Thoughts on Grothe's arrest and more
Lots of reaction already tonight to news this afternoon that quarterback Matt Grothe had been arrested last week on a misdemeanor charge of serving alcohol to an underage person. Given that Grothe himself is only 20, the most common first question I've encountered in the last 12 hours is "Why is the starting quarterback at a major college serving alcohol to anyone?" Lots of things to address here ...
-- (Just a mid-afternoon update) There's been some question on comments here and elsewhere -- I think a friend of Grothe's called 620 AM this morning as well -- about whether the use of the term "arrest" is accurate. Grothe was not taken away in handcuffs, booked into county jail and did not have bond set by a judge; with lesser charges such as the second-degree misdemeanor he's facing, an officer may choose to issue a "notice to appear" which carries the same charge and the same mandate to attend a required court date. I'll quote directly from the incident report filed on Grothe: "Agent Frank advised Grothe that he was under arrest and will be charged with the sale of alcohol to an underage person, which is a violation of F.S.S. 562.11." I also asked a state spokesperson Friday whether that was the correct language to use and she confirmed that he was arrested, and that a misdemeanor charge is different from a citation.
-- Just to brush up on state law, first: it's perfectly legal to work as a bartender in a licensed establishment once you're 18 (Grothe turned 20 in September). Surprises people, but it's true. And the fact that Grothe was working at the Bull RIng -- serving alcohol and taking tips at a place specifically catering to USF fans -- is not a violation of any NCAA regulations, though I can't imagine the higher-ups at USF are too happy about learning this.
-- A common response on the comments to the original news was that the 18-year-old "investigative aide" who bought the two Coronas from Grothe while working with officers with the state's Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco ... was some irresistably hot young woman. Not so: this was a male buying the beers, and how weak a defense is that, anyway? When you read the incident report, it's a pretty well-executed sting: The "IA" has his own, valid driver license, showing him to be 18, walks in, has the ID checked at the door, gets no wristband or handstamp or anything to identify his age, walks directly to the bar, orders two beers, is asked to pay $6 for them and does so. Nothing iffy there at all. Remember, this is an institutional crime, with penalties, fines and the potential to lose a liquor license, even though the person who hands over the alcohol is the one charged. That's something I've heard a lot today -- ultimately, the bartender has to know who he or she is serving, and the best way to do that is check ID. If that's supposed to be done at the door, it's either that nobody under 21 is getting in, or there's a stamp or band to identify age. You can argue the drinking age all you want, but it's not going to change the fact that a state law was broken.
-- It's an interesting thing in newspapers today, getting hold of a newsy story in the middle of the day. I knew about this around 2 p.m., and I'm faced with a choice: do I post what I have online, knowing I get it out there first but knowing I also tip other outlets off in time for the next day's paper? Or do I wait until after midnight to post, when other papers have gone to bed? It's kind of like Michigan rummy vs. gin rummy -- do you put down the cards as you get them, or wait until you can go out all at once? In the end, my editors made a wise call, waiting until after 5 p.m., when state offices would be closed and public records would be unavailable to anyone else until Monday, and published then. The Internet continues to change the strategy and philosophy of breaking news ...
-- Which leads me to the story's origins, on a site I'd never heard of until yesterday, usfbs.com. You need a USF or UT e-mail address to register for the site, so I can't vouch for much there, but it's apparently where this story started. I was at Disney with my family Thursday, didn't get back in until after 11 p.m. Thursday, so you can imagine my woe when I find a long-running thread on the message boards at thebullspen.com, pondering this tip about Grothe -- it was too late for me to do anything to verify or deny it. I've tried to be active on USF's message boards because it's a great place to exchange information, though there is the occasional wild-goose chase that comes from following tips. As much as USF fans are wishing this story had stayed unknown, secrecy is rarely a good thing.
-- I think we'll have more discussion in coming weeks about oversight at USF -- whose job is it to know where scholarship athletes are working in the off-season? The easy answer is each sport's head coach, but that wasn't the case with Jim Leavitt, who has more than 100 players to keep track of. He also has nine assistants, and administrators around him, all of whom could help in checking with athletes to make sure a job is appropriate and free from any appearance of impropriety. Tending bar -- even just a few times here and there -- at a watering hole for your school's fans isn't a choice any sensible administrator would sign off on. When the Bull Ring opened in Dec. 2005, the initial newspaper stories even stated that they planned to have USF athletes working there.
-- I'm not saying this scenario has happened at all, but I'll use it as something an athletic administration would just as soon avoid. Let's say an athlete is behind the bar, and fan orders two beers, pays with a $20, says keep the change. Seems benign enough, right, could just be a generous tipper? But what if it's $50, or $100? Where do you draw the comfort-level line? I don't know if the tips at Bull Ring were pooled or not, but you're combining (a) boosters and fans with (b) amateur athletes, (c) alcohol and (d) cash tips as a considerable part of take-home pay. It's almost completely unmonitorable -- not sure if that word exists, but it's not one a college athletic director probably likes.
-- I spoke with a spokesperson with the NCAA on Friday, and she said jobs with tips are especially delicate because the regulations state that an athlete must be paid commensurate to what the job is expected to pay. What that means is if there are two bartenders, and one's a football player and one isn't, and you, as a season ticket holder, are tipping a buck a beer to the other guy and $2 a pop to the player, it's an improper gift. It's that simple. Not sure how it's proven at the NCAA level, but that doesn't make it acceptable.
-- If there's one thing that this arrest echoed from the arrests last month of defensive backs Mike Jenkins and Carlton Williams, it's that all three involve good kids making bad decisions. The crimes themselves are relatively petty -- minor misdemeanors that, as first offenses, will likely turn into six months' probation and some community service. What they represent, however, from two of the most experienced defensive players and a young leader on offense, is poor judgment from someone who must be aware they're under a higher level of scrutiny because of their football celebrity. If it's Leavitt's decision, I don't believe any of the three will miss so much as a half against lowly Elon in September.
-- I'll move away from football for a sec -- Harry Elifson, well-liked as Jose Fernandez's right-hand man as associate women's basketball coach until a year ago, has interviewed for an opening at Miami, where Katie Meier is looking for another assistant. Elifson should know by next week, and if he can get the job, Meier's getting a proven recruiter who will help the 'Canes battle in the super-tough ACC.
I expect quite a lot of feedback and reaction the Grothe story, as the posts on the first story already show. I'll be helping out with our draft coverage all weekend -- I'll say late third round for Stephen Nicholas -- but should have time to check back in here and address some of the comments. Post them here or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org ... And by the way, this wasn't one of the three arrests I referenced a few days ago ...