Houston coach Major Applewhite asked his star defensive lineman Ed Oliver to remove a heavy jacket reserved for active players during last night’s victory over Tulane. Oliver, who will be one of the top picks in the NFL Draft, was not playing for a fourth consecutive game. Fireworks ensued.
And tensions stayed hot.
ESPN, for its part, treated the sideline skirmish as a major incident, the coverage bordering on Baker Mayfield crotch-grab levels. Perhaps there’s a lesson there. Mayfield ended up going No. 1 overall and jumped right into the starting job without too many growing pains. In short, the whole thing blew right over.
Allow me to offer a scalding hot take to the masses. Perhaps this sideline incident doesn’t have to be the jumping-off point for a hot take. Perhaps it’s not the clearest evidence that college athletics are a joke or that Oliver has baggage. Perhaps both Applewhite and Oliver just had a disagreement over a stupid jacket, which of course is more than a jacket.
Oliver, though he’s not playing, wants to be part of the team. His coach understands that he can’t have one rule for great players and one rule for everyone else. The jacket is reserved for players who are playing. Oliver wasn’t. It’s as simple as that.
If you’re hung up on the relative ridiculousness of all this, think of how many symbolic incentives exist in the college game. Every program has their own. Wearing the jacket is important to Cougars players. Helmet stickers are important to Ohio State players. The Spartan Walk is important to Michigan State players.
It’s understandable that Applewhite would become the bad guy here but he was between a rock and a hard place. He can’t have the most famous guy on his team hanging around and undermining the rule of law — even if the law is a bit silly. After the game, he sounded like a person who wanted to smooth things over.
“He got emotional, but he’s young and that’s what happens,” Applewhite said after the game. “And he’s not playing. That’s hard. That’s difficult. I don’t hold anything against anyone. I’m just going to visit with him about it. I love him. I want him to be a part of our team. I want him to be with our team.”
Perhaps you would have handled things differently. Perhaps seeing Oliver run around pregame looking healthy, then stand in the sidelines doesn’t suggest he’s maximizing his health for pro prospects (which, of course, is fine and smart). But if it does, is Applewhite seriously supposed to just look the other way and elevate Oliver to the same level of players who are working hard to help the team on the field?
Anyway, I am sincerely hoping Jacketgate is a brief and uneventful controversy.