When is enough enough? Apparently, six games isn’t. Mick Cronin is taking some heat nationally today because of the suspensions slapped on four of his players for their parts in the Crosstown Shootout turned meltdown. Yancy Gates and Cheikh Mbodj, the two UC players who went “Medieval” on Xavier’s Kenny Frease have been suspended by UC for six games. Two freshman players received one game suspensions. To a lot of the national media, particularly ESPN college basketball blogger Tim Keown, it’s not enough, as he writes here http://espn.go.com/espn/commentary/story/_/id/7348348/cincinnati-xavier-discipline-exposes-fraudulent-system
The problem that Keown and others have is that the length of the suspension don’t fit the words that Cronin had after Saturday disgrace. At the time, Cronin said “If my players don’t act the right way, they’ll never play another game at Cincinnati.” Less than 48 hours later, never playing another game was cut to just six. Cronin is adamant about Gates, Mbodj and the others rehabilitating their image and reconfiguring their lives. He gets the big picture: each has, if lucky, 50-60 years of life left. How they use what they were a part of Saturday to make themselves better people will have a more meaningful effect than any suspension would have. But…
If I were Cronin and his superiors, I would have handled it this way. Let’s get this part out of the way now: my next job as a collegiate head basketball coach will be my first. But I think the proper way to have dealt with this tricky situation would have been to suspend both Mbodj and Gates indefinitely. Each would have the right to appeal for reinstatement after one month. By setting a finite number of games to their suspensions, Cronin and his athletic director, Whit Babcock, created at least the possibility that saving a season was as important as fixing a significant problem. I don’t for a moment believe that to be true. But I know Cronin a lot better than the national writers who are pontificating today.
After a month, the process of reinstatement would include a review of what the players did in their down time to rehabilitate themselves. They would then have to earn their way back onto the team by demonstrating it in practice. A month long suspension under those terms would surely mean missing more games.
And let’s face the obvious. The ONLY player who has proven to be a consistent scorer on this current UC team is Gates. Losing him for six games is devastating enough and could lead to out of conference losses that will hinder the ‘Cats chances of making the NCAA Tournament. A suspension that would stretch at least a month would probably end any hope of UC finishing high enough in its conference to earn a bid to the tournament. But the issue here is larger than sports, much larger than one season. A major university is a big business. And attracting students and their tuition money, some of it significant for the University of Cincinnati’s elite programs, trumps anything that relates to one sport, one season. The message Mick Cronin delivered Saturday in the aftermath of the Shootout was loud and clear. It became less clear on Monday to those who don’t really know him. And that’s the problem.