Two days after Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield was caught on camera grabbing his crotch and gesturing toward Kansas football players, Lincoln Riley decided enough was enough with his Heisman Trophy front-running star player.
Riley announced Mayfield will play in Oklahoma’s regular-season finale this weekend at home against West Virginia, but he will not start the game nor will he serve as a team captain in his final game at home in an Oklahoma uniform.
Head coach Lincoln Riley announces that QB Baker Mayfield will not start Saturday's game against West Virginia, but will play and he will not be a team captain for the contest.
— Oklahoma Football (@OU_Football) November 20, 2017
Mayfield had quite the eventful Saturday against Kansas, and not just in the box score of Oklahoma’s blowout win over the hapless Jayhawks. The day started with a pregame handshake snub from Kansas captains and continued with some late hits and cheap shots aimed at the brash quarterback that was responded to with some smack talk and the infamous obscene gesture following a touchdown as well as some trash talking with Kansas fans on the sideline.
Mayfield’s antics against Kansas have been excused by some as Mayfield playing with emotion and reacting to being roughed up by his opponents. That is true because Mayfield has a track record of letting the emotions flow. That ends up being the issue for Mayfield and Oklahoma.
If this was the first time Mayfield had put on this sort of display in an Oklahoma uniform, Riley may not have felt the urge to deliver the message he did this week. But this is just the latest episode in the “Life of Mayfield” that has not been painted in the most flattering of pictures.
This season alone as seen Mayfield be forced to apologize for planting a flag at midfield in a postgame celebration following a win at Ohio State and Mayfield has also been caught in a war of words with Baylor football players, in which he proclaimed he would have to spank Baylor later in the game.
Teams getting acquainted with one another. pic.twitter.com/1HzdyAQfGz
— Eddie Radosevich (@Eddie_Rado) September 23, 2017
Is it fair to focus so much attention on Mayfield when other players are guilty of similar trash talk and shenanigans? You may be inclined to say no, but the answer is a definitive “yes.”
Baker Mayfield has been a great story for college football. A former walk-on who was outcast by Texas Tech and found a landing spot at Oklahoma, Mayfield later earned a scholarship and became a player worthy of Heisman Trophy talk two years in a row. Mayfield’s story is one that should be highlighted by college football media.
As a star quarterback, he commands that type of attention, which thrusts him in a brighter spotlight than other players. It comes with the territory, and Mayfield is learning now just what the consequences may be when he stumbles in that national spotlight.
Mayfield’s antics may be small potatoes compared to most. He hasn’t broken any rules. He hasn’t been investigated for any potential violations. He just lets the emotions get the best of him and gets caught on camera letting them fly. But his status in the sport and as a representative of Oklahoma has been elevated, and that comes with a higher standard, like it or not. You can still be emotional, but there are some lines that still cannot be crossed without consequences for their actions.
You don’t have to be a moral authority to know Mayfield has choices in how he handles himself. And I am certainly not here to try containing his exuberance. His fire is what pushes Mayfield and it drives him to perform at a high level.
On the football field, he is among the best there is, which is why no matter what headlines pop up along the way, he should still be the easy favorite to win the Heisman Trophy in a few weeks. Mayfield’s legacy at Oklahoma will forever be a positive one, and antics like this will be long forgotten years down the road. But long after Mayfield has moved on to the NFL, Lincoln Riley is hoping to be the head coach at Oklahoma trying to win Big 12 and national championships.
Riley is the youngest head coach in the FBS today. In his first season as head coach of the Sooners, he has answered the call time and time again to prove he was ready and prepared for the job as head coach of a program like Oklahoma. He has won a head-to-head matchup on the road against Urban Meyer, a coach with a couple national championship rings. He has defeated in-state rival Oklahoma State. Riley has Oklahoma on their way to the Big 12 championship game with a possible spot in the College Football Playoff reserved for the Sooners waiting to be accepted.
Sure, it helps that Riley has a talent like Mayfield, but it is Mayfield that has tested Riley a bit and served as the perfect opportunity to remind everyone who runs the show in Norman. That is why Riley had no choice but to discipline Mayfield the way he did, by suspending Mayfield from the start of the game and stripping him of his team captaincy.
To many, this was either an overreaction over a show of emotion pressured by critics or not going far enough. I strongly feel this was a justified response and was handled well by Riley given the circumstances.
For what it is worth, the discipline appeared to ground Mayfield a bit as he reacted to the news in front of Oklahoma media on Monday.
Baker Mayfield getting emotional about not being a captain on Oklahoma senior day pic.twitter.com/pXEK1VpFNe
— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) November 21, 2017
Mayfield is on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy, but this is Riley’s program to run. By saying enough is enough to a player like Mayfield is a gamble for a young head coach. The message it sends to the entire team can either resonate and demonstrate that antics like the ones exhibited by Mayfield will not be acceptable by anyone, or it scares the players into thinking Riley is on a power trip. After all, what has this young buck proven so far?
Riley is hired to be the head coach and that comes with plenty of responsibilities on top of fielding a competitive team ready to contend for conference and national titles. Riley is also tasked with upholding the integrity of the football program on behalf of the entire university.
When a player continually casts a shadow of negative headline son the program the way Mayfield has throughout 2017, it is up to Riley to address it as he sees fit. No player will be above the program, and that is what Riley is attempting to demonstrate.
Suspending the Heisman Trophy frontrunner and taking away his team captaincy before his final home game in Norman? That takes balls, but it was the move Riley absolutely had to make for the good of the program he wants to run for a long time.