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Common sense first, football second

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The truth is, there are consequences for actions.

For you, me, everybody we know. We know it even when we try to rationalize a troubling situation or talk our way out of one.

And now Lehigh junior football player Ryan Spadola has to live with a harsh lesson.

Nobody should be shocked the NCAA FCS Championship Committee has suspended him for Saturday's national quarterfinal at North Dakota State for retweeting on Twitter a friend's slang racial epithet to describe Towson team members last Friday before the Mountain Hawks won their playoff game at Towson a day later.

The suspension has lit a mini firestorm. Emails are coming in and the internet chat rooms are buzzing, saying Spadola and Lehigh have been wronged by the one-game suspension and asking what can be done to reverse it.

Lehigh All-America wide receiver Ryan Spadola is suspended for Saturday's FCS playoff game at North Dakota State.
All to keep the All-America wide receiver eligible for a playoff game. Really?

Sure, the timing is bad - Lehigh has had an outstanding season in winning the Patriot League championship and going 11-1 - because it's win or go home on Saturday.

But the timing is irrelevant. The issue is the Twitter exchange, not that it's playoff season.

Lehigh chose to address the situation publicly only after it won its game at Towson. Head coach Andy Coen began his post-game news conference by addressing Spadola's lack of judgment. A day later, Lehigh posted a statement by Coen on its athletic web site, with him saying about Spadola that "when he reused the words, he made them his." Spadola also has apologized to coaches and teammates and the university imposed an obligation to conduct a series of campus discussions around the topics of derogatory racial language and its impact.

By all accounts, Spadola, a junior wide receiver, is a terrific person and a superb student. We already know he's a terrific football player, having caught 96 passes for 1,614 yards and 11 touchdowns this season after making The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS All-America third team as a sophomore last year.

But the lesson come first, football second.

Perhaps Lehigh should have held Spadola out of the Towson game for a quarter, a half, maybe the entire game.

Even then, it doesn't necessarily mean that is enough. Lehigh is an NCAA member and Spadola is an NCAA athlete. The NCAA has the authority to impose a penalty - despite what some Mountain Hawks fans are saying in their reaction.

"The suspension delivers a clear message that this is not acceptable behavior within college athletics," Lehigh director of athletics Joe Sterrett has since agreed in a statement released Thursday.

If anything, the team and university should rally together and not let this divide them. Spadola has taken necessary steps to ask for forgiveness and he deserves it. Now his team can go out and try to get him back in the lineup a week from now.

We live in highly sensitive times and know right from wrong. How we carry ourselves in the social media realm should be no different from our everday speech.

Common sense wins out. Winning a game is secondary.

Sacks or scores, contact Craig Haley at
chaley@sportsnetwork.com.


Follow Craig Haley on Twitter and Facebook.

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