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Photo: Pam Davis

Ryan Finley and the Scrutiny of the College Athlete

Going to college is a rite of passage experienced by millions of young adults each year. One of the thrills for these people is being away from home for the first time, enjoying a life of freedom and making choices on their own. One of these choices involves the past time of underage drinking.

Some of us made that choice to break the law and drink before turning 21. Some of us waited and some of us don’t drink at all. Readers of this might be faced with that decision within a few days, a few months, or even within a few years.

Of the many students that chose to partake in what can be considered a time-honored tradition, chances are you were at a party that was broken up by cops and you had one instinct: Run!

Boise State Broncos quarterback Ryan Finley faced this situation on a Friday night this past April and, according to reports, running was his instinct as well.

This news is well-known at this point but to recap: According to police reports, Finley is charged with being a minor in consumption or possession of an alcoholic beverage and resisting or obstructing police officers. Both charges are of the misdemeanor variety. Finley had a pre-trial conference scheduled for June 15th but that was moved to July 10th. [JasonAD]

Twenty years ago, this would have hardly qualified as national news, especially at a football program like Boise State’s. What has changed?

The 24-hour news cycle, along with the at-your-fingertips access of the internet, has given rise to college athletes at high profile universities (or top tier Group of Five schools, in this instance) being subject to a closer scrutiny. Where as the Miami Hurricanes student athletes of old ran amok of their school in the late 80’s/early 90’s, today’s athletes can barely get a speeding ticket without the entire sports world knowing about it.

The scrutiny can be traced back to one thing: the NCAA transforming into what is essentially a major corporation and brand in and of itself.

With so much money at stake in regards to television rights and bowl appearances, the college athlete, while still revered, is now held to a higher standard of conduct, especially at Boise State. Players such as Ryan Dinwiddie, Titus Young, Demarcus Lawrence, and Jay Ajayi all missed multiple games due to suspensions (both in house and legal violations) while others have been kicked out of the football program for good.

In today’s NCAA, with money flying in left and right, every little step and misstep of a college athlete is judged with the utmost scrutiny, especially when you’re the (potential) starting quarterback for a probable ranked team.

A normal, run-of-the-mill college student could make the same mistake as Finley, face the same charges, never face school sanctions, and given a pass under the guise of, “He’s just a college kid having some fun. That’s what college is about.”

Fans of Boise State, if judging by comment boards across the internet, are less willing to give that pass to Finley. As with other college athletes, judgment is immediately passed before all the facts come out. Innocent until proven guilty often doesn’t stand a chance in the public’s eyes, especially when it comes to the (possible) heir apparent to the Broncos string of successful quarterbacks.

This is not to say that Finley is innocent. Until that court date happens, we won’t see what possible ramifications it will have on the upcoming football season. Calling for suspension or dismissal from the team without the legal system playing out is simply jumping the gun, especially when it comes to a minor in consumption ticket. (Not that I am condoning or advocating the use of underage drinking.)

Yes, Finley allegedly broke the law. He was 20 years old and was illegally drinking alcohol. As a football player, he is held to a higher standard. As I stated, I am not endorsing underage drinking. The fact is that college kids, athletes or not, make mistakes. Before calling for a 4-game suspension or calling for Brett Rypien to start as a true freshman (another story in itself), fans should take a step back. Search back to those college years, whether it be past or present, and take a look at their life when they were 20. Some may find they made the same mistakes and were lucky enough to be given a second chance.

Finley, starting quarterback or not, will be called upon to be a leader of this team. Depending on the outcome of his case, Finley will most likely see some sort of punishment by the school. As a college athlete in today’s very public, very rich system, he must learn, grown, and move on from his very public mistake. It only takes one mistake to turn opinion around, good or bad, and here’s to hoping Finley returns to the field this fall with a good head on his shoulders, looking to prove the naysayers wrong.

I, for one, look forward to it.

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About Jason Haskins

Jason Haskins
Jason is a 2001 graduate of Boise State and has been an avid fan of Boise State Athletics since the late 90's. Originally from Spring Creek, NV, Jason grew up a fan of the Fred Gatlin era Nevada Wolf Pack, but immediately switched his allegiances while attending school at Boise State. He hasn't looked back since and remains a loyal supporter of Boise State. For more: jason-haskins.com

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