By in large, the basketball teams that comprise the America East Conference aren’t the ones typically associated with the pageantry and lore that come with major college basketball programs.
I wouldn’t go as far as former Vermont head coach and current ESPN analyst Tom Brennan did when he referred to the conference as a sort of “mom-and-pop shop” operation, but I think we can all agree on the fact that no team in the America East will vie for blue chip recruits or make a run to the Final Four here anytime soon.
With this in mind, America East teams have certain expectations that, if met, can be barometers of success for a given program. Traditionally, these are things like graduation rates, well-rounded student-athletes, and maybe a conference championship here or there.
Since only a small percentage of America East players go on to play professionally, the emphasis on academics and character is valued very highly in the conference’s member schools.
Sure, every America East team wants that coveted spot in the NCAA Tournament, but for the longest time, it was understood among the conference’s athletic departments that the values of scholarship and integrity could not be compromised in order to achieve that kind of success. You want to win? Then do it the right way.
However, in a matter of a couple of years, many of these core values were abandoned by a single America East program: the Binghamton Bearcats.
Having just made the jump to Division-I athletics a few years ago, Binghamton was looking to build a flourishing athletic program at a school widely considered to be the “crown jewel of the SUNY system,” and the way they saw fit to accomplish this goal was through their basketball program.
In came a sparkling new arena and a renewed sense of optimism with the arrival of a new coach, Kevin Broadus. This was where the rise to prominence began, but also where any sense of reason or proper judgment got derailed.
Broadus began to stockpile problematic players with dubious backgrounds: transfers with serious academic issues, recruits with police records, and virtually anything in between. Rather predictably, the environment that Broadus fostered with his basketball program began to clash with the long-established culture at a school that prided itself on academics above all else.
Embarrassing scandals ranging from bar fights to condom theft and assault involving Bearcat basketball players began to make front-page news. Yet, despite all of this, the team was winning and the vision of Binghamton becoming an athletic force was fully realized with an America East basketball championship last season.
This past week, though, all of the shortcuts that Binghamton took to achieve this success came back to haunt them in the form of one of their star players, Tiki Mayben, who was arrested for distributing crack cocaine.
Mayben’s arrest has set off a media firestorm that compelled Broadus to release six players from the team for conduct detrimental to the school and the program. Among them are Mayben, D.J. Rivera (Binghamton’s star player), Malik Alvin (the condom thief), Corey Chandler, Paul Crosby and David Fine.
The release of these players seems to be an indication by Binghamton that it understands what it has done wrong and that it has now cut loose the damaging elements that tainted the program.
While these bothersome players certainly played a hand in this current mess, Binghamton (at this point at least) has failed to hold all those who oversaw and orchestrated these pitfalls accountable.
It has to begin at the very top with the athletic director, Joel Thirer. He is the one responsible for hiring Broadus, for allowing all of those troublesome players to enter the program and become representatives of the school. Anyone who keeps up with America East hoops knows that the Mayben drug bust has been far from the only incident that has plagued this program.
Once scandals like that become a widespread and reoccurring phenomenon, you begin to realize that there is an institutional lack of control within the athletic department and the finger can be pointed squarely at Joel Thirer. Merely from his missteps as an AD, Thirer has taken a proud university and turned it into a national laughingstock—he has to go.
The other individual who has to be put under the microscope is Broadus. After all, he was the one who essentially brought in this “win at all costs” mentality when he took in players like Mayben, Alvin and Rivera, the types of people who were cut loose by programs that had the sense to realize that their talent could not compensate for their moral shortcomings.
For the longest time, Broadus rationalized his decisions to bring in these players as a benevolent act of giving them a second chance. He came from Georgetown, a program known for bringing in malcontents and giving them a chance at redemption, a strategy implemented under the close watch of John Thompson a few decades ago.
Giving underprivileged and misunderstood kids another shot sounds great in principle and for Thompson it worked because he not only helped his players develop on the court, but he also cared tremendously for his players and instilled in them a sense of discipline that helped many of them graduate from one of the top universities in the nation.
But Broadus hasn’t proven himself to be a fraction of the man that Thompson was as a coach, evidenced by such a startling number of arrested players in such a short period of time.
The fact that these wrongdoings have continued to persist shows that Broadus has had no genuine intention of helping his players reform themselves, but has rather exploited them to win games and chosen to ignore their criminal behavior—he, too, has to be let go.
Some may think that right now is not the right time to clean house, what with it being the middle of the fall sports slate, but at some point precedence has to be given to tearing down a house that was built on a faulty foundation in order for a respectable Binghamton athletic department to begin the rebuilding process.
What is now left is a program in shambles, one that is probably not as bad as Binghamton was when they made the jump to Division I, but at least then they had their dignity intact.
It’s a sad situation in so many ways, whether it’s for the conference as a whole, for the school and even for the Binghamton fans who placed their trust in the hands of individuals with jaded intentions.
The question has to be asked whether all of this legal trouble, bad publicity and outright embarrassment was worth a blowout loss to Duke in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but it will probably remain as nothing more than one of many unanswered questions in a sorry saga for Binghamton University and the America East Conference that has come to an abrupt end.
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