LINCOLN, Neb. -- In 6 ½ years at Nebraska, Bo Pelini has run a tight ship.
He holds his football players to a high standard. They perform well academically. The Huskers represent their program admirably in the community, creating more headlines for their acts of goodwill and outreach than for encounters with law enforcement.
Most in this state can agree that Nebraska football, of late, has stayed largely above the fray that too often engulfs programs rife with distraction.
Nebraska football is a source of pride that extends beyond Memorial Stadium to the streets of Lincoln and Omaha and the rural communities that send their high school stars to play for Pelini and his coaches, with a scholarship or not.
The culture creates tremendous expectations and, as we’ve seen this week, an occasional lack of tolerance for mistakes -- more so off the field than on it.
Josh Banderas, the 19-year-old linebacker who started four games as a true freshman and the lone Nebraskan in the Huskers’ 2013 recruiting class, was stopped by Lincoln Police on Monday and charged Tuesday with felony theft for stealing seven bicycles from a rack on campus.
Banderas and Nebraska distance runner Lucas Keifer, a former high school classmate who drove the getaway truck, face preliminary court dates next month.
A reduction in charges -- even entry into a diversion program -- appears possible.
None of that erases the stupidity of their alleged actions. According to police, Banderas and Keifer, in broad daylight, used bolt cutters to remove the bikes. They were apprehended minutes after the crime occurred.
Since the news broke Tuesday, it’s been a hot topic around town. Generally, disbelief has trumped outrage.
Banderas told police, according to an affidavit, that he and Keifer planned to sell the bikes. Banderas told an officer that they took the bikes after noticing signs posted on the racks that the university would soon confiscate the property as abandoned.
He knew better. More than most in the football program, Banderas should understand the significance of his actions. He grew up in the shadow of Nebraska football; Banderas’ father, Tom, lettered as a tight end at the school from 1985 to 1987.
The Huskers, seeking a return to the football elite, have been riding an offseason hot streak in part because to Pelini’s public personality makeover.
Observers wondered if this incident might derail that momentum.
By my gauge, the temperature in the state is astonishing on the Banderas situation. While Pelini and the Nebraska administration have stayed quiet, fans and media are speaking out, many in in knee-jerk fashion. Some are ready for the Huskers to cut ties with Banderas for a full season, if not for good.
In January, defensive end Avery Moss was banned from campus for one year, stemming from a 2012 public-indecency charge. Offensive tackle Alex Lewis is set to serve a 45-day jail sentence this summer for a 2013 assault committed before he enrolled at Nebraska.
Lewis was not allowed to work out with the team last fall after his transfer from Colorado but has faced no additional discipline since joining the program in January.
Banderas’ actions, which pale in comparison, have more significantly raised the ire of Nebraskans. This is a slippery slope. Let’s remember that he is 19 and a productive citizen by all previous accounts.
Pelini has time to make a decision, time to monitor Banderas’ reaction, time to determine appropriate discipline.
The image of Nebraska football is important, perhaps more so now than ever. But Banderas, still with a promising future, ought not to be sacrificed for it.