In Basketball, Troubles Spill Off the Court

From the New York Times
By Peter Applebome

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — It’s not like there’s not enough going on at the cottage originally built as housing for shoe company workers. The two parakeets chirp. There’s a birth coming any day for the pregnancy and delivery counseling practice. There are classes to prepare for, a dissertation to write, teaching jobs to apply for, the weekly Friday night soccer game.

Sally Dear spoke up about what she described as pressure from the Binghamton athletic department to give a pass to basketball players who didn’t show up for class, came late and left early when they did.

But for Sally Dear, an adjunct lecturer in human development at the State University at Binghamton, there’s also a maelstrom hovering in the continuing investigation into the disaster that the school’s basketball program has become. So Ms. Dear finds herself in the middle of one of those campus eruptions that can break out anyplace with big-time sports and is offering up a cautionary lesson — or series of them — here.

“My goal was that all this settled down, and I graduate in May,” said Ms. Dear, who had taught at Binghamton since 1998 until agreeing to speak publicly about what she described as pressures to change her grading and attendance policies for basketball players last year. “I did not ask for this. This is really putting things over the top in terms of sanity and time.” SUNY Binghamton, better known for its excellent academics and its affordable price tag than for athletics, has become an unlikely object lesson in the potential glories and catastrophes of big-time sports ever since it brought in a basketball coach, Kevin Broadus, with a somewhat shaky reputation and a mandate to go for the gusto.

He brought in players with much more game on the court than off it, and got the team to the N.C.A.A. tournament for the first time last spring. It was, students say, about the coolest thing that had ever happened at Binghamton.

Since then, one of his players, Emanuel Mayben, has been charged with selling crack cocaine, the third player to be arrested in Mr. Broadus’s three years as coach. Six players, including Mr. Mayben, have been dismissed from the team; Mr. Broadus has been placed on a paid leave of absence; the athletic director, Joel Thirer, has resigned; and Judith S. Kaye, a retired chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals, has been named to run an independent audit of Binghamton’s athletic department. There’s more, but that’s a start.

Given all that, Binghamton’s program was headed for a fall whether or not Ms. Dear spoke up about what she described as pressure from the athletic department to give a pass to basketball players who didn’t show up for class, came late and left early when they did.

The university, on Oct. 1, said she did not follow proper procedures for raising concerns and should have had a more flexible attendance policy.

Still, every campus sports uproar like this needs a public face, and she’s been the closest thing to it. She said she’s been given the cold shoulder by a few colleagues, been supported by others and received encouraging e-mail messages from across the country.

“Not even protected by tenure and you make your stand,” went one. “How unusual. And refreshing. Think of all those professors who in their retirement will say, ‘I coulda — I shoulda.’ You will be able to say, ‘I did.’ ”

It’s a little crazy that this happened at Binghamton. Were big-time sports really needed at a school widely viewed as offering an elite education at a state school price?

Even Ms. Dear remains unsure whether the problem is big-time college sports or whether Binghamton tried too much, too soon, too shoddily.

Thomas Lee, a 2005 graduate who described Ms. Dear as “the best teacher I had in my academic career,” said Binghamton spent 15 to 20 years building a baseball team the right way, but tarnished its reputation looking for a quick fix in basketball.

“They tried to do that in basketball in two or three years, and you can’t do that,” Mr. Lee said. “They created a reform school at our college.”

Ms. Dear was informed in September that she would not be rehired, but after that was publicized, told that she would have a job. But spring schedules show no course for her, and registration for the next semester has begun. She does not believe she really has a job.

Students, sounding a bit wiser than their leaders, generally said they still supported Division 1 athletics, but only if done with an awareness of the costs of doing it wrong.

“It’s a two-sided sword,” said Pat Mancilla, a sophomore. “They represent us in a really big way, whether they make us look good or they screw up big time.”

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