Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim and now Larry Brown. Three college basketball coaches that are surefire Hall of Fame-ers. Three coaches of championship pedigree that have improved every organization at which they have coached. Brown has even coached in the NBA, winning a championship with the Detroit Pistons in 2004.
They have also, however, faced allegations from former players about their conduct and accountability as head coaches. Boeheim and Brown have even had their programs receive punishment and postseason bans from the NCAA, with Brown and Southern Methodist University receiving their disciplinary action earlier this week.
Former basketball administrator and ex-Assistant Head Coach Ulric Maligi helped star junior guard Keith Frazier become eligible to play at SMU. Not only does this unwarranted and illegal assistance come with a postseason ban, it means that SMU will lose nine scholarships over the next three years.
When Boeheim faced allegations at Syracuse and received punishment from the NCAA, it was twelve scholarships over four years, a self-imposed postseason ban and a second look at just what an irresponsible head coach Boeheim was. Boeheim willingly allowed tutors to forge classwork for athletes and oversaw several relaxed drug tests that let the players dodge the school’s drug policy.
And, finally, there’s Williams, who has never been hit with the metaphorical hammer from the NCAA but has come under attack from one of his former players at North Carolina, Rashad McCants. McCants revealed scathing details about how tutors would write all of his papers for him. In addition, McCants alleged that he was allowed to take many African-American studies classes, known as “paper classes,” with optional attendance and electronically submitted papers.
Despite what the NCAA may say or find, we may never fully know the truth of these allegations. Regardless, these three coaches need to be held responsible and accountable for their oversights. But it is not just them; it is what they represent. The head coach who does nothing but coach is not a head coach at all. Being a Division I coach, in any sport, is often about mentoring and helping students manage their physical, academic and mental health.
It sounds like a lofty expectation for someone who is just really knowledgeable about throwing, kicking or shooting a ball. But college is a stressful and taxing time in all facets of life, so it’s only natural that both academic and mental health would have an effect on athletic performance.
Then why would Williams claim that he had no idea what classes his players were taking or deny that he gave them advice? McCants specifically recounted details of an encounter with Williams where he suggested McCants replace a failed class with a summer session class so that he could remain eligible, a policy not allowed by the university. Williams, when asked, claimed he had no recollection of the matter.
But the extent of the denial of responsibility is far from just direct media encounters. Brown, in the Frazier situation, refused to report the situation and, when questioned by the NCAA, gave vague answers and tried to muddy the investigation with confusing answers.
Boeheim, while he finally admitted some responsibility, willingly ignored regulations and failed to “promote a culture of compliance,” according to an NCAA committee. Boeheim did not cheat for the students or help them pass their drug tests, but he did nothing to stop them.
The bottom line is that Division I basketball is so profitable and so popular for many universities’ campus cultures that coaches at its highest level are willing to do whatever it takes to keep their winning environment intact, to the point where it has become more preferable for them to lie their way to victory rather than honestly discipline players who violate team policies.
The NCAA as an organization is not without blame; that much has always been true. But just because the coaches believe the greater organization is wrong or corrupt, it should not, and should never be, an excuse to look the other way.
Paolo Santamaria is a sophomore in the College. Saxa Synergy appears every Friday.
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