Football Scars: The door is always open at Coach Bowden’s Home for Wayward Boys

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by Chris Horne

UPDATE: University spokesman Wayne Hill, who has not yet responded to other questions we’ve asked about the elimination of the baseball team, sent an unsolicited email with the following statement late on Friday: “Tyreek Hill has never been admitted to The University of Akron and there is no pending application for his admission.” He has not yet responded to our question, sent five minutes after receiving his email, about whether Tyreek Hill has ever been offered a scholarship to the University of Akron or a spot on the football team. We’ll update if he ever answers.

 

President Scott Scarborough has said he thinks a head football coach should get five years to prove what he can do. Terry Bowden is heading into his fourth season with the Zips at a time when there’s increased scrutiny of the program’s safe passage—despite its $8 million annual cost and InfoCision Stadium’s empty seats—through a period akron-zips-2012-poster-scheduleof severe cuts at the university. While attendance numbers may not show it, the team has made significant improvements on the field, playing “Bowden Ball.” That’s no doubt due, in some part, to the former Auburn coach’s ability to recruit talented players, including a number of transfers from larger Division I schools.

He seems particularly good at recruiting players who have been kicked off their previous teams, which raises questions about the kind of publicity Scarborough deems worthy of the university when he says he regards the football program’s high cost as a necessary “marketing expense.”

Two of the new recruits come with significant, national headline-grabbing baggage: RB Tyreek Hill, who pleaded guilty to assaulting his pregnant girlfriend, and LB Brian Bell, who is targeted in a federal investigation around a controversial death in Georgia.

Hill has not officially been listed on the Zips roster but he’s tweeted—multiple times—about joining the Akron football team.

Bell, who is listed on the roster, was originally offered a scholarship to play at Florida State, where Bowden’s famous father, Bobby, set NCAA coaching records. The Seminoles retracted their offer after Bell was named in the wrongful death lawsuit, along with his father and brother, filed by the family of Kendrick Johnson, who was found dead in January 2013 inside a rolled up wrestling mat at his high school.

This is not to pass judgment on Bell, who may well be innocent, but Michael Moore, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, has been investigating the case for almost two years. Since federal officials have yet to make a determination regarding Bell’s involvement, you’d think Akron officials might be more cautious. Contrary to claims the ongoing investigation is merely for PR purposes, Moore’s office prosecutes serious cases, like drug rings tied to Mexican cartels, corporate hospital kickbacks, student aid fraud, corrupt law enforcement and illegal aliens working in massage parlors. Either way, it’s one thing to offer a second chance to someone who needs it and has earned it, but the legal process hasn’t played out, which makes the decision seem more about winning football games than giving Bell a hand up.

For Hill, the case is clearer. His pregnant girlfriend accused him of punching her in the face and stomach then choking her. Last week, he pleaded guilty to charges, receiving a deferred punishment and $1000 fine—a sentence dependent on him getting a full-time job or being enrolled in college classes. Again, the university hasn’t officially added him to the roster, but he seems convinced he’ll be playing in a Zips uniform after sitting out the requisite year for transfers.

A couple years ago, Demetrius Treadwell was suspended from Akron’s basketball team after being accused, but never charged by police, of punching a female athlete. He found his second chance playing ball in Europe.

Football supporters might point out that while at the University of North Alabama, Bowden took a chance on a troubled player from the University of Florida, Janoris Jenkins, who was kicked off the Gators after he was arrested three times in two years. He kept his nose clean and now plays for the St. Louis Rams. It’s a story with a happy ending.

Maybe that’s Bowden’s philosophy: Taking players in need of second chances. It would explain bringing in players who got in trouble at other universities, like Tra’von Chapman (assaulted girlfriend); Bryce Jones (undisclosed violation of team rules); Se’von Pittman (undisclosed “off-the-field issue”); Rodney Coe (multiple team infractions); and Jamal Marcus (academic issues).

Everyone deserves a second chance and no one should be rooting against these young men making the most of theirs. But being Second Chance U seems like an odd philosophy for such an extravagant marketing expense.

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