Monday, June 14, 2004

Anyone For Hoops?

Apparently last week was not a good week to be a head basketball coach at a university in Ohio. First Ohio State's Jim O'Brien was fired for providing improper benefits to a recruit, and then Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins was arrested for DUI. Huggins was not fired, but was instead placed on an indefinite suspension with pay.

First off, being suspended with pay is not a punishment. "You don't have to come to work, but we'll still pay you." If that is a punishment, then I need someone to tell me what sort of transgressions I have to commit in order to get it for myself. Particularly if there's some good way to make "indefinite" stretch out to "for the rest of your life."

Beyond that, there is some debate over whether UC took the appropriate action or whether Huggins should have been fired. I can see both sides of the argument, so let's explore.

On one hand, it seems almost ludicrous that he would be fired. He was driving his own car, on his own time, and therefore it seems as though any violations he committed would be totally separate from his job. The two things should have no bearing on one another. The legal system should be able to handle the DUI charge with no additional measures necessary on the part of the university.

On the other hand, Coach Huggins is the most high-profile employee of the University of Cincinnati. Any reporting of this case is going to be worded as "University of Cincinnati head men's basketball coach Bob Huggins was arrested..." and so forth. The UC basketball program has a high national profile, and this story is being reported everywhere. That brings a lot of negative publicity to the University of Cincinnati, and not just to the basketball program. When a high-profile employee brings that sort of negative attention to the university, that university is obligated to take some sort of action. They can't be associated with something as serious as DUI without responding, because that would invite even more negative publicity for fostering an environment of acceptance for this sort of thing.

Of course, everyone makes mistakes and does stupid things from time to time. Driving while under the influence was definitely a stupid thing for Huggins to do, but doesn't he deserve a chance to prove that this was an isolated incident and not part of a pattern of destructive behavior? If it is an isolated incident, then Huggins deserves a chance to learn and grow from it rather than being fired from his job and totally castigated for it.

The problem I have with letting Huggins continue in his job is the example it sets for everyone else. I'm not a big believer in the concept of "role models," especially in the world of athletics, but Huggins is a coach of young men, someone who is supposed to lead them and teach them. The whole concept of intercollegiate athletics as pitched by the NCAA commercials on TV is that by playing sports you learn about life. If that's the case, then Bob Huggins really is a role model, and he's setting a terrible example.

Further, the molding and shaping of young men is an area in which Huggins has always had problems. No one disputes that he's a good basketball coach. You can look up the numbers if you want; I know he wins a lot of games, and therefore he must be a good teacher of basketball. Beyond basketball, it's hard to see where Huggins succeeds with the young men under his watch. The graduation rate for UC's basketball team is horrendous, and the roster has been littered over the years with arrests, suspensions, etc. Clearly, Huggins is not teaching anyone anything besides basketball, even before this incident.

At the very least, Huggins isn't doing a very good job of selecting players to represent the University of Cincinnati. Due to all the off-court trouble surrounding the program, the idea of UC basketball player as "scholar-athlete" is something of a joke. In that regard, Huggins is already bringing plenty of negative publicity to the university. This DUI is just one more item on top of everything else, and for that I think the university president and athletic director should have at least considered firing their coach. Not for the DUI per se, but with the DUI being the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.

Case in point: when I was a student at Wright State University, our basketball coach was fired for shoplifting vitamins from a local grocery store. He had been cited for DUI several years before, and consequently there was language put into his contract that allowed the university to fire him if he brought any more negative publicity to them. Hence he was fired for shoplifting, as minor an offense as it was.

As a bit of a sidenote, Colin Cowherd is a moron. On his show this afternoon he was spouting off about how ridiculous a notion it was for anyone to even think that Huggins should be fired. After all, a car wasn't manufactured to be a weapon, and he didn't hurt anyone. Give me a break. Driving while drunk is like playing Russian roulette, with the lives of strangers in the balance as well as your own, because you never know what can happen. All driving is like that to a certain extent, but under the influence it's like having more than just one bullet in the gun. If someone walks down the street pointing a gun at people, that person is going to do some time. It's the same concept for DUI. Maybe you'll kill someone, maybe not. You can't not punish them for not hurting/killing someone, because the chance was there, and that chance was high.

On another mildly related sidenote/tangent, Cowherd's producer Chadd Scott made a point that you can't fire everyone who's ever had a DUI because a lot of people have done it, and the economy would be a total wreck.

That's totally true, and I agree wholeheartedly. I think the same thing can be said for a lot of transgressions. Like, say, lying about a sexual affair. Makes the thought of tossing President Clinton out of office for that seem a little stupid, doesn't it? That's way beside the point, but the thought crossed my mind, and I thought it was worth a mention.

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