Breaking news out of Moscow today as star Idaho Vandals wide receiver Dezmon Epps has seen all fourth-degree assault charges dropped against him. Under the letter of the law, and under the letter of the law only, this was the right decision.
The state of Washington was unable to prove the charges beyond reasonable doubt & was unable to contact the victim, Decker said.— Theo Lawson (@TheoLawson_Trib) November 6, 2015
Epps has been suspended indefinitely from the team since the charges were initially filed, which was the 2nd time that he had been kicked off the team. Now, with the charges dropped, Idaho head coach Paul Petrino is faced with the decision of whether to reinstate his star player for the second time.
The alleged victim refused to return to Washington, Decker said, and the prosecutor's office didn't have enough evidence to move forward.— Theo Lawson (@TheoLawson_Trib) November 6, 2015
This could mean all sorts of things. Perhaps Epps did slap his girlfriend, and she just wanted to get away from him forever and leave the entire episode behind. Perhaps he was innocent, and the alleged victim stayed away because she knew her accusations wouldn't hold under scrutiny.
Yet whatever the circumstances are, it shouldn't matter when it comes to the ultimate outcome of Epps's status as an Idaho Vandal. Even with his charges being dropped, UI head coach Paul Petrino would be wise to not reinstate him.
As a private citizen, Epps is absolutely entitled to be judged as innocent until proven guilty under the eyes of the law. As a football player and an ambassador for the University of Idaho, however, he is not. Epps has already displayed astoundingly poor judgment with five different disciplinary incidents in 18 months, and already having been suspended and reinstated to the team once before.
Giving Epps another chance would give a short term jolt to Idaho's bowl chances, which are now in doubt after a heartbreaking overtime loss at New Mexico State. Yet doing so would send a message that Paul Petrino will only dismiss a star player when the legal system considers him guilty as charged. As unseemly as that is, perhaps that's the cost of winning at Idaho's previously moribund program. Some Vandal fans--and Idaho AD Rob Spear--may well back win-at-all-costs tactics after years of losing.
But even if he doesn't care about his employer's reputation among its peers and the local media, there is one pragmatic reason for Petrino to strongly consider not giving Epps a 5th chance. By reinstating the senior receiver, Paul Petrino and Idaho would risk piggybacking Epps's story on top of Deadspin's stomach-turning article about Greg Hardy's alleged abuse of a former girlfriend that has not only marred the already seedy reputations of Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys, but all of football in general.
That's a media firestorm and a potentially nationwide PR disaster that Idaho likely doesn't want. Any momentum the Vandals have gained in recruiting could be at risk, as mothers and fathers of young football players may end up perceiving Idaho as a place where star players can break the rules with impunity and common human decency is abandoned for short term pursuits of an unlikely bowl bid.
At some point, the leadership at Idaho has to stand up and say enough is enough. Here's hoping Paul Petrino breaks with his previous track record and does the right thing.
UPDATE (6:38 PM Central): Another Idaho receiver is now in trouble, according to Moscow-Pullman Daily News reporter Michael-Shawn Dugar.
Wide receiver David Ungerer. https://t.co/xBQmRf1reu— Dugar, Michael-Shawn (@MikeDugar) November 7, 2015
Unless Petrino and Idaho get out in front of this, and soon, you can expect the "Is Idaho's Program Out of Control?" headlines to start popping up any day now.