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November 21, 2010

Bielema And Honor

Wisconsin beat Michigan Saturday because Wisconsin is a better team - much better. Bret Bielema has done an extremely impressive job maintaining and building his program. So I don't want it to come off as sour grapes when I say this: Bielema is morally unfit to coach college football.

I don't say that lightly. I question coaches who wink and nod at shady recruiting, or let players go straight from prison to the practice field. Bielema, though, does something that falls into a different category - he countenances the deliberate injuring of opposing players.

Bielema boasted after the game of having ordered one of his players to commit an illegal chop block against Mike Martin. A chop block is an illegal and very dangerous maneuver, whereby a blocker is engaging a defender high and then a second blocker hits the same defender low. The physics of the play are such that defenders are very likely to suffer a serious knee injury - the leg is firmly planted in the ground and then hit from the side where it has no support.

Here is how an approving Dennis Dodd reported this:

After the game Saturday, Bielema said his offensive line -- which grinds opposing defenses into dust by pulling its guards and ramming them into linebackers downfield -- was prevented from pulling by Michigan. He used the word "tactics," which is coaching code for "holding," to describe what Michigan's defensive line was doing.

"But we rectified the situation," Bielema said.

When asked how, Bielema recalled a chop-block penalty that went against his team -- and took a touchdown off the scoreboard -- in the second quarter. Wisconsin lost seven points but delivered a message.


Whatever the merits of Bielema's complaint - and holding in a football game is hardly a shock - the notion that the answer is to deliberately injure an opposing player is simply grotesque.

This is not an isolated incident. In 2006, Bielema's squard came to Michigan and lost its only game of the year. During one play, Badger defensive back James Kamoku found Steve Breaston lying on the ground after a punt return. Komuku, thinking he was at the bottom of the pile and could act without consequence, viciously wrenched the prone Breaston's knee after the play. It was an act that had nothing to do with football and had no purpose other than to injury an opponent, perhaps very seriously.

When Ohio State linebacker Robert Reynolds attempted to injure a helpless player in 2003, Jim Tressel suspended him for a game and said the assault was "totally unacceptable and has no place in intercollegiate athletics." You can argue he was too lenient, but he did at least take some action.

Bielema, when informed of Kamoku's play, took no action whatsoever. Either he decided to send the message that such behavior should go unpunished, or he actually teaches it.

Football is a dangerous game for tough guys who understand the risk of injury. But what keeps it from being a brutal and indefensible gladiatorial exhibition is a code of honor among players and coaches. The violence that exists must only be part of the game. You hit in order to win, you do not hit in order to inflict long-term harm or to deprive your opponent and his family of a future livelihood. If you can't abide this code of honor, you have no place on football. Bret Bielema has no place teaching football to young men.


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