CARON: The importance of tough decisions


Junior transfer forward Austin Nichols was dismissed from Virginia Nov. 18 for failing to meet program standards.

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

When the Buffalo Bills decided to release Marshawn Lynch, it wasn’t because of poor performance on the field, injury or even age. It was because of his off-the-field issues — his inability to consistently adhere to National Football League standards and the legal system.

A hit-and-run-turned-reckless-driving charge, a misdemeanor weapons charge, a DUI and several disciplinary hearings and fines from the NFL for other violations all plagued Lynch’s career. And yet, he was one of the best running backs in recent history.

The Bills, however, decided to give ‘Beast Mode’ Lynch up in a trade to Seattle. The Bills paid a pretty penny for a player who was sanctioned with numerous suspensions and whose legal troubles were often the objects of more attention than his impressive play.

Here’s the point: the Bills gave up this one-man stampede because of his off-field failures despite his unparalleled power and potency. Buffalo finally decided that Lynch’s abilities were not worth the scarlet ‘M’ he wore.

That’s what Virginia basketball head coach Tony Bennett had to do this season in dismissing junior forward and Memphis transfer, Austin Nichols. He gave up Nichols, who was expected to be one of Virginia’s top players this season, to maintain team integrity. Nichols’ violations negated his worth to Bennett’s program.

Bennett, a man of noted character, had to make a tough decision for Virginia’s basketball program — a decision that likely will increase the growing pains faced by this year’s young Cavalier team. The decision to dismiss Nichols is too important to ignore, it goes far beyond the loss of a crucial component of the Virginia basketball team. Just as the Bills did, Bennett set a fundamental standard of character for his program – for now and for years to come.

Now I’m not trying to say that Nichols’ undisclosed violations of team rules are the same as Lynch’s numerous criminal charges – they’re not. According to a search by Streaking the Lawn, court records for Charlottesville and Albemarle did not reveal any criminal charges pending against Nichols.

Nichols’ infractions appear to be a violation only of Virginia standards. However, the importance of the precedent set by Bennett in dismissing Nichols nonetheless should not be overlooked.

The tough decision that had to be made by the Buffalo coaching staff and management is the same as the challenge faced by Bennett: each had to decide when maintaining standards outweighs potential performance.

Keeping Nichols around would mean paying a price that Bennett could not afford if he wanted to maintain the integrity that both stems from his own personal character and that has been established in his program at Virginia.

“It’s a privilege to be a part of this program, and Austin has lost that privilege,” Bennett said. “We have standards for our student-athletes, and when those standards aren’t met, there are consequences and this is the unfortunate consequence.”

A man of principle, Bennett did what needed to be done — a decision that I’m not sure all coaches would have been able to make given the steep cost. Implementing consequences is never easy, especially when it means losing a key piece.

While the loss of a potential star is tragic for our team, the intact integrity of both our coach and our program far outweighs the loss. Tough decisions like this are what define a program, and they are what a coach must do to hold his head high and move his program forward with pride.

Nichols’ dismissal is a window into the inner workings of Cavalier basketball – what the world sees of our school beyond stats and scores. The reason for trading Lynch ultimately came down to character too, according to an article published by The Buffalo News.

“Character was at a premium,” Tim Graham of The Buffalo News wrote. “And Lynch didn't fit.”

Neither did Nichols. The decision to dismiss a player, or to trade the player because of character concerns is not unique to Virginia. Coaches face tough choices like these across the nation every day, and although the loss of Nichols is tough to swallow, the loss of our coach’s character would have been worse.

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