In yesterday’s press conference announcing the self-imposed sanctions Michigan will put on its basketball program, University President Mary Sue Coleman made one thing very clear: “I am determined that nothing like this will ever happen again at Michigan,” she said. “Let me say loud and clear: Integrity is our top priority.”
Coleman is right. Integrity should be one of Michigan’s top priorities, and by punishing its basketball program, the University is demonstrating its commitment to winning the right way. It is the correct course of action.
But Michigan stands for more than just integrity. It also stands for loyalty and dedication to its student-athletes – two qualities that did not show up when the University decided to ban its basketball team from postseason play this year. This particular sanction showed a lack of loyalty toward its current team members – particularly seniors LaVell Blanchard, Gavin Groninger and Rotolu Adebiyi – who lost the opportunity to ever play in the NCAA Tournament.
Even though a ban may be necessary to properly punish the program, Michigan should have remained faithful to its current players by not taking the postseason away from them.
“Even though this is the right thing to do, I want to personally apologize to our three basketball players who are graduating seniors,” Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin said.
But was this the right thing to do? Was it necessary for Martin, Coleman and Tommy Amaker to pull Michigan out of the postseason before the NCAA could make a ruling, especially when no current player or coach is in any way connected with the crimes?
Ever since rumors about the basketball program began to surface in 1996, the University has made a comprehensive effort to examine the allegations. The program was investigated three times and two coaching changes were made. Even though nothing was proven until the federal government got involved, the University made an honest effort to uncover the problem.
“No one wanted to sweep these problems under the rug,” Coleman said. “Bill Martin has done all the right things to make it clear to everyone in the department that integrity is our top priority.”
If Michigan has done all the right things, as Coleman says it has, then it should not feel obligated to punish its current players and coaches. The University’s duty in this case is to punish the program by separating itself from the legacy left by Chris Webber, Robert Traylor, Maurice Taylor and Louis Bullock. It should take down the banners. It should pay the NCAA back for the money it was given. It should forfeit those games and it should be placed on probation.
It should not turn its back on its current seniors by taking away their last chance at postseason play. If the NCAA needs to do this to Michigan, let it.
The NCAA might feel a one- or two-year postseason ban is necessary for this program to truly be punished seriously. In fact, with the magnitude of this scandal, a ban should be put in place to punish the program. But let the NCAA slap this penalty onto the list of sanctions. That way, at least Michigan’s complete devotion to its current players cannot be questioned.
The University did have motives in banning its team from the postseason. It’s the one concrete punishment that transcends the passage of time and actually affects the current state of the program. It also might be an effort on the University’s part to discourage the NCAA from imposing any additional sanctions when Michigan brings its case in front of the Infractions Committee.
“These are very serious sanctions,” Coleman said. “We considered these carefully in light of the gravity of the violations and the consistent approach the NCAA has had towards such problems at other universities.”
These reasons are understandable, but not acceptable. The Michigan basketball program most probably deserved to get banned from the postseason, but its current players did not deserve to have their own school take it away from them.
Naweed Sikora can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.