If six consecutive losses and two straight losing seasons are not enough to irredeemably smear Georgetown basketball’s national reputation, Hoya fans have another reason to be dispirited. The university’s lackluster response to an increasingly embarrassing performance demonstrates that the program’s woes extend far beyond the court.
Exasperation with the basketball program has driven four former players to anonymously call for Head Coach John Thompson III’s removal and 1,700 fans to sign a petition demanding he be fired. Regardless of the validity of these appeals to oust Thompson, the athletic department undeniably mangled its response with clumsy attempts to suppress dissent from fans.
Nowhere was this more apparent than during Georgetown’s 26-point defeat by rival Villanova on March 4. Signs proclaiming “DeGioia do your job” and “Fire Thompson” were allegedly confiscated by Verizon Center ushers, according to witnesses. Georgetown athletic trainer Lorry Michel shouted down a group of spectators for chanting “Fire Thompson” from the student section, while former player Tyler Crawford allegedly threatened a student who tried to start the chant. Even if these attempts to muzzle student dissent were not sanctioned by the athletic department, the university’s failure to condemn this suppression and outright intimidation is a jarring affront to fans.
Yet the program’s own self-censorship proves just as troubling, especially as the closed-door athletic department shrouds details about Thompson’s contract in secrecy. In a four-minute March 4 press conference, which came under the scrutiny of USA TODAY, Sports Information Director Michael Carey prevented Thompson from answering reporter Ben Standig’s question about the program’s future.
The department has also not made any statement in the aftermath of the Villanova loss or recruit Tremont Waters’ announcement that he is requesting release from Georgetown. The departure of the four-star point guard, who is ranked among the top 100 players of his high school class, is a testament to the declining star power of Georgetown basketball.
Furthermore, the department’s silence on the departure is especially worrisome as Georgetown is losing leading scorer guard Rodney Pryor, center Bradley Hayes and forward Reggie Cameron to graduation this year.
Comparably, the Nebraska Cornhuskers had a disappointing 12-19 season for Head Coach Tim Miles and similarly lost forward Jeriah Horne to a transfer, but the university was much more forthcoming to their fans, acknowledging their frustration and publicly affirming their faith in Miles for next season. Georgetown has released no such statement or even announced its intention to retain Thompson, neglecting to recognize the disillusionment of its fan base and even going so far as to try to silence it at the games.
Georgetown’s tight-lipped approach also stands in stark contrast to other peer universities, particularly regarding Thompson’s contract with the university.
While Villanova, Duke, Seton Hall, Xavier, Notre Dame, Providence and other private universities publicly disclose their coaches’ contracts, Georgetown is unique in that Thompson’s contract details are not available, leaving fans in the dark about how much the university is spending — reported figures from the International Business Times are in the ballpark of $2.8 million per year — on a program that has struggled to fill half the seats at the Verizon Center for the past two seasons.
The relationship between the Georgetown men’s basketball program and the fans, students and university community is fundamentally broken. Regardless of whether Thompson is head coach next year, the Georgetown administration and athletic department must start treating its basketball program the way peer universities treat theirs.
The bottom line is that even if the athletic department decides to keep Thompson, its handling of the situation is inexplicably inept. As if failing to acknowledge the failing program was not enough, the department went so far as to silence student dissent and media questioning in an attempt to circumvent the program’s accountability to its fans.
In a time where Georgetown’s free speech protections have come increasingly under scrutiny, with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education ranking Georgetown among its 10 worst schools for free speech, the overt attempt to stifle fan dissatisfaction is particularly galling.
The university should ensure students are permitted to brandish non-explicit signs during games and publicly condemn those within and outside the athletic department who suppress student speech in the student section.
The athletic department must also follow the example of other private universities that maintain the transparency of their program by disclosing contract details and permitting the media to ask Thompson questions about more than just gameplay.
As the university forces departments to cut budgets, including slashing Lauinger Library’s budget by $1 million, the athletic department cannot continue to maintain its presumed largest single expenditure — Thompson’s salary — a complete secret.
But the university can also borrow a page from Nebraska’s playbook and acknowledge the fact that the program is in a state of turmoil. Even if it intends to keep Thompson as head coach, the athletic department ought to be forthright with its fans and affirm its faith in his continued leadership, or else risk further alienating a group of fans who are already leaving the Verizon Center in droves.
Georgetown’s recent play has eroded the university’s reputation as a college basketball titan that has produced legends like Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Allen Iverson, as well as current NBA players Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert, Greg Monroe, Hollis Thompson and Otto Porter Jr.
By refusing to publicly acknowledge this and attempting to silence any proclamations to the contrary, the athletic department’s bungled attempts at damage control are only exacerbating fans’ frustrations with the program.
Only by promoting full transparency — in the team’s performance, in the program’s future and Thompson’s full salary — can the athletic department hope to restore faith in a once powerful Georgetown hallmark.
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