Making an analysis of events in the heat of the moment, or immediately following, is all the rage in today's hurry-up, instant action society, but in some cases it just leads to confusion, incorrect assumptions and clouding of the issue. With that in mind, I've waited a day or so to collect my thoughts along with as much information as possible, before sharing my opinion.
First, a clear-cut response to a recent event.
The charges against Washington don't, in my opinion, reflect too negatively on WVU, since he left the team following the spring semester, according to WVU spokespersons. (Washington is listed in the 2008 football media guide, but even an allowance for the lead time necessary to produce that document doesn't answer all the questions as to why he made it into that publication if he left after the spring. However, that's another issue for another day.)
Washington did have previous legal issues, but those weren't brought up or even strongly debated by anyone until his arrest for allegedly breaking into a home and shooting the occupant were reported.
This may look like I'm trying to draw a fine line, but that's not the case. If he wasn't on the team when it happened, then it's hard to draw any correlation to WVU. Just because a player attended a school doesn't mean that had anything to do with a later incident – and that goes for anyone. I have to admit that I get tired of all the finger-pointing that occurs when a player, no matter how far removed from his college days, gets into trouble. In every news story, his college is listed. Message board wars break out with "nyah-nyah" type posts.
Next time, instead of that, how about a discussion of your school's blitz package or pass protections? Anyway, I find it hard to blame anyone but Washington, or make any ties to his former school, if he is guilty of the charges.
Had the pair cooperated with the police in question, this would be a minor issue. However, the accusation of resisting arrest and assault elevates this from the ranks of the ordinary (we see numerous items like this from many schools) to a much more serious level.
The thinking here is that the felony charge against Mazzulla is one that head coach Bob Huggins will have to give far more consideration to than the misdemeanor charges, and rightfully so. The resolution of that charge will likely have a big effect on Huggins' decision as to his punishment from the WVU program.
Of course, everyone wants to know what Huggins is going to do now. That decision isn't going to come until after the matter is settled in court – or at least the probable outcome is known. The initial hearings, to be conducted the first week of August, are likely just the first step on the path to that process. So, it's not going to be a surprise if we don't hear anything about either player's status (but especially Mazzulla's) for a while.
I think Huggins is correct in his approach, even though he will probably take some unfounded hits for trying to delay or hide his decision. If my child was involved in such an incident, I too would want to have as much information as possible and see how the judicial process played out before deciding on my own course of action.
That's not to say that Huggins will exactly follow the conclusions of the legal outcomes, either. He knows the players involved better than any of us, or the police, judge and attorneys that will be involved. And in the end, he will make the decision that he deems best for the futures of his two players – no matter how the media spins it.
On my front, I'm not saying these things should be swept under rug or ignored. If the charges are true, in total or in part, Mazzulla and Thoroughman should receive punishment from WVU in addition to whatever levies they face from the justice system. However, from the outside, I don't think it's my place, or that of anyone else, to determine what those should be.
I've heard some criticism of White for making his statements about the baseball program and coach at West Virginia "in the wrong place". In response to that, I'd ask, "Where is the right place?"
If White made the statements the week before a game, he'd be criticized for not focusing on the season. Ditto if he did it during a fall camp session. And if he'd done it during spring practice, it would probably be viewed by some as a ploy to get added to the team immediately. No matter when he made them, someone would have felt that it wasn't the right time. So, does he deserve criticism on that front? Absolutely not.
While I can't pass judgment on the opinion of White concerning the racial makeup of the team, I do believe that he wasn't trying to deliberate kick up a storm of controversy. I've seen him grow from a person who struggled to give more than one word answers as a freshman to an articulate speaker. And although he still isn't one to break out into long answers, it's easy to see that he has become more comfortable speaking in front of groups. At no time have I ever seen him make a statement just for effect, or say anything that he clearly didn't believe in. So we can throw that angle out the window.
The question of whether or not sports starts should comment on or publicize issues outside of their immediate athletic arena is one that has been increasingly debated. Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods scrupulously avoid doing so, and have drawn occasionally criticism for that. Those are professional athletes, of course, and in a different arena than White, but it's clear that the debate is starting to filter down to the college level.
Is there a right or wrong in this debate? I don't think so. If a player chooses to make his feelings known, that's his right, just as it is to keep them private. I can't find fault with White, or with any other college athlete, for exercising those rights in the manner in which he sees fit.
In looking at all of these observations, I think my theme is that I'm not one to rush to judgment or lay blame in cases like this. (I'm also not trying to defend WVU, because I certainly don't agree with everything they do. For example, I don't see the need for the public announcement of a meeting between the athletic department and Patrick White. If something comes out of those meetings, and changes need to be made, then discuss it at that time.)
But to get back on track, the thing that bothers me the most about these issues is the attendant public ruckus -- much of it unnecessary -- that comes with it. It's not WVU's fault if a former player commits a crime, just as it isn't Virginia Tech's fault that Michael Vick ran a dogfighting operation. Unfortunately, that's one of the easiest storylines to pursue, so that's where much of the coverage follows.