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Schnepf: All at NDSU can learn from voter fraud scandal


It's rare when the president, athletic director and football coach from North Dakota State University appear together to make a major announcement.

The last time that happened was in 2007, when the trio of former President Joseph Chapman, athletic director Gene Taylor and football coach Craig Bohl announced their membership into the Gateway Football Conference.

On Tuesday night, President Dean Bresciani joined Taylor and Bohl to make this announcement: Starting running back Sam Ojuri, who along with nine teammates Tuesday pleaded guilty to violating North Dakota election law, will be suspended for Saturday's homecoming game. The other nine will play.

Perhaps this triangle of authority should have made their public appearance nearly one month ago - when the news broke that these players forged names on two petition drives that were once slated to be on this November's election ballot.

There are many who feel that they could have made the following announcement on Sept. 5: The players involved in this case will be suspended for the season-opening game against Robert Morris University for violating team rules.

That would have at least tempered the critics who think football stars get special treatment. But Bresciani, Taylor and Bohl made it clear that the way they handled this month-long incident was not going to be swayed by public opinion.

But as much as they said this was and will be a learning experience for the players involved, it was also a learning experience for them.

"Absolutely," said Taylor. "This has been such a unique situation that most people who I have talked to have never had to deal with this."

What they learned was looking at changing university protocol to allow Bresciani to comment on similar situations in the future. What they learned was not to boldly state that there will be no suspensions - which Taylor did after NDSU's game at Colorado State.

"I was really disappointed with myself," Taylor said during his apology Tuesday night.

You can say hindsight is 20/20, but these three leaders should have had the vision to nip this thing in the bud from the start - at least to some degree. That would have at least ended a month's worth of ambiguity.

Whether you think suspensions are in order or not, this could have been handled a lot better.

And it's suprising that it was not, considering Bohl's track record in dealing with off-the-field issues. Since 2003, there have been 23 reported incidents by The Forum in which Bohl quickly laid down the law - ranging from one-game suspensions to dismissal from the team.

Of course, this case is as strange as how it's been handled. Football players and petition fraud? Normally, Bohl and Taylor are dealing with infractions involving alcohol, drugs, violence or sex.

They reason this offense wasn't as serious as others - even though it did scratch two petitions from next month's ballot. Based on the 360 days of unsupervised probation and 50 hours of community service handed to the 10 players and the fact that their record could be cleared, Bohl and Taylor can arguably justify their stance.

As much as Bresciani, Taylor and Bohl want this to disappear, there will be those who will always wonder why all 10 players weren't suspended - questions that will no doubt surface if the Bison win another national championship.

Perhaps more importantly, there will be more who will wonder why Bresciani, Taylor and Bohl didn't publically join forces a lot earlier than Tuesday night.

Schnepf is the Sports Editor of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.