Dana Altman deserves to be fired for mess at Oregon

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Dana Altman needs to be fired.

I’ll explain why in a minute, but before I do, let me set the stage for you.

Altman, the Oregon head coach, finally spoke publicly about the rape accusations against three of his players on Friday evening, just a few hours after school President Michael Gottfredson made it official that Dominic Artis, Damyean Dotson and Brandon Austin were kicked off of the basketball team.

Altman’s first public comments about investigation came four days after the police report detailing the alleged victim’s graphic accusations went public and almost two months after the incident occurred. More than anything, there were two questions the public was waiting for Altman and Oregon to answer:

  • Why was Brandon Austin, who had a sexual assault allegation at Providence hanging over his head, allowed to transfer into the school and the program?
  • When was Altman made aware of the latest allegations against his three players, and when did he discover the details of what the victim was claiming happened?

And quite frankly, neither answer was in anyway satisfactory.

Let’s start with the first question.

Austin was the only one of the three players that did not play in a game for the Ducks after the alleged incident occurred. That’s because he’s currently sitting out as a transfer. He left Providence after one semester because he had been suspended for the year. In March, the Wall Street Journal reported that Austin’s suspension was centered on an accusation that he sexually assaulted a woman in the fall. But it was known in basketball circles well before that.

On Friday, during his press conference, Altman said that he was unaware that Austin’s issue was an alleged sexual assault.

I’m not buying it.

Austin announced his transfer to Oregon on Jan. 7. He was suspended by the college for the entire year in late-December. Austin’s issue at Providence was a sexual assault allegation known by a number of people weeks prior to the suspension. I had multiple conversations about it before Providence announced he was suspended for the year, enough so that, when the Wall Street Journal’s report came out in March, I was shocked that this wasn’t already public knowledge.

If that’s what I was hearing, if those were the conversations that I was having, then I am positive Altman was hearing the same. He had to have known that a sexual assault allegation was Austin’s trouble at Providence.

That brings me to the second question: when did Altman know about the incident at Oregon and when did he find out specifics of which his players were being accused?

Altman said that he was made aware “the day before we left to go to Milwaukee [for the NCAA tournament]” of an “incident” had happened with some of his players when he was told by AD Rob Mullens. That would have been March 17th. He said he wasn’t told details of the accusations and was not privy to the identity of the players involved.

Let’s rewind here.

Oregon released their timeline of the investigation on Tuesday evening. The incident occurred on March 8th. Oregon admitted in a statement last week that they were made aware of the sexual assault allegations when the father of the victim called the school on March 9th. The alleged victim went to the Eugene PD on March 13th.

But Dana Altman didn’t find out about the incident or the allegations until March 17, after Artis and Dotson played in the Pac-12 tournament? Until the day before they were going to take off and play in the NCAA tournament? I find it hard to believe that, in a college town like Eugene, three basketball players could be accused of sexual assault and two different police departments, including the UOPD, could find out while the head coach stays in the dark for eight days.

But I’m cynical. I know that. I can admit that it’s possible word never made it back to Altman.

So I’ll take it a step further: Altman said that he did not have the details of the allegations or the identities of the players confirmed before the start of the NCAA tournament on March 20, which I find problematic.

It’s inconceivable for a college basketball coach to be made aware that a player on his or her team has a legal issue and for that coach not to figure out which player it is. Whether it’s to help them, to guide them, to make sure they have legal representation, to suspend them if, you know, they’re accused of forcible rape with two other teammates, it doesn’t matter. These are still student-athletes, right? These are kids that are supposed to become adults with the help of the coaches they play for, aren’t they? Isn’t that the ideal we’re going for here?

Moreover, I simply do not believe that a coach like Altman — or any coach at any level in any sport — would proceed to go about his business like nothing was wrong after he was made aware of an “incident” being investigated by the police that involved players on his team that was severe enough that it made it all the way back to his athletic director. Because that’s the story Altman is pitching here. His AD told him about the police investigation — and their request that Oregon pause their internal investigation, a topic I’ll get to in a minute — and, instead of finding out who was involved and how serious this “incident” was, he … went back to watching film?

Shouldn’t a coach want to know? Shouldn’t he be wondering which players on the roster managed to get themselves into trouble at the most important time of the year for a college basketball team? That shouldn’t be ignored.

But hey, maybe this is the way it played out. Maybe Altman is telling the truth here. All I’m saying is that I find it hard to believe Altman when he says he did not know the nature of the investigation and the identities of the players involved before the start of the tournament, in part because it would be the second lie that he told during that press conference on Friday.

And even if he is telling the truth, if he and his staff continued to prepare for the NCAA tournament as if three members of his team weren’t involved in an investigation being conducted by the police that he was clueless about, than that means that Altman was not on top of things the way a high-major college basketball coach should be on top of things.

Here’s something else that doesn’t add up: Altman’s stance is that he and Oregon did not look into the incident at all because they were specifically asked not to do so by the Eugene PD. According to the university, they explicitly asked the Eugene PD whether or not they should keep any players from participating in the NCAA tournament, to which they were told “to do what they normally would do regarding who plays and who doesn’t.”

That sounds good, but Melinda McLaughlin, a Eugene PD spokesperson, told The Oregonian that “police are not going to be concerned about who participates in a sporting event” and that they gave the school no specific instruction regarding playing time for the kids being investigated. That report was confirmed by KEZI9, a television station in Eugene.

Oh.

At best, there was a miscommunication between Oregon and the Eugene PD, and when dealing with sexual assault allegations and postseason tournament games that net coaches — like Dana Altman — five figure bonuses, miscommunications cannot happen. When a best-case scenario could be a fireable offense, you don’t want to think about a worst-case scenario.

If Altman is willing to lie publicly, as I believe he is, about knowingly accepting a transfer that had been suspended after being accused of sexual assault, why should we believe anything else that he is saying?

And if we can’t believe him about when he knew about the accusation, when he knew about the identity of the players being accused, or what the Eugene PD told him to do, than he shouldn’t be the head coach at Oregon anymore.

Dana Altman needs to be fired.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.