye week. Whether that's the UCLA game, or any Pac-12 game, or the BYU game, is a decision and announcement Riley is reserving.

With only one other healthy TE, Colby Prince on the roster (freshman Kellen Clute was injured during camp), and backup tackle Grant Enger also working out as an emergency TE, Hamlett and Perry will probably miss different weeks, and certainly after Halahuni returns.

This was a no-win situation for Riley, who has previously been criticized by many of the same columnists and radio personalities who are playing the soft on justice card now, for not winning enough to take Oregon St. to the next level, one Oregon, that other school down the road who has won consecutive conference championships, seems to have gotten to.

If Riley sets enough players, be it due to injury or other reasons, that the Hornets hang with, or horror of horrors, upsets the Beavers, they will be back to blast him for that too.

And if he had set the suspended players down this week, the complaints would have cascaded in about administering suspensions against a "cupcake" FCS team.

It's not an Oregon St. issue either; recall the various rants many, and especially Canzano, had about Oregon coach Chip Kelly's various decisions about the variety of incidents he has dealt with.

But before Beaver Nation members enroll in the Canzano hate club populated by so many Duck fans, it's worth noting that Canzno has two distinct audiences he is appealing to.

One is made up of that group that revels in the sensational muck rucking Canzano specializes in, regardless of what the issue is, or who the target is.

The second group, one which Canzano also appears to be a card carrying member of, is interested in form over function, one that is at least as interested in someone being punished as they are with what happens in the future. They are convinced the problems will reoccur if punishment comes later.

The notion that missing a televised game, possibly also a conference game, might be a greater punishment that missing a "cupcake" game that nobody will see on tv, has been raised, but these groups don't seem to understand that. Perhaps that's a clue that confirms that they in fact, don't understand.

So don't blame John, when the culprits are those who enable and encourage him. (Just ignore him.)

Riley doesn't answer to the public, however. He's measured in wins and losses, and also in how the players he's charged with do later in life.

He answers to his team, and his team's family members. And to the rest of those in the program. And to the ticket holders, both the rank and file and those that pay for the luxury suites. And to the donors. And the advertisers.

(Same with Kelly down the road, by the way, for those, including Canzano, who have said Kelly must be fired for the Willy Lyles incident.)

Those folks vote with their dollars, and if they vote "no", Athletic Director Bob De Carolis will then (rightly) come calling. (Same with Oregon AD Rob Mullins down the road.)

Until then (and there's NO evidence to support the notion that then is now; season and other ticket sales are at or near all-time high levels), trust coaches to make this kind of decision as a tactical matter.

Riley has made mistakes before, he's admitted as much.

And nothing that happens now will change what happened outside the Corvallis McDonalds' last summer. Or at the party.

Members of his team don't appear to believe Riley has mis-handled this. Only time, and their actions, will reveal if that's really true. has stayed out of the fray on this one (until now), but the issue hasn't been ignored. (Full disclosure: we've been so busy with other coverage there hasn't been much time to set thoughts down in print.)

But it's also because the issue is complicated. The argument that it's too bad if the consequences hurt others is a lot easier to make as long as you aren't the one that has to face those others, and you and yours aren't amongst those suffering collateral damage.

Personally, I've never liked the one size fits all, black and white, x strikes and you're out approach to issues like this, be they down the road, down at LSU, or in the program I'm closest too.

Not that serious problems don't require a serious response, they do. But the circumstances always vary. Riley, like most decision makers in these matters, are paid a lot of money, not to make decisions, but to use some judgment in making those decisions. And then deal with the consequences of their decisions. Saying "policy says we have to do x" takes judgment out of the equation, and the decision maker off the hook. It's also politically correct speak for "cop out".

Riley himself has said he considers the reaction of the public and the media in making these kinds of decisions. He also notes he knows the principals involved better than most of the rest of the community. And that the player AND (my emphasis) the team is foremost in his thoughts on such matter.

Maybe that states the message that the player is not bigger than the team as well as anything.