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Opinion: Bison, champions don’t cheat

Just in case nobody else says it, we’ll go ahead and say it here:

Shame on you Bison athletes who skipped out on community service.

Shame on you NDSU for the handling of this whole sorry episode.

That’s not the main point of this editorial, but before we get there, here’s a little background:

In last year’s election cycle, some members of the NDSU Bison football team were among those hired to gather petitions on signatures initiating new laws for North Dakota. One of them would have legalized medical marijuana. Another would have created a conservation trust fund.

The signatures turned out to be fraudulent. This kind of election fraud is punishable by a year in jail. Those accused pled guilty and were ordered to do community service.

Some of them didn’t. In other words, they escaped responsibility for their actions.

All of this raises some important questions.

First, is it appropriate to impose community service as punishment? Does that demean service? Does it devalue volunteerism.

Second, shouldn’t punishment fit the crime?

Third, shouldn’t punishment be a real deterrent.

These were not the case here. Clearly the appropriate punishment would have kept these athletes off the field.

That didn’t happen.

Were the stakes too high?

NDSU was preparing a run at a national championship when these crimes were discovered. With the guilty players on the field, the Bison won the title.

Is there something out of whack here?

How about paying for gathering petition signatures in the first place? Shouldn’t initiating a law require the commitment of volunteers who believe in the cause they’re advancing?

Initiative and referendum are entrenched in North Dakota’s political culture. The process has shaped the state’s history, sometimes in quite decisive and dramatic ways.

In this case, the actions of a few subverted the process — but the seeds of subversion are part of the process that permits pay for signatures.

By this point, plenty of Bison fans will be crying that we’re picking on their team and ignoring violations at UND, especially in the marquee sport, hockey. We expect that, and certainly UND’s athletic programs has its share of disciplinary issues.

A review with our sports staff turned up one recent case when a talented and entertaining hockey player was forced to sit out a national title run. In another instance, a player turned his life around, on his own testimony, because the coach punished his behavior. He’s now a respected NHL player. More recently, underage hockey players caught in a bar were suspended and faced legal penalties.

Of course, the fact that things haven’t gotten out of whack here doesn’t mean they can’t or they won’t.

It’s all in the balance.

That’s the important point.

What happened with the Bison football program should be a cautionary tale. Athletic programs can bring great credit and fame to an institution. They can also bring notoriety. What happened at NDSU is important, though it pales in comparison to some offenses elsewhere.

The important thing is that athletic ambitions can’t stand in the way of appropriate punishment for crimes committed.

Champions don’t cheat. – Grand Forks Herald