The return of All-American Asa Chapman to Liberty after a felony drug arrest brings controversy to the Lynchburg campus
(Editor's Note: This article was originally written and posted by CSN Associate Editor Charles Burton on his Lehigh Football Nation blog
By Chuck Burton
College Sporting News
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — Nationally-ranked Liberty's visit to Lehigh was never going to be any sort of picnic for the Mountain Hawks.
And now, it just got even more challenging.
Liberty senior nose tackle Asa Chapman, suspended since Aug. 30 after being charged with two counts of drug possession — one felony, one misdemeanor — has been reinstated to the Flames’ football team, coach Danny Rocco announced Monday.
Chapman was originally scheduled to appear in Lynchburg General District Court for an arraignment hearing on Sept. 12, but that hearing was postponed until Dec. 7. He’ll be on the field Saturday when the Flames face Lehigh in Bethlehem, PA.
Suddenly, Lehigh's job to win on Saturday got harder.
Like, 6'5, 385 lbs harder.
Chapman, a recruit that Virginia, Virginia Tech and West Virginia all drooled over originally, was originally a commit at West Virginia, but instead spent a year at Fork Union Military Academy in order to get his grades in order.
Once his year there was over, instead of going to the Mountaineers, he decided to take his considerable combination of athleticism and size to Liberty University.
Almost immediately, he made a huge impact on the football field for the Flames.
As a true freshman in 2008, he started in all twelve games for head coach Danny Rocco and the Flames, and in 2009 he really came into his own, getting 40 tackles, forcing one fumble, and recovering one fumble — extremely strong statistics for any nose guard, let alone one that was only a sophomore.
He followed that up with becoming an all-Big South second-team all-conference lineman in 2010, starting 10 games but still notching 41 tackles and 2 sacks.
Already, folks were enthralled by the pass-rushing ability and speed of a nose guard that can anchor the Flames' 3-4 defense, stuff the run as a wide body, and yet be a formidable weapon rushing the passer, too.
He had moved himself into position to possibly be selected in the NFL draft, with some analysts projecting Chapman as high as the fifth, or six round.
Then, this August, a mere week before the season, he was suspended indefinitely from the team — and for good reason:
Liberty football coach Danny Rocco announced that starting nose guard Asa Chapman, a 6-foot-5, 385-pound All-American candidate, has been suspended indefinitely after Chapman was arrested last Friday night and charged with two counts of drug possession.
“I’m going to suspend him indefinitely for now, really for conduct detrimental to the team and conduct unbecoming of an LU student-athlete,” Rocco said. “I’m certainly very hopeful as we go through the due process here and as we wait on the court date that we will be in a position to strongly reconsider reinstatement. But it will not be until we have sufficient information that, in our opinion, would merit that response.”
According to court records, Chapman was pulled over and arrested by Lynchburg Police on Friday night. Chapman was released after making bail. The cocaine charge is a Class 5 felony. He practiced Monday night before Rocco was made aware of the drug charges Chapman faced. Chapman was not on the field for that Tuesday afternoon’s practice.
Court records show drug charges were filed in Lynchburg General District Court on Tuesday morning against Chapman. He is charged with a misdemeanor count of marijuana possession and a felony count of possession of cocaine. His arraignment hearing is set for Sept. 12.
That wasn't all. In addition to these new charges, it emerged that it wasn't Chapman's first run-in with the law, either.
On Oct. 5, 2010, he was pulled over by Virginia State Police and charged with not wearing a seat belt and either driving with a light out or excessive lights.
Court records show he was also charged with driving on a suspended license, which is a misdemeanor.
He was convicted of all three charges in November, but records are unclear as to whether he made his court appearance. They do show he never paid nearly $300 in fines and court fees.
So while "not all the facts were in" on the incident, certainly the 2010 incident seemed to point to other troubles with the law, concerning the talented nose guard.
With all the troubles surrounding this NFL-caliber talent, it seemed at the time like he might be suspended for the entire season, though it was at least in part contingent on a court date set to occur September 12th.
But then, this week, came a delay of Chapman's court date — and reinstatement by coach Rocco.
Liberty nose guard Asa Chapman, suspended since Aug. 30 after being charged with two counts of drug possession — one felony, one misdemeanor — has been reinstated to the Flames’ football team, coach Danny Rocco announced Monday.
Chapman was originally scheduled to appear in Lynchburg General District Court for an arraignment hearing on Sept. 12, but that hearing was postponed until Dec. 7.
He will be on the field Saturday when the Flames face Lehigh in Bethlehem, PA.
“Asa has exceeded all that has been asked of him from the university since the time of his suspension,” Rocco said. “Asa has learned several valuable life lessons during this time period, ones that are going to make him a better person, student-athlete and teammate.
“The support system that we have had in place for Asa during the last several weeks is in keeping with our university’s mission and purpose. Liberty has been in the business of ministering to its students for 40 years, and is now in a new era of Christian commitment. This support system will continue to envelop Asa in the days ahead, making sure we do all we can to help this young man make the best possible life choices.”
It's important to note that we don't know all the facts about the case.
To their credit, too, Liberty University, through their support system and ministry, reportedly have offered their support for Mr. Chapman in this tough time for him:
"Liberty University has a longstanding policy regarding the treatment of students who ‘self-report,' requesting assistance," said Mark Hine, Liberty University Vice President of Student Affairs. "Student Affairs will extend the same grace to Asa as would be extended to any student in a similar circumstance."
It's admirable that Chapman, using the words of coach Rocco, learned "valuable life lessons" during his suspension — including, it must be noted, not being available during Liberty's huge home game vs. nationally-ranked James Madison.
But the charges are pretty serious. Cocaine possession is a felony in the state of Virginia, of course, and it could mean, tragically, up to a year in prison for Chapman if he's convicted of the charges.
It's an issue that seems to go beyond "valuable life lesson" and into rescuing this young man's life. Whether football is a part of that rescue, that's probably a matter of debate.
But it's undeniable that in the issues regarding wins and losses for the Liberty football team, too, it's extremely fortunate timing for the Flames that the court pushed his hearing to Dec. 7 — potentially, a week after the first two rounds Liberty playoff games.
It's also very fortunate for the 1-2 Flames to also get their star defensive player back against the nationally-ranked Mountain Hawks.
On the national FCS football level, Liberty would benefit greatly from a road win against a nationally-ranked opponent, perhaps keeping them in the Top 25.
It's a piece of news that will certainly be discussed a lot by others in the upcoming week — and it will unquestionably have an effect this weekend at Murray Goodman Stadium.
UPDATING THE STORY
Since the first part of this column ran on the Lehigh Sports Nation blog earlier in the week, the Chapman story has continued to rage.
Much is still developing on the front of Asa Chapman's reinstatement, with a fair amount of people (including Liberty students and alumni themselves) electrifying the Flamefans forum over the issue.
In an effort to talk about this story, Lynchburg News and Advance reporter Chris Lang has written a detailed blog posting on the issue, which is a fantastic timeline and collection of quotes concerning the decision.
I'll attempt to look at some of the quotes - though I'd strongly suggest anyone to read the whole blog posting - and give some pertinent background, below the flip.
Liberty’s football coaching staff was made aware of the charges and took action, and part of that action was for Chapman to immediately turn himself into the office of student affairs at Liberty, which is where the “self-reporting” came from in Monday’s press release on the matter.
Chapman went to student affairs to inform them of what happened before student affairs was aware of the charges. Ergo, he self-reported.
This is in regards to a bunch of statements over at the Flamefans message board concerning Chapman's "sefl-reporting" of an incident that had already happened, but was no secret.
While it does seem weird that someone can "self-report" an arrest and making bail — when it's obvious that, by being arrested, it's been "already reported" — it does seem like university protocol was followed, so I have a hard time saying anything bad about that aspect of the issue.
The school, the football program and the athletics department met with Chapman and his legal counsel, they learned as much information as possible, and the school chose to give Rocco the option to reinstate Chapman on Monday.
As for what this information was, I don’t know.
Rocco won’t comment on it, nor will the school, because of two things:
1. It’s an ongoing legal matter, and
2. There are privacy issues involved with college students that don’t allow for public discussion of legal issues.
That would be the same if I had asked about a random student and not a popular football player.
Rocco said “The reality is there was a lot of information that was gathered. The issue is that I’m really not at the freedom to discuss the specifics of the information that allowed me to make that decision. In theory, when you suspend somebody indefinitely, I’m not changing my mind when I reinstate them. That’s why it’s worded ‘indefinitely‘. So I just responded at what I felt was the most appropriate time, based on the information that I had received.”
All this is true: coach Rocco has the ability to reinstate him at any time.
Students do have privacy rights. And, it's an ongoing legal matter, so coach Rocco certainly can't talk about the specifics.
But it's not so much the fact that it could be done, so much as the question should it be done. The fact is that this student is pending trial for a felony, and his reinstatement is a reflection on your football program and your University.
Which goes into another aspect of the comments below:
When Rocco said “education and testing” in his previous quote on Chapman, I asked — because of the nature of the charges against him — if that testing included drug testing: “I will opt not to answer that question.”
This was a very interesting answer, for Liberty has one of the strictest substance abuse policies in any university in the country:
Possession, use, manufacture and/or distribution of illegal substances is a crime and Liberty University will cooperate with law enforcement authorities who are enforcing current statutes.
Students are warned that involvement with drugs or alcohol, on or off campus, can result in disciplinary action by the university, as well as any criminal penalties. The disciplinary action will most likely result in student expulsion.
The University instituted an on-going program of mandatory random drug testing in the Fall semester of 1988.
The purpose of this program is to detect the use of illegal drugs and administer disciplinary action against those students and employees whose way of life is incompatible with the University community and whose example and conduct may be a detriment to the lives of other students and employees.
To that extent, Liberty University is committed to using every lawful means at its disposal to preserve the purposes upon which it was founded and continues to exist.
Failure to cooperate with the University's drug testing program will result in disciplinary action against a student, including the likelihood of administrative withdrawal from the university.
Unusual for most schools, Liberty takes an extremely hard line against drugs.
And it's not even solely in regards to using them. Mere involvement with drugs and alcohol can be grounds for expulsion.
Not only that, though, while Chapman is presumed to be innocent in a court of law, it would seem that Liberty could potentially have one or more of Liberty-administered random drug tests available from him available at their disposal.
Additionally, according to their substance abuse policy, if he refused, he'd be expelled.
It also opens up more questions: Are all students subject to random drug testing? Are football players and other athletes included in the drug testing?
If Liberty cares deeply about their drug policy — and it does seem like they are very passionate about that issue — why should they make an exception with Chapman until everything comes out at his scheduled trial?
More importantly, would they have done the exact same thing with a non-football playing student?
Was he concerned about the perception and the message that Chapman’s reinstatement sends to the rest of Liberty’s student body and alumni base.
Rocco said “I think every decision that I make, I’m concerned about the perception. When I chose to take a penalty down at North Carolina State and chose to punt the football, you’re concerned about the perception. I make many decisions, every day. Every decision I make, I weigh the decision based on the information that I have, based on the individual that it’s affecting, and I move forward. Obviously, any time there are suspensions and then reinstatements, there will be public opinion. There’s public opinion on both sides of the fence, I’m sure. I am making this decision with, I believe, the support of the university, knowing that he has been through proper protocol. I would then envision this decision as being specific with any other decision that would be made on campus with any other student on campus as to his availability to participate in an activity. Really, that’s the reality of it, at this stage, in my opinion.”
Did I just read that right? Did coach Rocco just equate the reinstatement of Asa Chapman with choosing to take a penalty and punting at North Carolina State?