Friday, February 17, 2006

Hiben thinkin' | by Jay

Freshman tight end Joey Hiben quit the team a couple days ago, preferring to focus on his architecture major rather than play football. It's good for Joey that he's zeroing in on what he wants to do with his life -- after all, what's college for if not discerning your future direction. Architecture, with its heavy workload, third year abroad, and five-year commitment, is a difficult route for an athlete at Notre Dame, and not too many football players have ever pursued the major. (BGI documents a few cases here.) So good on Joey for figuring out his priorities.

That said, his absence will hurt the depth at tight end. Hiben was slated #3 after John Carlson and Marcus Freeman, but knowing how often this team likes its tight ends, Joey was going to see the field a bunch this year. Konrad Reuland, tighten your chinstrap. (Will Yeatman, line two.)

But go back and re-read the first linked article above, and tell me if you understand this response from Charlie in the SBT this morning:

"Here's the problem I have,'' Weis said. "When a kid wants to leave the football program, I have no problem with that if that's what they so choose. But when the implication is that Notre Dame football would not allow him to pursue his academic dreams, I think that sends a very bad message.

"Just basically, this kid is saying he's choosing architecture over football because he had to make a choice, and that's not the case. He wanted to make that choice. He didn't have to make that choice. There's a big difference between the two.''

"I think it's very important for anyone, for the next architecture major out there that I'm talking to in recruiting, to understand that this kid leaving the program had nothing to do with him not being able to get a degree in architecture and play football. It had absolutely nothing to do with it," Weis said.

"It had to do with the fact that he didn't want to play football anymore. And there's a big difference between what he said to you and what the truth really is. I'm not putting the kid under the bus because I wish him well. He's a good kid. This is not an adversarial relationship. It was a very cordial relationship. I just think it came down to he just didn't want to play football anymore...

"What I basically was saying to him was that I'd be totally supportive of his academic interests and make the architecture major go for him no matter what, by allowing him his third year to go to Rome, which I thought was above and beyond the call of duty for me to do that," Weis said. "It was addressed both before he came here and it was addressed after he brought it up again, and with academic support people in hand. It wasn't like a closed door, me just saying it to him. I made sure that he heard it reiterated that this would go. That's what really has us all bothered. We're so pro-academics."
I scoured the earlier article, and all I could find in the way of inflammtory rhetoric that would touch off Charlie's litany was this one line:
"What it really comes down to," Hiben said, "is architecture is more important than football to me."
Seems pretty innocuous. Is that a kid being forced to choose by his football coach? Or a kid simply weighing his time commitments and making a choice? Nowhere was Joey pointing the finger at Charlie. (For his part, Hiben has a clarification in today's article: "I don't blame coach Weis. I don't blame anyone," said Hiben. "I hope it's clear it was my choice.")

Charlie's response puzzles me, and seems a little overkill. Perhaps it's just Charlie zealously guarding against any inference that he put an ultimatum to Hiben. The clear message in the response is that academics + football works at ND, and since that's one of our chief appeals to young recruits, you have to protect that. I get it.

But let's be frank: architecture is a bitch of a major for anyone, let alone for someone putting in 30+ hours in on the football field every week. It takes a little more than a football coach saying "we'll make it work" to actually make it work -- ultimately, the student himself has to bear the burden and keep everything in balance. It's a tall order. Charlie's response is somewhat dismissive of that burden, painting Joey as the culprit who "couldn't make it work."

So I understand Joey's decision. And I understand Charlie's position...I just wish they could have worked out a unified response instead of having to do a contentious back-and-forth in the SBT.