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Date Posted: 10:01:47 04/20/03 Sun
Author: Bona Trustee to Resign
Subject: Buffalo News Article

Action by Bona trustee could have averted basketball scandal


William Swan said he might have acted differently if "more of a red flag" had arisen in June.


St. Bonaventure should be commended for conducting an honest and thorough review of its basketball scandal and removing the men chiefly responsible for the most shameful episode in the university's history.
It's especially gratifying to know that the school has refused to pay former coach Jan van Breda Kolff the $900,000 remaining on his contract. Van Breda Kolff was the ultimate villain in this regrettable affair and doesn't deserve an extra cent of the college's money.

But Bona didn't go far enough. William Swan, head of the university's board of trustees, should be removed for failing to act more forcefully last June when Gothard Lane, the former athletics director, informed him Jamil Terrell wasn't eligible to play.

Swan could have prevented the whole sordid affair. Instead, he washed his hands of the problem. He turned the issue back to Robert Wickenheiser, the university president, and swallowed Wickenheiser's "eloquent dissertation" on why Terrell was eligible. Swan essentially decided that if Wickenheiser were wrong, the president would be held accountable in the end.

Of course, that's exactly what happened. The scandal broke in February. Bona became a national joke. Wickenheiser resigned in disgrace. Games were forfeited. Players refused to play games. A review committee was formed and came back with its findings seven weeks later.

Still, Swan insists there was nothing more he could have done. He says he chose to "butt out" when Lane brought the Terrell issue to his attention, as if Lane and Wickenheiser were squabbling over who should get the bigger parking space.

Swan said he might have acted differently if "more of a red flag" had arisen in June. Come on, now. How red a flag did he need? Would it have helped if the flag were dripping with the blood of athletic department employees who were working in fear of Wickenheiser, and being bullied by van Breda Kolff on a regular basis?

Did Swan bother to contact Barbara Questa, the school's athletics compliance director, whose principled efforts were being thwarted by van Breda Kolff and Wickenheiser?

Questa also rejected Terrell's admission. In October, before the start of the 2002-03 season, she refused to sign the team's Certification of Eligibility.

That means neither Lane, who had six years of experience in academic compliance, nor Questa, the compliance officer, felt Terrell was eligible to play at Bona (which explains why they were on the top of the list of people van Breda Kolff wanted to see fired).

But Swan, hiding behind the notion that the board of trustees shouldn't get involved in the school's day-to-day affairs, allowed Wickenheiser to admit an athlete with nothing but a welding certificate from a junior college.

Swan admitted, in retrospect, that Wickenheiser's "zealous enthusiasm for basketball caught up to him." It can't have been news to Swan that Wickenheiser was overly involved in the basketball team's business, that he had a son, Kort, on van Breda Kolff's coaching staff and that he routinely embarrassed himself at the home games.

Once van Breda Kolff hired the president's son as an assistant, the red flags should have been flying in front of all the trustees' eyes. Any involvement Wickenheiser had with the basketball team was compromised from that day forward. The professional career of his son was at stake.

Swan should have taken those things into consideration when Lane came to him for help. It was his responsibility, as the head of an oversight group, to see potential conflicts of interest. Otherwise, what good is a board of trustees?

Critics of Swan have said he was too close to Wickenheiser, that he was one of the president's "guys." The hoops scandal did little to shatter that notion. It has the appearance of one high-ranking crony deferring to another, and let those nitpicking peons in athletics compliance be damned.

Swan's defenders will say the trustees can't get involved with questions of eligibility. They can't treat an athlete any differently from a student in the general population. That ignores the central reality of this whole discussion. The basketball program is the most visible entity at St. Bonaventure. That's why the alumni have such a strong emotional attachment to it.

Any mistakes are magnified and have an enormous impact on the school's image, as we've found out over the past two months. It's hard to imagine Wickenheiser putting his job and his reputation on the line to sneak some marginally literate junior-college transfer into the English department.

There's been a lot of talk about the Bona family lately. It's good to see the alumni pull together and celebrate what's right about the school. Just because Swan is a graduate doesn't make him any less culpable. He let the family down.

At Thursday's news conference, Swan said the university should be looked upon as a model for how to deal with this kind of crisis. Sadly, he did his best work after the fact, when it was already too late.

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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