GW’s men’s basketball program finally made national headlines this season, but not for any on-court performance. Instead, an altercation after the Colonials lost to the University of Tennessee in a Hawaii tournament was featured on ESPN’s SportsCenter and ran on the national newswire of the Associated Press. Through its off-court actions, the men’s basketball team brought unwelcome publicity to the University, but this single incident is only the latest in a pattern of problems plaguing the program.
The facts surrounding what some reports called a fight remain obscured by the reluctance of coaches and team personnel to comment about exactly what occurred. Apparently after a brutal game that included more than 60 fouls, players from both teams exchanged words in the hospitality room. There are allegations that Tennessee players spit in the direction of a GW player. After some pushing and shoving the Colonials supposedly pinned some Tennessee players against a wall before security officers arrived. Regardless of who started the altercation, GW’s players embarrassed the entire GW community.
The team’s actions reflect the tone set by its leader, coach Tom Penders. In the aftermath of the Hawaii altercation, Penders was quoted saying Tennessee players had “no class.” Perhaps he should keep his judgements to his own squad, which also took part in the incident, and work to improve the team’s already tarnished image. The Penders era at GW has been marked by negative episodes. Associates of GW players exchanged gunfire outside Guthridge Hall in December 1999. And although the rape case against junior transfer Atilla Cosby was dropped in July 2000, he admitted to receiving oral sex from a 46-year-old crack-cocaine addict he had picked up from New Jersey and P streets in his Guthridge Hall room. Penders himself harbors a shady past from his days at the University of Texas, where allegations surfaced that he released a player’s grades without permission – an illegal act under federal law – apparently in retaliation for the player’s threats to transfer.
The taint of impropriety tarnishing GW’s basketball program stretches even farther back. President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and former coach Mike Jarvis were involved in a disastrous 1995 attempt to recruit a player convicted of sexual assault. The proposal became a public relations nightmare, and GW eventually offered a full scholarship to the victim rather than to the basketball player, Richie Parker.
The bottom line remains that GW’s basketball program has embarrassed the University on several occasions. Easily the most visible component of GW around the nation, the men’s basketball team should carry itself with much more dignity. With trips to Hawaii, a coach’s salary that outstrips the University president’s and other privileges, a little accountability from GW’s coach does not seem too much to ask.