Sunday, March 15, 2009

In Binghamton, what is the cost for March Madness? In Binghamton, what is the cost for "March Madness"

March 15, 1:00 PM
Here is hoping that Dr. Lois B. DeFleur and George Pataki are enjoying Binghamton University's first trip to March Madness, the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament, more than say Bryan Steinhauer. Hopefully both Dr. DeFleur, the President of Binghamton University, Pataki, the New York Governor between 1995 and 2007, along with members from both houses of the New York State Legislature who approved Binghamton's step up to Division I men's basketball and allowed some $33.1 million in funds to go into the construction of an new athletic facility, to house the program, will keep Steinhauer in their thoughts.

But why should they? He wasn't a major contributor to Binghamton's success this year. In fact he wasn't even in school this year.

You see Steinhauer will forever be the symbol of what happens when a school chooses to house a big time sports program. The cost is more than just money. In Steinhauer's case, he was left in a coma after one of Binghamton basketball recruit, Miladin Kovacevic got into a bar brawl with Steinhauer in the early hours of May 4, 2008. Kovacevic, who is 6-9 and weighs 260 pounds, got into a fight with Steinhauer who was 5-9 and about 100 pounds lighter. Kovacevic beat Steinhauer into a coma. The only reason Kovacevic, who came from Serbia, was at Binghamton was his ability to play basketball.

Steinhauer finally emerged from a coma but doesn't remember the incident. Meanwhile Kovacevic fled to Serbia after being arrested with the help of the Siberian consulate. United States officials have demanded that Siberian officials return him to New York where he would face a trial, but Serbia claims they cannot do that because Serbia's constitution does not allow for extradition to the United States.

After the beating, Dr. DeFleur and New York Governor David Patterson along with members of the legislature should have suspended the program and looked into what the school got itself into by reaching for the big time. Instead it was business as usual. Prepare for the 2008-09 season and win the America East Conference under Coach Kevin Broadus.

Dr. DeFleur acted like so many other college and university presidents and chancellors. She overlooked the criminal incident like her peers at the University of Nebraska and other big time schools. The thinking seems to be something like this when it comes to the presidents and chancellors. Maybe in due time people will forget that some college athletes act like thugs and are arrested but somehow continue playing sports. Kovacevic lost his scholarship according to school officials before the Steinhauer incident, possibly because he was injured in 2007-08. Coaches can take scholarships away as easily as handing them out.

Binghamton University along with Buffalo, Stony Brook and Albany are the crown jewels of the New York State University system. All have gone Division 1 in many sports. Buffalo and Stony Brook are football schools, Binghamton and Albany are basketball schools. There was no need to go big time in Binghamton, yet in April 2003 when Binghamton was recruiting students, one of the school's selling points at an assembly aimed at parents who were helping their child in the school selection process was the commitment to basketball and that one day Binghamton would beat perennial powerhouse Syracuse in a match up. That is how important basketball became to Dr. DeFleur.

Basketball has become too much of a burden for a school that is rated one of the best academic state colleges or universities in the United States.

Of course it could be argued that Binghamton, a Northeastern rust belt city, has been in a recession after losing IBM and other companies for more than a decade and a half along with a lot of upstate New York municipalities and needed something to attract students other than classes and a few seedy downtown bars and a basketball team competing on a Division 1 level could do just that. Also, with a D-1 school, alumni and boosters would pump more money into the school's sports programs.

But America East schools don't play big time basketball like the Big East, the ACC, the Pac-10 and other conferences. America East schools lose money on sports and America East games are not must see TV even when the few that do get on TV are shown.

That of course leads to the question. Why is Binghamton going full throttle on building a basketball program? Another question. At what price does a school sell its soul?

A few weeks ago, the New York Times wrote a less than flattering article on the whole culture of the Binghamton University basketball program which included the Kovacevic incident and other incidents including a story about Malik Alvin was charged with assault and theft at a local Wal-Mart. Alvin was charged with stealing condoms, an item very much available on campus free of charge. The charges were dropped. In January, Dwayne Jackson was suspended for violating team rules and Devon McBride quit the team for his “loss of interest” in the game. McBride in that article also claimed that his teammates, most of whom were under the legal drinking age of 21 were consuming alcohol and smoked pot, which is illegal.

The mess at Binghamton University is what Dr. DeFleur, a former college basketball player, has on her watch. The mess is what former Governor Pataki has on his watch. Of course, the Binghamton University president has gone on the offensive and told the New York Times that "All of our basketball players are eligible and are making progress toward graduation." Dr, DeFleur also added that "Since we’ve been Division I, all of the players that have stayed in the program have graduated.”

It would be refreshing if in the coverage of March Madness if the National Collegiate Athletic Association's television and broadband partner CBS or its radio partner Westwood One would devote some time to real journalism on the presentation but don't expect that. CBS is paying the NCAA billions and while the network can dictate the times games tip off, they, despite paying all of that money to the NCAA, dare not criticize or even suggest that college sports is plagued with problems like graduation rates, arrests, allegations that professors have been coerced into giving "student-athletes" better grades and a host of other issues including "student-athletes" rights and the fact that coaches make money off endorsements on the players backs. But all CBS Chairman Sumner Redstone, CBS President Leslie Moonves, CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus and other network officials want are good ratings on TV and record numbers of visitors to the streaming videos of the games. There will be fluff pieces on CBS network news programs promoting March Madness, but don't expect any pieces on Kovacevic and the United States Department of State and New York Senator Charles Schumer's attempts to get the Serbian basketball player back to face assault charges. That would get in the way of entertainment and what the big time playing football and basketball schools want.


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