Thursday, February 17, 2011

The last time Florida International University baseball slugger Garrett Wittels was in the news for his on-the-field activities was last June, with FIU's season concluding in the NCAA tournament and Wittels, then a sophomore, maintaining a 56-game hitting streak at season's end. Wittels's streak is two games short of the Division I collegiate record of 58, held by former Oklahoma State (and major-league) star Robin Ventura.

The 2011 college baseball season opens tomorrow, with FIU hosting Southeastern Louisiana in games Friday, Saturday, and Sunday that could be the ones in which Wittels inches up to, ties, and surpasses Ventura. Under ordinary circumstances, the FIU-SELU series would be not only an exciting and festive time, but also a suspenseful one, as baseball fans tuned in to broadcasts on the ESPN networks to see if Wittels could keep his streak going.

Wittels, however, was charged with rape back in December, stemming from a series of events during a holiday vacation he and some friends took to the Bahamas (see news reports here and here). With the preliminary hearing not scheduled until April 18 (where the nature of the evidence will become clearer and the judge will decide whether or not Wittels must stand trial), FIU faced a choice of whether to suspend him for some length of time.

On the one hand, Wittels has certainly not been found guilty of any crime at this point. On the other hand, Bahamas authorities determined there was enough initial cause to bring the charges, which at many universities is sufficient to warrant suspension of an athlete. As this Miami Herald article notes, “While some universities have strict codes that result in the automatic suspension of any athlete charged with a felony, others – such as FIU – do not.”

Referring to Ithaca College professor Steve Mosher, who studies sports ethics, the article continues: “Mosher and others wonder why FIU doesn’t follow the course set at some other universities by suspending the player, but allowing him to keep his scholarship, while the legal system plays out.” The article also quotes Mosher to the effect that a (hypothetical) suspension wouldn’t “put the hit streak in jeopardy because he’s not playing in the game.”

Against this backdrop, FIU's athletic director announced yesterday that Wittels would be allowed to play in this weekend's series. The website College Baseball Daily offers a few different opinions regarding FIU's decision, whereas two writers in the Miami area (where FIU is located) criticize the university (here and here).
I would say Professor Mosher best captures my own views. Allowing Wittels to remain on scholarship reflects the fact that he has not been found guilty of anything at this time, but a suspension would have set a tough standard for player conduct. Further, a suspension would not endanger the hitting streak, which Wittels could resume if exonerated.
I will report the results from this weekend's FIU games pertaining to the streak, but without any fanfare.

UPDATE: The charges against Wittels were dropped in June 2011.

1 comment:

Basil said...

Innocent until proven guilty. I think this is quite similar to the Cam Newton experience this year, EXCEPT that this was not a violent crime.