Thursday, September 15, 2005 Updated: September 19, 11:48 AM ET
Why Stoops should start Peterson
By Skip Bayless Page 2
A confession: I bleed crimson.
I can't help it. I was born into the University of Oklahoma's football tradition. I grew up in Oklahoma City, and my grandfather took me to my first OU game when I was 5 years old.
I got to go that day only because none of my older cousins wanted to sit through yet another Sooners romp. The opponent, a Notre Dame team that had just lost at home to Navy, was almost a three-touchdown underdog in Norman.
That dark day, Notre Dame ended Bud Wilkinson's 47-game winning streak, 7-0. That record will never be broken, but my young heart was. Several shrinks have concluded that my traumatic OU baptism still triggers the opinions that enrage some readers.
Here I go again.
Oklahoma needs Adrian Peterson in order to win -- and isn't that what they're supposed to do?
Opinion: If Bob Stoops punishes Adrian Peterson for missing class by not starting him in Saturday's game at UCLA, I'll be even more disappointed in Stoops than I already am.
Stoops isn't the country's highest paid coach because of his team's academic achievements. No, Stoops makes upper-echelon NFL money because he has beaten Texas five straight times and finished the last five seasons by winning a Cotton and a Rose Bowl and playing for three national championships.
As an OU fan, I don't care if OU players are required to attend a single class, and I don't want my coach jeopardizing our chances to win because of a ridiculously strict new attendance requirement.
Confession No. 2: I graduated cum laude from Vanderbilt with a double major in English and history. But I wouldn't be upset if Vandy dropped football and basketball. I went there to get an education, and I'm proud to say I got a great one.
Why should I brag to friends that my school tries to recruit athletes who often choose Vanderbilt only for the opportunity to play in the SEC? Some of these athletes barely qualify as students, and many wouldn't have chosen Vanderbilt if not for full athletic scholarships.
It's called Vanderbilt University.
Yes, I'm mildly interested -- and, OK, a little proud -- that this year's Commodores opened with wins at Wake Forest and Arkansas. Thanks mostly to quarterback Jay Cutler, who could be a first-round pick, my school has a chance to go 6-5.
But I won't lose a second of sleep if they don't.
My Sooners are a different story. My God, they're in danger of going 6-5.
Many in my home state attach their self-images to the fame and fortunes of a college team that serves the purpose of the pro team they don't have. This started around 1946, when OU's Board of Regents decided to beef up the football program in response to John Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath," which inaccurately portrayed Oklahoma as one big, backward dust bowl. Oklahomans, the regents believed, needed something to be proud of.
Steinbeck later admitted his only firsthand knowledge of the state was driving through it once on the way from California to New York. Yet his book inspired many "Oranges of Wrath" -- many Orange Bowl visits for OU, and seven national championships, including the one Stoops won with the 2000 team.
Of course, Steinbeck's book also helped fuel scandal upon OU scandal, from Wilkinson's slush fund to what Barry Switzer called the "rapin', dopin' and shootin'" of players who hastened the fall of his chicken-fried Rome after three national titles.
Am I proud of the corruption? No -- though I shrug off some of the players' misbehavior as the predictable product of teenagers' being idolized as star gladiators. But I have no ivy-covered illusions about my Sooners. I don't need to cling to the Chip Hilton fantasy of student-athletes attending English and history classes on Friday and winning one for Dear Old U on Saturday.
No, I readily accept that many football players consider OU mostly a proving ground for the NFL. If they want to attend classes -- and want to excel academically -- that's great
as long as they excel on the field.
To me, they're little more than unpaid pro football players, and it's absurdly unrealistic to expect they can put in the necessary hours on the practice field and in the weight and treatment rooms and still attend every class.
Stoops is already under fire this season -- sitting Peterson won't help.
If you live and die with any of the traditional football powers, and you claim you do care that your players also are dedicated students, you're lying to me or yourself.
I'm offering up the raw truth here.
I'm stripping myself bare of any holier-than-thou sports columnist tendencies and publicly admitting I do root for one team and do not care if its Heisman Trophy candidate recently missed three classes. All that matters to me is that Adrian Peterson is as dedicated a football player, on the practice field and in the weight room, as has ever walked that campus. No Sooner has ever run with such consistent and relentless fury.
If Peterson hadn't turned an ankle, OU almost certainly would have avoided being upset (like my stomach) at home by TCU (which extended that Maalox Moment by losing to SMU the following Saturday). Without Peterson's 220 yards on 32 carries, Stoops would be on the talk-radio hot seat after being devastated at home by Tulsa -- which led 9-7 late in the third quarter.
And now Peterson has fallen victim to a new academic rule ramrodded by Stoops? Where does he think he's coaching, Vanderbilt?
Stoops encouraged the athletic department to decree that if an athlete misses three classes in one subject, he gets a warning. After one more missed class in any subject, he must miss two practices. And after one more missed class in any subject, he must miss a competition.
So one more miss this semester and Stoops' meal ticket misses a game. After Peterson was forced to miss practices on Monday and Tuesday, Stoops wasn't required to further punish him -- or even to announce that Peterson had been disciplined.
Yet Stoops told the media he's considering not starting Peterson at UCLA. So he unnecessarily humiliated his star to what -- motivate him? To defuse potential rumors about his absence from practice?
Or did Stoops seize this opportunity to show that his program is not turning into Switzer's?
In his Wednesday column, the Daily Oklahoman's Berry Tramel posed the polar-opposite question I'm asking. Tramel wondered if Stoops is getting too soft. Tramel basically concluded the answer is no.
But he weighed the evidence: Rhett Bomar, the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the country two years ago, cited for underage drinking the night before he was handed the starting job ahead of the Tulsa game star defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek being kicked off the team last year after an alcohol-fueled assault, then allowed back this season two offensive linemen quitting, then recently being allowed to return, then quitting again and whispers that many players yawned their way through offseason conditioning.
Enough of that stuff will eat away at a Top 10 program's foundation.
Yet Stoops' response has been to crack the class-attendance whip -- to cut off his upturned nose to spite his face.
He and Sooners officials defend their get-tough rules by saying Tennessee and Florida have adopted similar attendance policies. "In the end," Stoops said of his players, "they are here to go to school, and it should be our job as administrators and coaches that if they're not, we can't put [them] on the field."
Please, Bob, enough of the student-athlete hypocrisy. Your job is to win football games, period.
And Stoops mostly has done that. Some schools would give up spring break to have him as their coach.
But the man continues to shake my fickle faith in him because when his teams have been bad, they have been very, very bad. They've lost two games to archrival Oklahoma State, one in Norman and one blowout loss in Stillwater. What was being hailed in 2003 as Oklahoma's "greatest team ever" was annihilated by Kansas State 35-7 in the Big 12 title game, then stunk it up against LSU in the national championship game. And last January, USC's Pete Carroll and Norm Chow coached rings -- championship rings -- around Stoops and his staff in what turned out to be as big a big-game mismatch as college football has ever seen.
For me, USC 55, OU 19 was even more psychologically scarring than Notre Dame 7, OU 0. USC could have scored 100 if it had wanted.
Now this: The early line had Oklahoma favored by 7½ points at UCLA. Now the Sooners are a 6½-point underdog.
Now word out of Norman is that Stoops' staff is split over the offense being run by coordinator Chuck Long -- and that Stoops, a defensive coach, is getting more involved in the offense.
Call me a spoiled rotten OU fan. But the last thing Bob Stoops should be worrying about right now is whether Adrian Peterson attends class.
Skip Bayless can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show, and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column appears twice a week on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.