Miller: Iowa's Players Are Worthy of Your Support

Jon Miller's thoughts on the Iowa basketball program in light of Pierre Pierce's dismissal from the team.

A sad and sordid era of Iowa basketball came to an end on Wednesday, as Steve Alford released the following statement:

"Effective, immediately, Pierre Pierce has been dismissed from the University of Iowa men's basketball team. I regret this step has become necessary, but Pierre has betrayed the trust we placed in him when he was given a second chance two years ago. Pierre is an excellent basketball player who will be missed by our team. But, given the circumstances, I feel this is the only appropriate response."

Pierce was suspended for an entire season two years ago following an investigation into claims of sexual assault. He plead to a lesser charge, served 200 hours of community service in addition to sitting out the 2002-2003 season.

Through that firestorm, Pierce remained on scholarship at the University of Iowa. There was mediation between several parties that allowed that to happen, and after reading some of Iowa Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby's comments from his Wednesday press conference, it doesn't sound like Iowa was totally at peace with that result.

When asked if he regretted the decision of two years ago to allow Pierce to remain on the team, Bowlsby said the following:

"No, but don't mistake this; I didn't agree to the mediated agreement. I didn't have any party in the mediated agreement. There were some elements that came out of it that were binding upon us, and we agreed to go along with those things. I think people are entitled to a second chance. For the most part, we error on the side of trying to help young people do the right things at the right times. Sometimes you are burned on being that trusting. But I don't think that means you don't do it."

It doesn't take a genius to gather that the way in which Pierce's 2002 incident was handled, or mishandled by numerous parties, has haunted Iowa for the past two years.

It reached its bizzaro zenith this week as police reports emanating out of West Des Moines have linked Pierce in the midst of another incident with a female. The police report suggested that possible charges of Burglary in the 1st degree, Criminal Mischief in the 2nd degree, assault with intent to cause sexual abuse and false imprisonment were under investigation. Item's belonging to another person and that were contained in the police report were confiscated at Pierce's Iowa City residence, under order of a search warrant.

Through leaks to the media, Pierre Pierce was named, though no charges have been filed as of midnight, February 3rd.

This has come on the heels of one of Iowa's more disappointing losses in recent memory, last week's loss at Northwestern that saw the Hawkeyes pluck defeat out of the jaw of victory. They led by 12 points with less than three minutes to go in the game, only to lose on a buzzer beating three-point shot in overtime.

But that's just what has taken place as of late.

What has taken place since Pierce was allowed to remain on the basketball team has been more telling.

Home attendance for the 2003-2004 season, Pierce's first season back after his 2002 incident, was the worst in the history of Carver Hawkeye Arena. This year's home attendance figures are even worse. Prior to Saturday's home win against Indiana, Iowa has had an average of 4,457 unsold seats per home game.

To what degree those figures have to do with Pierce's remaining a part of the program are impossible to calculate, but it's a part of it. Three straight NIT appearances also factor into that equation.

No matter the reason, we are talking millions of dollars of lost revenue for the Athletic Department over the course of the last two years.

Fan apathy is at its highest levels since…since…well, since I have been watching Iowa basketball, a span of time that dates back to Iowa's 1980 Final Four season.

Even in the final years of the Tom Davis era, where Carver Hawkeye saw some of its worst attendance numbers at the time, the vast majority of Iowa fans still tuned in to watch the games and Carver was not as empty as it has been over the course of the last two years.

Most importantly, fans still cared.

Fans still care, but the growing number of fans that do not seem to care is alarming. I have said this before; there is no worse news for a program than when a hefty segment of its fan base is no longer impassioned one way or another after wins or losses because of disinterest.

I do believe that Pierre Pierce's status as a member of the team has pushed some fans into that category. Again, it's impossible to accurately calculate the percentage of the unsold seats that fall into that category.

Taking the mediated aspects of Pierce's inclusion in the program into account, and assuming that some hands may have been tied due to a botched handling of the situation two years ago, it still does not allow Alford to get off free and clear through all of this.

It's my opinion that Alford hitched his career at Iowa, to one degree or another, to Pierre Pierce.

Alford's insensitive remarks from two years ago regarding his belief in Pierce's innocence can still be cited word for word by his sharpest critics, and some fans have never forgiven him for those words.

This was to have been the season of no excuses, as in no excuses would be acceptable for this team, this collection of talent, to not make the NCAA tournament.

Debate over whether or not Alford should be back next year will continue to unfold on message boards and in coffee shops across the state of Iowa. We'll address that after we have a complete body of work to evaluate.

Iowa will play on without its leading scorer for the rest of this season.

Iowa might need to come up with five wins in its remaining nine Big Ten games to get an invite to the NCAA tournament. Iowa hosts Michigan State on Saturday and then travels to Wisconsin next week. They also host Illinois later this month, and have road games at Purdue, Penn State, Minnesota and Michigan. They host Ohio State and Northwestern, teams that have already beaten them this season.

Winning five of those games with Pierce and with no distractions was going to be a tough chore.

This brings me to my final thought.

Things are what they are; nothing can change the past.

Jeff Horner and Greg Brunner did not sign up for this when they committed to Iowa, yet they have done nothing but give everything they have for honor of wearing the Iowa uniform. Carlton Reed, Mike Henderson, Adam Haluska and Alex Thompson are all Iowa products and they are still going to give it their best shot. Erek Hansen, Doug Thomas and the rest of the squad that remains are going to go out there and do the best that they possibly can.

There is still reason to cheer, cheer, cheer for Iowa. These players deserve the support of their fan base.

For those of you who have been staying away from Carver because of Pierre Pierce, show up and voice your support for the players who are still wearing the I-O-W-A across their chest. Let them know that though you are displeased with some of the things taking place in the program, you have not given up on them and that you support their efforts.

Do this even if you might be at odds with other aspects of the program.

Come to Carver this Saturday; those kids need to hear from you.

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