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A muddy football field at ETSU

Johnson City Press • Apr 6, 2018 at 8:15 AM

Many Buccaneer football fans were left shaking their heads this week when they learned exactly why East Tennessee State University had suspended new head coach Randy Sanders.

Sanders had not misappropriated funds — one ex-ETSU coach already is under indictment on such a charge. Sanders had not violated NCAA recruitment standards. Just ask Big Orange basketball fans what that can do to a program.

No inappropriate relationship was involved. No one was seriously injured.

No, Sanders smacked a player on the helmet.

But by reading ETSU’s news release on Monday, you’d never know that. The statement simply stated that it was a “potential violation of university policy.” As Press Sports Director Joe Avento stated in his column Wednesday, ETSU’s vague language inspired rampant speculation.

Not so long ago, such physical contact would have been considered merely part of an inherently rough-and-tumble game. In today’s overwrought world, though, it put the coach on the hot seat.

Smack dab in the middle of his first spring workouts, the brand new coach was benched while ETSU investigated.

Some might call his suspension an overreaction on ETSU’s part, though it’s easy to understand why administrators would err on the side of caution. No one thinks a coach should strike a player. Football head injuries are finally getting the scrutiny they deserve. Policies are in place for a reason.

ETSU had to take action, but did the offense really warrant an immediate suspension and a public mark on Sanders’ reputation?

One has to wonder why our society has become so reactionary, nervous and gooey that errors in judgment are immediately blown into the stratosphere. There has to be room for scale. Stern reprimands and apologies can go a long way.

In more reasoned times, ETSU might have fully investigated a “possible violation” — emphasis on the word “possible” — before going full bore. Facts first. Actions second. If the infraction proves serious, then take the serious step.

Perhaps everyone involved — ETSU’s leadership included — can take a step back and learn from the Sanders situation.

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