GW basketball’s emergence on the national stage requires both the players and the athletic department to be wary of their conduct off the court.
Last Thursday, three members of the GW men’s basketball team were involved in a scuffle at Lulu’s Mardi Gras, resulting in the hospitalization of two bouncers. While rumors permeate the student body, the GW athletic department has added to the confusion by not commenting on the club’s allegations. These facts do not speak well for a basketball program preparing to emerge onto the national scene.
National sports commentators have predicted GW to be an elite program this year; picking them as the favorites win the Atlantic 10 conference and giving them a legitimate shot at a top 25 ranking. ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com have featured GW in recent articles. This attention, coupled with the increased publicity generated by games with high-level competition such as Wake Forest and Michigan State, will generate increased scrutiny of the team and its players. The incident, and the way it is being handled, is indicative of a program that might not yet be ready for these new pressures.
Coach Karl Hobbs has done a tremendous job rebuilding the GW men’s basketball program. He recruited quality players – both in skill and in character. He developed a style of play that emphasizes the team’s athleticism and utilizes its depth. As the quality of the team increased, student interest exploded. Two years ago, students could arrive well into a game and were able to get a courtside seat. At GW’s final home game last year, students started lining up for seats hours ahead of time. The team inspired school spirit unseen in recent years. With this increased campus profile comes increased pressures and responsibilities.
GW men’s basketball players are essentially campus celebrities, and hence are public figures. Where they go, what they do and how they act when they’re doing it are analyzed obsessively. Even the minutest actions can balloon into scandals and rumors. When serious allegations such as assault are involved, there could potentially be national media attention that reflects on the University as a whole. Players must be overly cautious of the way they act in public, because they not only represent themselves but they represent GW as well.
The GW athletic department is doing a poor job of managing this situation. As of this printing, neither Hobbs nor Director of Athletics Jack Kvancz has said anything publicly about these allegations. Furthermore, players are not being allowed to comment. If the accusations against them are misleading, such silence is unfair to players, who deserve to have their side of the story known and their reputations protected. If the allegations are true, the silence from the administration gives the appearance of apathy or even an endorsement of the players’ carelessness.
As GW continues to improve as a basketball program, it will garner more national attention. Both players and the athletic department must prepare to deal with this recognition to ensure careless conduct does not derail the special progress GW’s team has made under Hobbs’ stewardship.