Criticism of the Florida football team's long arrest list under coach Urban Meyer hardly is much ado about nothing. Even though many of the alleged offenses were minor and some of the chargers were dropped, 24 is far too high a number for the last four years.
Here's the thing, though. If the Gators stay off the police blotter for the rest of June and July, there will be no ado about anything negative when preseason drills start in August.
We're in the dog days of summer, when all bad news gets dissected, discussed and displayed ad nauseum, but UF's arrest record still has not become a national story. A couple of in-state columnists decried the problem to largely deaf ears other than rival fans, who have ripped the Gators on message boards the same way Florida fans have lambasted FSU, Miami and Tennessee when their players got in trouble in the past.
The reality is simple. Florida is not perceived as an outlaw program and Meyer is not perceived as a coach who has lost control of his players. Unless something dramatically bad happens to change that perception, Meyer and the Gators will take few publicity hits as they try to win another national championship this season.
It's not like Florida is the only team to rack up arrests and avoid intense scrutiny. According to the Gainesville Sun, a whopping 30 Georgia players have been arrested since Meyer joined the SEC. Bulldogs coach Mark Richt, usually written up as one of the good guys in the business, almost never gets criticized for having a lack of control.
Meyer's job policing his players is tougher than Richt's in one sense because he has to combat a huge sense of entitlement. When players win two national championships in three years, as Florida's seniors and redshirt juniors have done, some of them believe they are immune to the law. It's an arrogance that springs from early success.
All credit to Miami coach Randy Shannon for reducing his players' arrest total to a measly two over the last five years, but it is no coincidence that Miami's and FSU's (13) arrest totals have shrunk at the same time their number of victories have dropped. When they were winning big, their players behaved worse.
Meyer could have set a better example by being tougher on his most egregious offenders.
Former UF wide receiver Kenneth Tookes was a terrific guy, but he deserved much more than a one-game suspension when he carelessly fired a bullet into an occupied student apartment. His mistake could have killed someone.
The message his light punishment sent to less savory players on the team was simple: I can do anything I want and not have to face serious consequences. They were wrong, but with a longer suspension for Tookes, maybe some of these guys would have thought longer and harder before making a decision that got them in trouble.
Ronnie Wilson should have been kicked off the team for good after firing a semiautomatic in the air to scare some guys with whom he had argued earlier. Second chances usually are warranted, but not for something that irresponsible. If his one-year suspension had become permanent, UF's arrest total would at least be 22 instead of 24 and maybe lower if it had shocked some of his teammates into behaving better.
If Meyer learns from his mistakes, Florida's arrest totals will go down, freeing us to talk about more arresting topics. To wit: while the great discipline debate raged on in the slow summer news cycle, Phil Steele's College Preview Magazine selected five Gators as first-time All-Americans – quarterback Tim Tebow, kick returner Brandon James, linebacker Brandon Spikes, defensive end Carlos Dunlap and cornerback Joe Haden.
Wow. Haden is very good, but I'd say he is the second-best cornerback on his own team behind Janoris Jenkins. Steele considers him one of the two best cornerbacks in the nation.
Dunlap has tremendous potential, but is he really ready to be the best end in college football?
It is interesting stuff. Instead, the posters debate whether or not unknown walk-on Marquis Hannah's arrest for felony burglary (the case ultimately was dismissed) is relevant.
Two months from now, the storylines will change. They will be all about Tim Tebow pursuing Archie Griffin's record of two Heisman Trophies and Florida's quest to become the first team to win the BCS national championship three times in four years.
Meyer needs to get a handle on his players' arrest rates because it's the right thing to do. Nationally, he's already won the PR battle.