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Dorm Report: Off-field issues persist in college sports

May 14, 2014 at 7:40 AM   |   Comments

College football was hit yet again with an announcement of serious legal charges involving an athlete, this time against new Rutgers quarterback Philip Nelson, who was arrested over the weekend following an incident outside a Minnesota bar.

Nelson, 20, was involved in an altercation with Isaac Kolstad, 24, who was working as a bouncer at a bar in Mankato. According to police reports, Nelson was upset with Kolstad, who was allegedly flirting with Nelson's girlfriend.

After sifting through surveillance video, police determined Kolstad punched Nelson in the back, and out of nowhere an unidentified man reacted by striking Kolstad in the head, causing him to fall to the ground. Nelson then allegedly kicked Kolstad in the head at least once, and now Kolstad is in the hospital in critical condition with potential life-threatening injuries.

Nelson was arrested and charged earlier this week with first- and third-degree felony assault for the injuries he inflicted on Kolstad, who is in the hospital "fighting for his life," according to a CaringBridge.com post written by Kolstad's father.

Nelson had just transferred to Rutgers this past January after spending two years starting at quarterback at the University of Minnesota. He was scheduled to sit out this season, but still had two years of eligibility remaining.

Fortunately in this scenario, Rutgers didn't hesitate to dismiss Nelson from its football program before the Minnesota transfer even got a chance to step on the football field in New Jersey.

"The Rutgers football family's thoughts and prayers are with Isaac Kolstad and his family," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said in a statement.

Rutgers football has been in the spotlight before when it comes to legal issues. Rutgers safety Tejay Johnson eventually had charges dropped following a June 15, 2013 incident in which he and five other defendants were charged with robbery, aggravated assault and criminal restraint. He's still on the football roster.

Then, just seven months after former Rutgers men's basketball coach Mike Rice was fired for bullying his players, which led to a house cleaning among the athletic department staff, former defensive back Jevon Tyree filed a complaint with the university claiming defensive coordinator Dave Cohen bullied him. In a statement released by the university at the time of the incident (last November), Cohen apologized for his behavior and was "reprimanded" by Flood.

It's about time Rutgers did something sensible when it comes to dealing with legal matters. Dismissing Nelson from the football team obviously was the right thing to do, though it isn't out of the question for others to assume the university would do otherwise.

The thing about this incident is that it could get worse for Nelson, who posted $20,000 bail and was allowed to leave Blue Earth County Jail. If Kolstad's father's post is accurate, there's a chance this could end in the death of a person. Then it would intensify that much more for Nelson, who could be facing charges way worse than assault.

This incident is the latest in a seemingly increasing number of legal issues that NCAA athletes, not just in the football world, are facing.

Just a few weeks ago, Florida State Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and current baseball pitcher Jameis Winston was cited for shoplifting crab legs from a supermarket. The redshirt freshman signal caller was suspended from the baseball team until he completed 20 hours of mandatory community service. He was reinstated on May 4, just a short time after the suspension. There will be no repercussions on the football field, coach Jimbo Fisher said.

It's not Winston's first run-in with the law, either. He was able to avoid sexual assault charges last December, but went about the proceedings in such a nonchalant way that it irritated many across the nation.

It's almost laughable that Winston's father, Antonor, told USA Today he believes Florida State should employ a security guard to watch over his son 24/7.

Why are Jameis's actions Florida State's responsibility to maintain? Seems more like a sense of entitlement on Winston's part rather than FSU not being able to keeps tabs on one of its hundreds of student athletes.

There are dozens of underreported legal issues regarding student athletes each year, but not for someone like Winston, who is under a national microscope. For some reason, that concept seems to elude Winston.

What is it that makes college athletes - these kids, some of whom can't legally buy an alcoholic beverage - feel like they're above the law?

Perhaps it has to do with the way athletic departments go about the punishment process, or lack thereof. If getting arrested means a simple slap on the wrist in the form of a suspension rather than dismissal from the team (depending on the degree of the crime), that doesn't seem like much of a deterrent.

The NFL Draft was held this past week and a player like former Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby (who was in trouble with the law twice in the past year and was suspended by Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer for the first game of the 2013 season) was selected in the first round by the Denver Broncos. He'll make millions of dollars, even though his behavior was careless at best during his time in Columbus. If he can make it work, why should that stop others from following along the same path?

Rutgers was right to make an example of Nelson, especially because the outcome could become much more severe. For the sake of maintaining a clean image within a football program (or an athletic department in general), charges against student athletes should be taken far more seriously than they have been in the past.

[SportsNetwork.com]

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