Vice President and Director of Athletics Larry Williams begins his first semester on the job this week, and we at the Tribune would like to welcome him to the job.
The premise of Williams’ hiring process and appointment was in part to change the culture of our athletics, most notably scarred by the sexual assault case reported last spring involving student athletes.
The time has come to see just how dedicated he and our athletes are to changing athletics’ culture, and we believe the best place to start would be with our most prominent athletics programs: men and women’s basketball.
It’s no secret the basketball players on campus are treated more like quasi-celebrity-athletes than students, especially the men’s team. The basketball teams are separated from the rest of the student body, and it’s time to change that for the better.
Unlike other sports teams on campus, both the men and women’s basketball teams have specialized, isolated housing arrangements. They have their own study space at the Eagle’s Nest in the Al McGuire Center and even their own area to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner.
We feel these discrepencies insulate basketball players from th rest of campus, as does the students’ willingness to put them on a pedestal.
This is not to suggest the basketball teams are undeserving of respect. Members of both teams pull off feat that few can. They are full-time athletes and full-time students. They have strict schedules that usually involve early-morning practices, specific study tables and planned meal times. It’s hard to be that dedicated to a college sport and still attend classes and get work done, and this is something for which any athlete should be commended.
But it’s perhaps because players are put on this glorified pedestal that situations such as this year’s “Crosstown Shootout” between Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati happen on Dec. 10, 2011. The basketball teams were involved in a bench-clearing brawl 9.4 secords before the game ended. This abrupt ending to the rival’s game occured after words were exchanged between players on Twitter before the game and on the court.
Though this was not solely because of Xavier’s players, the fact that these athletes represent an institution supposedly grounded in Jesuit ideals — and remained largely unapologetic in the post-game press conference — is amazing, and not in a good way.
“That’s what you’re going to see from Xavier/Cincinnati. We got disrespected a little bit before the game – guys calling us out. We’re a tougher team,” senior guard Tu Holloway said: “We’re grown men over here. We got a whole bunch of gangsters in the locker room; not thugs, but tough guys on the court. And we went out and zipped them up after the game. That’s our motto – “zip them up”– and that’s what we just did to them.”
While there are of course many factors in play in this particular instance, we feel the sense of entitlement cultivated by college basketball programs –– especially programs structured in the way both Xavier’s and Marquette’s are, where basketball is the university’s top athletic priority –– encourages behavior that is far outside the norm for regular students, or even regular student-athletes.
And while this example does not mean that Marquette players are exactly the same as Xavier players, we feel the conditions existing could potentially cultivate such problems somewhere down the line.
The solution, then, is to eliminate these conditions. This requires two things: that the student body take them off their imaginary pedestal and that the athletic department encourage the players to take that step down and work to become a more integrated part of the student body.
Integrating the basketball team into the rest of the student body must be an all-campus effort. To change the culture, we as a campus have to be willing to forge that connection with the team as real people, not glorified celebrities or stereotyped athletes.
It is not sufficient to promise a change of athletic culture with Williams’ hiring and let the matter continue as is. We must make an effort to fit the basketball players into the university as a whole. It’s time to make them student-athletes again, not just athletes who are students.