TOKYO -- Nihon University American football players, one of whom recently carried out a dirty tackle during a game against Kwansei Gakuin University, were not allowed to appear in games unless they followed unreasonable demands by the head coach, multiple sources close to the team say.
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Head coach Masato Uchida led his team to win the championship in university American football at the end of 2017 for the first time in 27 years through strict training. However, he forced players to follow him by issuing orders as if to fire them up, eventually damaging the public's trust in the sport. Uchida has announced his intention to resign over the recent foul play scandal.
Although he has offered an apology and admitted that he is solely responsible for the dangerous play incident, efforts to get to the bottom of the matter are ongoing.
During a meeting before the game in question on May 6, Uchida told the player who made the dangerous tackle to "deal a serious blow to the rival quarterback in your first play if you want to continue appearing in games," according to some sources close to the team.
In the game, the Nihon University player targeted the Kwansei Gakuin quarterback while ignoring the moves of the ball and carried out the foul play against the quarterback, who had not been in possession of the ball for some time.
The offending player was given few opportunities to appear in games in the spring season.
Nihon University didn't commit many fouls during Kanto university league games in autumn last year. Kwansei Gakuin players, who battled against Nihon University in last year's Koshien Bowl, had the impression that the player in question was very skillful.
In American football, in which up close physical plays often occur, players tend to exchange words that could be taken as rude as if to stir up the morale of their teammates. Such aggressive acts are permitted as long as players abide by the rules. Nevertheless, the player in question suddenly performed the tackle that was against the rules.
A Nihon University graduate who belonged to the school's American football team said, "The team has intentionally removed some players frequently from the lineup. I think those who don't follow instructions are not used in games. They are mentally driven into a corner."
Uchida, who has served as head coach since 2003 even though he was once removed from the post, is also a senior board member in charge of personnel affairs at Nihon University, controlling appointments and sport teams' budgets. Sources close to the university call him a "power-wielder."
In many teams belonging to the Kanto university league, graduates typically coach players on weekends. However, Uchida thoroughly controlled the Nihon University team and the school itself.
"If you defy Mr. Uchida, you can't stay on the team or even at the university," another graduate said.
Uchida uses harsh words to compel players to try hard during training. Since he takes advantage of his broad power to control his coaching staff, nobody would warn the player in question over his dangerous tackle.
In response to a letter of protest from Kwansei Gakuin, Nihon University explained that the team's instruction policy is "strictness based on the rules" and that "there was a perception gap between coaches and players over such 'strictness.'"
The perception gap stems from the current instruction system and the harmful effects of Uchida's long rule of the team.
The team's coaching staff provided an explanation to players based on Nihon University's response to Kwansei Gakuin's letter of protest. However, Uchida did not apologize to the players and the coaching staff ordered the team members not to talk about the incident with outsiders, according to sources familiar with the case.
Team members in each grade are holding meetings on how to respond to the incident. Some members are talking about leaving the team, while others are insisting that they should boycott training sessions.
Uchida said the player who performed the dangerous tackle "is extremely depressed. I want him to mend his ways," while asking the Kantoh Collegiate Football Association for permission for the individual to continue playing.
Sport is part of student education with the aim to help young players develop their own personality.
"Uchida should clarify that the players aren't at fault in order to save the students," said a graduate of Nihon University.
(Japanese original by Akira Matsumoto, Yuta Kobayashi and Tadashi Murakami, Sports News Department)