Some people are just hard to let go. The University has stripped down banners and forfeited 113 games. But it hasn’t publicly disassociated itself with Chris Webber, the Fab Five or any other player who “embarrassed” the school by taking money.

Paul Wong
Joe Smith

And maybe it never will. Michigan associate athletic director for media relations Bruce Madej said yesterday that he’s participated in three meetings on the subject but mentioned that the University is weeks – if not months – from making a final decision on when and if the school will disassociate itself from them completely.

Despite all the wrongdoings players like Webber and the Fab Five committed in their years donning the maize and blue, their accomplishments and legacy have done so much for the basketball program -and still will – that I wouldn’t be surprised if Michigan officials never banish them.

They already had the perfect opportunity. On one of Michigan’s “darkest days,” Athletic Director Bill Martin almost broke down in tears last week as he announced the self-imposed sanctions and tearing down of banners. But when asked if the University would welcome back the culpable players that have caused the school so much shame, he shied away:

“That’s a tough question. Let’s put it this way, I’m not going to send them a Thanksgiving turkey, if that’s what you mean. I will have to let the passage of time answer that one.”

Why is a public disassociation of Webber and the Fab Five so tough? Probably because their legacies remain so important to Michigan, and the University doesn’t want to risk alienating any former players or future recruits if it doesn’t have to. After all, the basketball program rode the wave of the Fab Five’s rock-and-roll star appeal for nearly a decade through de facto probation – where the Wolverines still managed to capture top recruiting classes and remain competitive in the Big Ten (until the Ellerbe years). Why stop milking them now?

The Fab Five was considered the greatest recruiting class ever assembled, trendsetters that changed the face of college basketball on and off the court and one of the most intriguing stories in sports in the early ’90s.

The players were also called trash-talking, cocky and immature kids who were successful and weren’t afraid to let anyone know about it.

Now they’re called a “disgrace” and “embarrassment” by former administrators such as Don Canham.

“We worked 100 years to do it the right way, but then you bring the ‘Fab Five’ in and it ruins everything,” Canham said.

But some would argue the contrary. Webber helped put Michigan basketball on the national map. Kids from all over the country admired Webber & Co., hanging posters of them in their room and purchasing the baggy shorts with the block “M” on the side.

And believe me, recruits in the decade after the Fab Five didn’t marvel at Sean Higgins’ short-shorts or Terry Mills sweet jumper – although those two were members of the last Michigan national title team in 1989.

They remembered, and probably still revere Webber and the Fab Five – despite the indictments, forfeitures or fallen banners.

Just ask the crown jewel of coach Tommy Amaker’s 2003 recruiting class, guard Dion Harris.

“Dion grew up watching the Fab Five and was a big fan of theirs,” said Harris’ high school coach Derrick McDowell. “I think that was a big part of his initial attraction to Michigan.”

Harris was close to eight years old when Webber played his first game at Michigan, yet that’s the long-lasting memory he has of Michigan basketball.

Removed banners and forfeiting games may hurt guys like Dugan Fife, James Voskuil and Rob Pelinka. That was their 15 minutes of fame. Webber, Rose, Taylor, Traylor and Bullock are doing just fine making their big bucks in either the NBA or overseas. They couldn’t probably care less if their photo is up on the wall at Crisler Arena or in the media guide.

But if the school banishes these players from the school – much like it did to “booster” Ed Martin – there probably will be no more appearances for Juwan Howard and Jimmy King at basketball camps because of guilt by association.

There will be no more using the exploits and exposure of Webber & Co. in recruiting visits. And the University will try to force the memory of such Michigan legends out of kids’ memory, instead of letting them slowly fade away into the sunset.

Maybe Bill Martin is right. Let the “passage of time” decide.

The University has let plenty of time pass already.

Joe Smith can be reached at josephms@umich.edu.

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