- The Washington Times - Monday, August 29, 2005

Bob Huggins is where he should be now, banished to the periphery of the college basketball game that he mocked with brazen audacity.

Yes, he was in the business of saving youths at Cincinnati, as so many coaches are, so long as the youths are incredibly tall and gifted on a basketball court.

He was about saving those type of youths, only he did not really save them. He did not implore the youths to be on track to graduate one day. As far as anyone could tell, his ability to save youths did not extend beyond the basketball floor, because it was there that he could win games and make deals that contributed to his financial welfare.

It was there that he could be larger than the institution, as a quasi-celebrity accustomed to having his way, no matter how often his basketball dealings compromised the integrity of an institution that is in the education business.

Nancy Zimpher, the school president, has shown herself to be one of the most principled educators in the land. She has been on the job less than two years, and her most public act is to jettison the face of the university who led the Bearcats to a 25-8 record last season before entering the highly competitive den of the Big East Conference this season.

The big-time college basketball culture is usually permitted to be far removed from the academic culture. All too many educators are content to hold their noses around it, if the victories are plentiful and boosters are dumping money into the university coffers.

Most university presidents accept, to a point, that football and basketball coaches are sometimes obligated to take a chance on a troubled athlete. That is the nature of the culture. Athletes are rarely eggheads. They train their bodies a whole lot more than their minds.

The gray area of trafficking in troubled athletes is both a blessing and a curse.

You either go about it with great care or suffer the consequences if you overindulge.

If you are the coach of a basketball team who is attempting to save half the roster, you have put into place a potentially problematic groundwork, perhaps beneficial in the short term but destined to haunt in the long term.

And so it was with Huggins.

He was forever trying to soften the hard edges of a program that often was employed as a punch line. Sometimes the incriminating material was too good, such as the time one of his players punched out a police horse. The material inevitably accumulated, not the least was the police video of the coach’s DUI arrest last summer.

Huggins took up with the gray area and ended up abusing it. Fair or not, he came to be perceived as an outlaw, as it came to be for Jerry Tarkanian, the father of the life-saving genre.

Zimpher believes there is a better way, and it is hard to take exception to her position.

She knows what is at stake: the basketball program’s national prominence and boosters who could put the financial squeeze on the school.

There is no ideal template in the sports/academic business, not even at Duke. But there are far better molds than the unseemly one that accompanied Huggins and the Bearcats.

The questionable student-athlete is in abundance in the money-making wing of the NCAA. The challenge before a coach is not to be over-reliant on this kind, because the practice is almost predetermined to bite you in the rear.

Please, no tears are necessary for Huggins, who is clutching a $3million parting gift from Cincinnati. That is enough to assuage anyone’s hurt.

He undoubtedly will have an opportunity to play an analyst in the ESPN studio this winter before climbing aboard the coaching carousel next spring.

Huggins then will avail himself to the desperate at his leisure.

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