It took a little longer than it maybe should have, and it came from the wrong place. But the one-game suspension of Michigan State defensive end William Gholston for his punch of Michigan offensive lineman Taylor Lewan last week is the right call.
Note that this suspension came from the Big Ten office and not from Michigan State. The school took three days to investigate the incident and submit a report to the league, but the Spartans did not recommend any missed game time for Gholston. School athletic director Mark Hollis said the investigation was his attempt "to gather, understand and share with the Big Ten extensive information about what likely contributed to the incident."
Gholston's punch came after he and Lewan got tangled up far away from the play. Lewan appeared to grab Gholston's face mask first, and there has been conjecture that Lewan said something to get under Gholston's skin. Regardless, there is no justification for throwing a punch on the field, and Gholston has to keep his composure in that situation instead of retaliating in a reckless manner.
Add in his earlier personal foul against Denard Robinson -- in which Gholston twisted the quarterback's face mask around in a pile while Robinson was defenseless -- and the sophomore deserves a one-game suspension as punishment for his actions. That's not to condemn Gholston, who is young and will learn from this mistake. But it's the right thing to do.
Michigan State could have easily defused this situation and not let it become a hot topic for debate all week by immediately suspending Gholston for a game Monday. That's what Illinois did with linebacker Jonathan Brown when he kneed a Northwestern player in the groin earlier this season, and everybody quickly moved on from that story. Instead, Mark Dantonio refused to comment on the issue this week while the school conducted its investigation, the results of which look very meager.
This is the same program that reinstated cornerback Chris L. Rucker the same day he was released from jail last year, just before a big game at Iowa. Now it looks, at least to the outside world, that Michigan State was trying to keep Gholston in the lineup for this week's huge game against No. 6 Wisconsin. The situations are clearly different, but the Spartans still come off looking too lenient on discipline.
The Big Ten had to step in and levy the one-game ban on Gholston, and the conference needed to do so. Lest we forget, this is the same league office that lobbied the NCAA to let Ohio State's disgraced tattoo traders be eligible for last season's Allstate Sugar Bowl against Arkansas. That decision appeared more and more ludicrous the more we found out about how deep the Buckeyes' scandal ran, and the conference couldn't afford another credibility-shattering moment here. The Big Ten also doesn't want to set a precedent in which players can throw punches one Saturday and then suit up for the next weekend, no matter how marquee the matchup might be.
Make no mistake, losing the 6-foot-8 Gholston is a big blow to the Spartans' chances against Wisconsin. He was really coming on as a defensive force, beginning with his disruptive work in the win over Ohio State three weeks ago. He's a physically imposing defensive end who could battle the giants on the Badgers' offensive line, and Michigan State's ability to get pressure with its front four is a major key to its success so far this season. Sophomore Denzel Drone is expected to replace Gholston in the lineup; Drone did have a sack and forced fumble in the game against Wisconsin last season, but moving him up means the depth suffers along the line.
However, that's the price Michigan State and Gholston must pay for last week's transgression, even if it took the league office interceding to make them pay that cost.