The Arthur Ray story has been one of the feel good stories of MSU football since Mark Dantonio came to Michigan State in 2006. Ray agreed to take a chance on Dantonio in January 2007, two short months after Dantonio was hired at MSU. At the time Dantonio had two strong selling points to his name, he had been the defensive coordinator of a national title Ohio State team and point two is that he wasn’t John L Smith.
Famously, Ray was diagnosed with bone cancer after he signed with Michigan State, but before his arrival on campus. Dantonio could have given Ray a medical scholarship which would have paid for his college in full, but he’d never be allowed to play football in college, anywhere, ever. Dantonio elected to leave him on football scholarship and give him a chance to heal and work his way to play football. In the meantime Dantonio and the Michigan State Athletic Department initiated the first Women’s Football clinic to raise funds for Ray’s treatment. The event has since gone on to raise thousands of dollars for various charities around town. He’s been honored, awarded, hell he might be Michigan State football’s most decorated player since Dantonio came to town. They just don’t happen to be Michigan State football awards.
It became apparent in recent weeks that Ray really wanted to play football, while Dantonio would love to see Ray play football, but to earn a scholarship he needed to be in the two-deeps. The writing was on the wall when Dantonio replied to a question earlier this week about Ray by saying he and I need to have a private conversation. Finally, it was announced today he’s not on the 105 man roster. He’s been given every opportunity to come back from cancer to play football so why does it feel so wrong?
First and foremost, playing football was one of the things to pull him through his fight with cancer and that’s being taken away from him now that he’s healed. More Ray:
"I've noticed how my story has evolved," Ray said. "And I'm just blessed to have the testimony to help other people out. But at the same time, I want to play football. Football is my love, football's my passion and I don't feel like my story is done. I feel like I still have a lot more to do up here."
As a fan, I find it a bit hollow to read all of these stories about how courageous and heroic Ray’s recovery has been and how much he’s looking forward to his chance to compete once he’s cancer-free. Now he’s cancer-free, but not in Big Ten football shape, and it feels unfair to yank the rug out from him now. While I suspect this decision has something to with getting more snaps for younger players, it’s hard to see how giving Ray every avenue to compete right up through a seventh year of NCAA eligibility could hurt the team at all. Just from a leadership perspective you have a player in 2013 who’s been with Dantonio since the beginning. In the meantime you use the extra scholarship to sign another Offensive Lineman who won’t contribute for 2-3 years? I’m just not seeing the immediate or long term impact of keeping him on as long as you can.
While the circumstances of Ray’s likely departure are unclear, don’t worry, Ray will come up aces out of this whole thing. After all at the age of 23, he’s kicked BONE CANCER right in the nuts, will graduate with a degree from Michigan State University in December and won the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl/Football Writers Association of America Courage Award. Did I mention he kicked a cancer with a 5 year survival rate of 60 to 70 percent right in the nuts? The man still has a hell of a future in front of him.
Maybe the only mistake was waiting this long to make the decision. After 25 months on crutches he should just be grateful to be walking, let alone playing one of the most physically demanding positions in football. But something doesn’t seem right about not giving him all of the chances the guy wants to see significant playing time at MSU. Still this just serves as another reminder that becoming a great football program has costs associated with it.