Gophers basketball can escape the press

Something has got to be done about the basketball program.As I was sitting in my living room this morning, watching the cottonwood tree defy gravity and admiring the house finch — bird books can be hours of good clean fun — it occurred to me to check the online version of the St. Paul newspaper. No articles about the Gophers basketball scandal on the front page; at least we got today off.
Ever since the scandal broke on the eve of the NCAA tournament, the University has been treated to a water torture of stories about our beloved basketball team. A bevy of allegations have been tossed into the maelstrom. These allegations include — and I am sure I am missing some of them — cheating on papers, illegal payoffs to tutors, questionable trips to Las Vegas, possible gambling by boosters, and now claims of sexual misconduct by players and a subsequent coverup orchestrated by administrators.
Several weeks ago, this paper’s editorial section called for the end of Clem Haskins’ tenure as the University’s men’s basketball coach. But Coach Haskins, like we saw President Clinton unsuccessfully (or was it successfully) do, continues to stonewall and “deny everything.” One wonders if there exists in this affair a version of the stained dress, some incontrovertible evidence of wrongdoing that could bring about an end. Perhaps we will find a saved voice mail message, “Yo, coach, its Miles, I am on my way over to pick up that $500 Jan needs to finish my paper on the women’s movement.” It would be nice if we could discover indisputable evidence of fault and move on, washing our hands of this mess.
Some might say that the term papers printed in the St. Paul Pioneer Press are just that smoking gun. Possibly, but there has not been any clear evidence that shows the coaching staff knew about this. Clinton knew that he would retain the backing of his toadies as long as he kept up the denials and there was no evidence contrary to his statements. Haskins and the others involved might be completely innocent. But as the evidence mounts on a range of matters, that prospect seems to be diminishing.
Haskins should have the courage to do what our narcissistic president was unable to do: resign for the good of program. At the very least, he is guilty of gross negligence in the management of his players. But those in power rarely take this step, preferring instead to blame others and claim unreasonable persecution. A decision to step down and take responsibility (in more than words) for his players’ actions would re-validate the feelings I once had about Haskins’ character.
Were Haskins ever to go, in the interests of picking this program out of the mud, the new leader needs to be a stand-up guy. Notre Dame reportedly decided not to go with Utah Coach Rick Majerus because of questions about his own cheating while in school. President Yudof, we do not need him.
Someone with loyalty to this program, an interest in seeing it thrive and a solid character would be perfect. Given the salary disputes that have seen Gophers basketball alumnus Kevin McHale upset with professional basketball, why not invite him to come serve as the Gophers’ new coach? He would arguably be leaving one cesspool for another, but there is a difference. Here, McHale might actually be able to change things. He would be able to coach and mentor our student athletes, and agents like David Falk do not control college basketball — yet.
When Haskins finally goes, whether soon or at a future time, Yudof should pick up the phone and invite Kevin McHale to lunch. While enjoying their meals, he should present McHale with a case for why he should return to Minnesota to be our basketball coach. Most importantly, Yudof could give McHale an opportunity to make us feel proud again about being a Minnesota basketball fan. That achievement would outweigh the reward of any game he ever won at Williams Arena in the 1970s.

Rob Hoblit is a Daily editorial board member. He welcomes comments to [email protected]