On Friday the LSU Tigers booted cornerback and returner Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu from the team. The decision surprised most everyone—Mathieu was a Heisman finalist last year and LSU's biggest star—but it at least seemed in accordance with the often baffling codes of college football. After all, Mathieu had been suspended one game in 2011 for smoking AstroTurf or something. We figured at first that he had another comparable transgression, and that he and LSU would go their separate ways. Now? Now we have no idea what's going on.
No one affiliated with the school has explained why Mathieu—one of the most visible players in college football—got kicked off the team. Reporters have run with the drugs idea without throwing all their weight behind it (e.g.: "Mathieu was dismissed from the team Friday after failed substance-abuse tests"). At Les Miles's press conference on Friday, he equivocated when asked whether Mathieu violated team or school rules. Miles said, "Both. They're synonymous." But Mathieu hasn't been kicked out of (or even suspended from) school. He's only been made to leave the team for a year. So it seems that team or athletic department rules did him in.
But what on earth could those team rules be? Last year, Jordan Jefferson was accused of beating up a man outside a bar. Once the grand jury reduced the charges against him to a misdemeanor, Jefferson rejoined the Tigers. Mathieu, however, has been charged with no crime. Yes, weed, synthetic or otherwise, is illegal in Louisiana, but, c'mon. College athletes have gotten away with much worse in the realm of scary, scary drugs.
Glenn Guilbeau of the Shreveport Times said it was Mathieu's third positive drug test that did him in. Athletic department rules say a player
can never come back faces a one-year ban after three positive drug tests.
But, as we learned on Monday, Mathieu is hoping to come back to LSU in 2013, and Les Miles wouldn't rule that out yesterday. "He will not be on this football [team] this year—I guarantee it. That's a fact. I have no idea beyond that," Miles said. That flexibility seems to indicate a punishment that isn't explicitly dictated by athletic department bylaws, i.e. not drugs.*
[Correction: We took a closer look at LSU's drug compliance policy and saw that Miles actually does have flexibility to deal with third-time positive tests. The head coach can appeal a positive test and get the player's one-year ban lifted.
But if the ban falls, the player must undergo frequent drug testing afterward—and any positive test gets the player banned from LSU sports forever. This only makes us more confused. Miles and a senior compliance official both said over the weekend that Mathieu was permanently banned from LSU football. If drugs are indeed at issue here, the permanent ban would seem to indicate a third positive test, a successful appeal, and then another positive test. But since then Miles has made it seem as though Mathieu is banned only for 2012, which would indicate only a third positive test. Did the LSU athletics department forget its own rules?]
And Mathieu's parents aren't talking about the suspension as though it's weed, either:
"My wife, Sheila, and the family are taking the time to heal," Tyrone Mathieu said. "We are not concerned right now about football at all. Tyrann totally understands that it will take some time and commitment to be the best student, player and adult he is capable of being."
One doesn't take time to heal after one too many blunts. Recall, too, that the athletic department barred ESPN the Magazine from talking to Mathieu well before his ban was announced, and it's hard not to think that something more substantial than a printout of a piss test damaged his future in Baton Rouge.
What could that something be? Right now, we have no idea. If you do, you know where to find us.