by Tzvi Twersky
Kevin Broadus sat, eyes locked on the ground, hands clasped in prayer. Suit jacket hanging loosely over his large frame, Broadus appeared tired. He wore the look of a man who would indeed say he needed to “get away from the big city and all of its hassles,” like he said over cell phone static in January.
It’s been a long season for his 22-8 Binghamton Bearcats, one that began with high hopes, traversed some bumps and now had the chance to fulfill the goal of winning the conference crown and gaining a bid to The Tourney. All the Bearcats needed to do was defeat the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC)—an upstart 15-16 squad that entered the American East Tournament as the sixth seed.
As the American East Coach of the Year closed his eyes and mumbled a few words, his players stood on the court anxiously awaiting the opening tip. Junior guard D.J Rivera, took a few steps to the left and a few to the right, testing his leg; the one injured in the semifinals a week earlier. Just across the mid-court logo fellow guard Malik Alvin closed his eyes, too, imbibing the whole scene through his sealed eyelids.
“It’s a special feeling,” Alvin had told me a few days earlier, after defeating University of New Hampshire in the semifinal game. “[And] it [feels] even better for a guy like me who, as a kid, would have never even thought about going to college…to be a part of a historic team, it’s just an honor.”
While the talented UTEP transfer was vaguely referring to his days as a child growing up on the rough, concrete streets of North Philadelphia, this is exactly the perceived problem that Peter Thamel wrote about in his New York Times column that crucified Binghamton University and Coach Broadus for recruiting players that do not belong at the prestigious University.
In that article Thamel argued, among other things, that Binghamton was risking its good academic standing by allowing Broadus to recruit players with questionable backgrounds both in and out of the classroom.
This is not the first time that Thamel has written about Broadus in The Times. He previously vilified him while Broadus served as an assistant at Georgetown. The accusation leveled against him then? A similar charge of helping John Thompson III recruit players from “diploma mills.”
There are several ways to view Thamel’s article on Binghamton. If you agree or disagree strongly, it’s either dead-on or straight lies. The players are either unqualified convicts, or angels who are being dirtied by a reporter with a hard-on for ruining their coach’s career. The third way of viewing the situation, the way the casual Sunday Times reader should view the article, is that the truth probably lies somewhere in between. The players at Binghamton are neither angels nor demons. They are humans.
Yes, Alvin has a criminal record. And yes, Rivera and Tiki Mayben may have been academically ineligible at their last stop (St. Joe’s, for Rivera) or at the original school that recruited them (Syracuse, for Mayben). Does that mean that they do not deserve a second shot at earning their college diploma?
Thamel maintains that these players (among others) should not be at Binghamton, deeming it too risky for the school, and scoring it a loss even if the team wins. What Thamel does not assess, however, is the human capital involved here.
Malik Alvin originally attended UTEP before exiting after one season, in part due to academic issues. He proceeded to enroll at a junior college before Coach Broadus sold him on Binghamton. After sitting out a year due to transfer rules, Alvin got into some trouble with the law—stealing condoms from a store, and accidentally toppling over an old woman on the way out. In spite of this crime, he is a kind-hearted kid (who, like all students, sometimes makes poor choices). Sure, according to Thamel’s math Alvin has three strikes against him, but does that preclude him from deserving the opportunity to earn a college degree? Certainly he should not have broken the law, and maybe he should never have been accepted into Binghamton in the first place, but let’s look at in a different light—let’s look at the whole institution of high school and college ball in a different light.
As has been said repeatedly on this website (as well as many others), vast amounts of people profit from high school and college athletes. From their handlers, to their coaches, to the people who arrange tournaments starring them, all the way to ESPN who puts them on TV, many people earn their living on these players’ backs. Meanwhile, the players receive no monetary compensation for being the driving force behind an entire industry. The only reward they receive is the chance to go to college on scholarship. And, while that’s not too bad of a proposition for many of them, for some it represents a catch-22: They don’t have the grades—because of time spent refining their money-making skill—or the book smarts to academically keep up with college classes. For kids who fit into that category, what do they get in return for their services? They still get into college. Why? Because it’s still all about the bottom-line: The colleges, the coaches, TV networks, they all need these players to keep the viewers watching and the money flowing. And so, the way I see it, even if the player does not belong in college, the least that can be done is for them to be allowed to play, and graduate with their diplomas in hand.
Applying the above to Alvin’s case: Sure, he did some things that would have had the average college student put on probation or denied admission in the first place, but he deserves a second chance—a repayment of sorts for his lifetime given to ball and to other people’s pockets. And if Binghamton didn’t give him the chance someone else would have.
Another issue with Thamel and his article is that he focuses on Binghamton (after first trying to ostracize Broadus at Georgetown). Why did he choose to go after one University? Why not confront the whole establishment? Something about his continued focus on Broadus just doesn’t sit right. If targeting schools that recruit academically troubled students is his personal crusade, than he should do so with a wider range of schools and coaches in his scope.
Thamel made another contention in his article, one that a skeptic would challenge and that many people on campus are decrying as untrue. The argument woven into the column was that many people at Binghamton are opposed to the school’s elevation to the D-I sports level—a move made eight years ago. One of the main reasons the article cited was the acceptance of academically unqualified athletes into school. Adjunct professors were quoted, as were disgruntled employees and rival coaches. They all spoke of a lowered standard and trouble-making athletes. As usual, however, there is a flip-side to this coin.
“The campus has been crazy,” says D.J Rivera, one of the players under-fire. “We have a lot of support.”
Approximately 10 years ago the very same mountainous campus was filled with strife: racial, religious and otherwise. Students only associated with the other students who were similar to them. Clear divides were drawn between races and religions. It was a hostile environment to live in, let alone attend school. Now, you could try to make the argument that the Bearcats are dragging down academics at Binghamton U, but don’t deny what the team is certainly doing—uniting a previously fractured campus with each and every win. What’s more important the statistics or the harmonious relations being forged? Even stat junkies know the correct answer to that one.
David Okon, a senior from Philadelphia—like key players, Rivera and Alvin—represents the half of the school body that Thamel missed “[The] jump to D-1 was a necessary thing. For years now Binghamton has been planning to make a bigger name for itself across the country. They dropped the SUNY from their name and are also renovating half the campus. The switch to D-1 nine years ago was a good first step… and now we’re ready to dance.”
As Okon refers to, aside from the February article that embroiled the University in scandal, the season has been unlike any other seen in Vestal, NY.
In addition to winning 22 games (before the conference final was played) and finishing first in the American East, the Bearcats were awarded a spot in CollegeInsider.com’s list of top mid-major programs, alongside Davidson, Gonzaga, Butler and other more prominent mid-majors. Additionally, in spite of all the criticism, Broadus was awarded the title of American East Basketball Coach of the Year–an award voted on by his coaching peers and their athletic directors, as his team was victorious in seven more games than the year prior to his taking over the team. The fans also recognized the magnitude of the team’s success, voting D.J Rivera Fans’ Choice Player of the Year, and filling up the Events Center to the tune of 3,782 fans a game—a league high. In addition, on an individual level, senior forward Reggie Fuller was named to the third team All-League and the All-Defense team, with his averages of 10 points per, 7 rebounds, and a block and a half. Joining him on All-League team were juniors Tiki Mayben (13 points and 5 assists) and D.J Rivera ( 25th in the country and a league-best 20.2 point, and 6.5 boards), who occupied spots on the second team. Rivera was also named a Mid-Major All-American by FoxSports.com—earning him well-deserved national prestige.
Accompanying all of those awards, however, was a slap in the face. Rivera, a Second-Team All League player, was unquestionably one of the top-five players in the American East. Due to a “blackballing” of his participation this season, though, he was not named to the First-Team All League. A juvenile move coming from adult coaches. Rivera did not deserve to be overshadowed by American East coaches’ discontent with the NCAA rules; the team did not deserve to be ridiculed for Thamel’s discontent.
John Hartrick, Binghamton University’s Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications, says that the University does want to get in a “‘pissing’ match with The Times,” and will do its best to overcome the added adversity. Likewise, Coach Broadus decided not to respond to the article. Instead, he took out his anger and turned his focus towards the opponents in the American East tournament. As a whole, Binghamton U. released a statement in response to the article:
“From our perspective, the New York Times article did not accurately reflect some of the basic facts. Our primary goal at Binghamton has been and will continue to be the growth and development of all dimensions of the University. Our participation in Division I is a small but strategic part of these goals. As a fledgling program, no different from others, we face similar challenges and successes. Any suggestion that we have compromised our high standards and excellent reputation to achieve this goal is misleading.”
With that, the issue was laid to rest—for now—in Vestal, as the Bearcats have come face-to-face with the NCAA Tournament and now stand one game away from their long-awaited destination.
Playing in the school’s first nationally televised game, I couldn’t make out what Kevin Broadus was whispering in prayer prior to tipping-off in the League final against UMBC: maybe it was a prayer for victory, maybe it was for his much maligned players, maybe it was for his own beleaguered self and supposed misdeeds, or maybe it was just a man taking a moment to reflect. And that’s exactly what Kevin Broadus is: a man looking to lead a team and a school to the next level—the national stage—no matter your opinion of his methods.
***And that’s what he did on Saturday morning, when the Bearcats defeated UMBC 61-51, advancing to their first ever NCAA Tournament, as a school-record 5,342 screaming fans attended.