Before this college basketball season started, Travis Ford’s Saint Louis University Billikens were picked by the media covering the league to finish seventh in the Atlantic-10 conference. The Bills had a lot of new players coming in, so the unknown played a role in the picks.
Then before practice began, reports surfaced that four of Ford’s eleven eligible and healthy scholarship players were accused of a sexual assault on campus. No charges were ever filed, no arrests were ever made. But as SLU hosted Harris Stowe in an exhibition game on November 4, three players…transfers Adonys Henriquez and Ty Graves and returnee Jermaine Bishop…weren’t on hand at Chaifetz Arena. Henriquez was supposed to be the team’s best shooter and best overall player, and Graves was supposed to be their starting point guard. The school made no statement about their absence, and athletic director Chris May had no comment.
As the season began, word seeped out that a Title IX investigation had been launched into the alleged assault. Throughout the process, even though they never played, the players would practice and at times travel with the team. The school never once explained what was going on, to the point of never admitting that there was an investigation.
In mid-January, attorney Scott Rosenblum announced that three of the four players under investigation…his clients…had been suspended. Even though the players had been invited to move back to campus before the second semester started they were ordered to move away once the Title IX decision to suspend them was in.
On February 6, Graves issued a statement that he had withdrawn from Saint Louis University. The school has never said anything about it.
Finally, on February 13, Saint Louis University issued a statement that there was indeed a Title IX investigation, and freshman guard Jordan Goodwin released a statement acknowledging that he has been suspended until May. The school never did say whether anyone had been suspended. Henriquez changed his social media profile to describe himself as a professional basketball player, and he hired an agent.
A Title IX investigation is supposed to last sixty days. Apparently, this one took about twice that long. The appeal process was supposed to be complete within ten days, but took three weeks.
I’m not saying keeping the players off the court was the wrong thing. However, college basketball is a public business, and the people paying the freight…corporate partners, media partners and paying fans, deserve to know what’s going on. And a group of players that was never arrested or charged with a crime deserved due process, not a keystone cops situation where players are under investigation, but get to practice and travel with the team and are bounced between living arrangements at the whim of the university.
Throughout the secretive process, Ford kept his team on task. With only eight scholarship players (now seven, with the confirmed suspension of Goodwin, who DID become the team’s best player), SLU has carved out a 15-12 record overall, and sits fourth in the A-10 with an 8-6 record in the conference. This is Conference Coach of the Year material. I’m sure most of the people who will vote for that honor have no idea what Ford has had to deal with, but to have his team where it is with four games left in the season is remarkable.
To recap, a team that was picked to finish seventh in the A-10 lost two starters and its best player, and is now sitting FOURTH in the conference after a Saturday night road win at Richmond.
I don’t know if, after this process, SLU will be able to keep Ford around. This is a coach that has taken programs to NCAA tournaments, and built a dominant program at UMass in the very conference he’s coaching in now. The Billiken program was already one in which the desire to consistently win was reasonably questioned.
Is this a program capable of staying out of its own way? Can Saint Louis recruit high quality players and people, and keep them on the court? Can they offer enough transparency to make it appear as if they care about their partners? We don’t know. The Saint Louis program has rarely been able to sustain success and this last episode doesn’t engender much confidence.
A few weeks ago, after a win, Ford grabbed a microphone and addressed the crowd, thanking them for supporting his team and saying, “these are good kids.” Well, they’re coached by a good coach too. He’s a guy that can do good things with even the SLU program. He’s done an amazing job so far this season and deserves to be looked at as the A-10 coach of the year.