Fitting the Crime

By Beacon Staff

Montana State Athletic Director Peter Fields likely tensed up last month when some poor sap began another conversation, “Two football players were charged with …”

If he did, then his heart rate would have lessened considerably after being told it involved eggs and a police chase through the mayor’s house.

If you haven’t heard, it happened again. Football players at one of our two largest state universities were charged with crimes. Clay Bignell, 19, of Avon, Daniel Ogden, 18, of Kalispell, and three other incoming freshmen – two from Kalispell – are accused of egging homes in Bozeman.

While attempting to elude police, the young men crawled through a basement window into Bozeman Mayor Jeff Krauss’ house. The startled mayor awoke to the sounds of officers and college students scrambling in and out of his home and likely tensed up himself.

The culprits all face misdemeanor charges. It almost makes you chuckle. Boys being boys. Who hasn’t thrown an egg or two? Who hasn’t raised a little hell? Who doesn’t have a few back-in-the-day stories?

But as MSU and the University of Montana attempt to one-up each other by the size of their football teams’ respective rap sheets, screams of “not again” and “zero tolerance” soon surfaced.

Even some diehard Bobcat fans, exhausted from all the bad press, had no mercy. On the Internet message board, one poster suggested the school “make an example of these guys,” and another predicted “they’re good as gone.” Other comments were milder.

Newly minted head coach Rob Ash did what he should have by erring on the mild side as well. Bignell and Flathead High standout defensive lineman Ogden were ordered to knock on doors, apologize to all involved and received one year of probation.
Ash could have overreacted. Few would have criticized him for tossing the players off the team and saying in a self-righteous tone, “Things are going to be different around here.”

Different is good. Five former or current MSU football players have been arrested in connection with drugs or murder in the last year. The bad behavior cost Mike Kramer his head coaching job. At UM, disciplinary polices are also under heavy scrutiny after one of its football players was accused of murdering a man. A teammate who allegedly witnessed the crime wouldn’t cooperate with police and was booted off the squad for throwing a beer bottle at someone in downtown Missoula. Montanans are pining for change.

But change that neglects the fact that these eggers (and breaker and enterers) are incoming freshmen, months removed from high school; change that throws the gauntlet at stupidity is an overt overreaction.

That’s not an excuse, just an argument for sanity. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported that one of these students had connections to Krauss’ family – it wasn’t a random break-in. If school officials threw the book at every lawbreaking teenager who drank a beer, duct-taped a peer to a telephone pole or threw an egg, graduation rates would sink lower than they already have.

So boys, apologize and take your licks like men. Future classmates are sure to chide you for an infraction as immature as an egging expedition.

Our universities look battered and bruised as shackled Montana student athletes file through courtrooms accused of some very grown-up crimes. It’s a welcome respite to read about juvenile delinquents.

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