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Suspension provokes debate

John Tierney | Friday, January 26, 2007

The University decided Monday how to deal with Notre Dame basketball player Kyle McAlarney’s marijuana possession charges – suspension from Notre Dame – but students are still grappling with the case and its outcome.

Many students said they support the decision to suspend the sophomore guard – who was pulled over and arrested near campus early on Dec. 29 – and hailed it as consistent with du Lac, while others expressed frustration with what they saw as unfair aspects of University policy.

“This was a big punishment, but it was deserved,” freshman Jill Schroeder said. “It sends the message there’s no special treatment for athletes and the policy is fair.”

But students like junior Jake Watson said the University overreacted to the arrest since marijuana was involved – an issue not just for McAlarney, he said, but any student caught for possession.

“They’ll just fine someone $15 for getting caught with a beer in the hallway underage, but I know people who got kicked out of the school for having pot,” he said. “Really, this should be a less severe offense than underage alcohol consumption, but that’s not how they’re treating it. … Because not very many people smoke pot here, it becomes a bigger deal.”

The University’s drug policy divided students like Watson, who see problems with how Notre Dame weighs marijuana and alcohol offenses, and other students, who say there are definite distinctions to be made.

“The University policy is fair because marijuana is illegal,” freshman Erin Jelm said.

Freshman Isaac Song also said marijuana use should be punished severely because of its illegality.

“Who cares when this happened or where it happened, because marijuana’s illegal,” he said.

Others, like freshman Gina Camarata, said they were unaware of the specifics of the University’s drug policy – a reaction that may support Watson’s statement about relatively low levels of marijuana use at Notre Dame.

“I’ve never looked up how much trouble I can get in for something I wouldn’t do,” she said.

In a climate in which universities across the country have been accused of giving their student-athletes special treatment in incidents similar to the one involving McAlarney, most students interviewed believe the point guard was treated the same as any student would have been.

Freshman Mike Sayles, who said he knew students involved in a similar situation last semester, believed the punishment was at least on par with expectations.

“There should be a consistent punishment for anyone caught with marijuana, and that’s what this is. If you suspend non-athletes for a semester and don’t suspend McAlarney, that would be inconsistent,” he said.

Regardless of their stance on the University’s decision, students said they were disappointed.

“I’m disappointed in the school. Getting caught with a half of a joint shouldn’t get you suspended for two semesters,” junior Jake O’Neil said.

Jelm said she was “disappointed in the whole situation, really.”

“It mars the reputation of the basketball team and of the University,” she said. “Kids look up to these athletes and then they find out stuff like this and it’s just sad.”

For Schroeder, the decision is something to think about the rest of the season.

“It’s just sad that this is going to take away from the team’s success,” she said.

McAlarney may not have received special treatment in his punishment, sophomore Colin Fath said, but the guard has received special treatment during his tenure at the University and took it for granted.

“They set everything up to his advantage and he did something stupid and blew it,” Fath said.