Davidson College will not retire Stephen Curry’s jersey. It has nothing to do with basketball accomplishments, obviously. Curry took the small North Carolina school to athletic heights it had never reached. As you may have heard, his NBA career has also been successful. From a hoops standpoint, if Curry’s jersey were not worthy of retirement than there is no sense in hanging jerseys anywhere.
The Heisman Trophy Trust did not invite Keenan Reynolds to New York for its award ceremony. The Navy senior quarterback holds college football’s career rushing touchdown record with 83. He’s having a great season. Navy plays Army on Saturday, and if Reynolds had been invited to New York, he would have flown from the game to the ceremony via helicopter. From a common sense standpoint, Reynolds should be making that trip.
Sports honors—whether in the form of retired jerseys, individual awards, All Star Game or Hall of Fame nominations—are special partly because of their exclusivity. If an athlete who is only slightly better than average is recognized, or concessions or exceptions are made, the accolade is devalued. And, because of expanding rosters and injury replacements, this happens often in All Star games. Davidson has retired five jerseys in program history. Only one person wins the Heisman each season and, this year, there are just three finalists. Exclusive honors for special players, but aren’t Curry and Reynolds just that?
Davidson does not retire the jersey of players who have not graduated. After three years at the school, Curry left for the NBA, where he was the No. 7 overall pick in 2009. As a sophomore, he propelled Davidson to within a basket of the Final Four. I spoke to Jim Murray, Davidson’s athletic director since 1995, about the Curry effect for a story in October 2014. “It buoyed the entire program,” he said about the magical Tournament run. “Everyone still talks about Steph Curry. It has remained a positive force for us in recruiting and the extension of the Davidson brand,” which he said enhanced because of the person and player Curry became in the NBA. And remember, this was before the MVP, the championship, the Warriors’ undefeated start to this season. Despite all of that, Curry’s academic status makes him currently ineligible for a jersey retirement.
It’s less cut and dry with Reynolds. Heisman ceremony invitees are based on voting, and though all we know for sure is that Reynolds wasn’t among the top three vote getters, it’s possible he was seventh or lower, not within shouting distance of finalists Derrick Henry (Alabama), Christian McCaffrey (Stanford), or Deshaun Watson (Clemson), and perhaps even behind Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, and LSU’s Leonard Fournette. Reynolds’ omission, football-wise, was fair, but his inclusion would have been totally justifiable. He’s already tallied more than 1,000 yards on the ground this season (tops among QBs) and needs just 36 passing yards against Army on Saturday to reach that mark through the air as well. Navy is a heavy favorite, and a win would make them 10-2 heading into a bowl, their best season since 2004.
The Heisman mission statement notes that the award “recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.” That’s vague enough to include any talented player but, unlike other MVP-type awards, the reference to “integrity” implies the trophy is more than just a recognition of exceptional performance. Nothing against the trio of finalists, who may well meet the criteria, but Reynolds, playing for a service academy and pursuing “information warfare” after graduation, exceeds it. Heisman ceremony viewers eventually learn the complete voting breakdown, but after they hear the two words that follow, “The winner of the 2015 Heisman Memorial Trophy is,” they tune out. Who finished second or third or fourth and by how many votes is inconsequential.
Neither Curry’s nor Reynolds’ snub is disheartening. Curry, after all, can do something about his situation. He’s supposedly just a couple of classes short of graduating, but his basketball commitments and Davidson’s lack of summer courses make completion challenging at this time. Davidson has a right to its policy, though I’d have no problem if it or any other school retired jerseys purely on sports achievement. Murray seems to have a “what can you do?” attitude and Curry doesn’t appear distraught over the decision. He’s a Davidson legend and a degree won’t change that. A retired jersey is an honor that, in this case, he simply does not qualify for.
Reynolds getting a Heisman ceremony invite over players he might have trailed in voting would have been warranted given his unique yet simple situation: He had a great season and career playing for a service academy. I won’t go as far as saying it would have been the right thing to do, but man, it would have been gratifying. And, I should add, free of controversy. Who would have had a problem with this?
It’s disappointing Reynolds won’t be in New York, but the same reason you might be upset about it is the same reason Reynolds will withstand it: He’s an outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.