Two edges, same sword: What IS the state of Mizzou athletics?
MAY 02, 2014 3:56p ET
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Education made the unprecedented move of trotting out its Naughty List for public consumption, a roster of 55 schools under investigation for failing to comply with Title IX mandates in relation to sexual assault allegations.
They came in all shapes and sizes, from notorious football factories/party schools (Florida State, Ohio State, Penn State, Arizona State) to bastions of academia you wouldn't necessarily expect (Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth).
But no Mizzou.
"Frankly, if you ask me whether the athletic department and (athletic director) Mike Alden is handling things (the right way), it's hard to argue with how they handled these situations," said Mark Vickery, Missouri Class of '88 and member of the board of directors with the Tiger Club of Kansas City, a local Mizzou booster organization. "They're not putting up with it. ... They're setting up a culture that says, 'This isn't right. Don't do that. Don't do this,' and (losing) really good players in the process.
"So, to me, that's showing really good integrity on the university's part, that we're not going to let people stray from what the values are.
"And I'm proud of them. A lot of schools -- like Florida State, for example, they tend to allow things, to look the other way. We don't do that at Mizzou. You could make an argument (for) reasons to be proud of the university, and not the other way around. That's the way I feel."
Others have been less, shall we say, glowing in their assessment of the news coming out of CoMo over the past five weeks, a set of sagas that ranged from the sordid to the absurd.
The best football player on campus, wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, broke into an apartment, then allegedly pushed a woman down a set of stairs, according to an April police report. Men's basketball forward Zach Price was accused of ramming teammate Earnest Ross' car in what may or may not have been a fit of passion. Ross then put out a restraining order on the 6-foot-10 Price, who managed to get arrested not once, but twice, on the same day.
"I was amazed," former Mizzou hoops star Anthony Peeler told FOXSportsKansasCity.com. "A guy running (another Tiger) guy over like that. I was like, 'Wow,' I couldn't believe that at all. I was like, 'What's going on?'"
Green-Beckham and Price wound up getting kicked off their respective teams within days of one another. At around the same time, an independent investigation decreed that Mizzou had botched its handling of the claims levied by a former Tiger women's swimmer -- Sasha Menu Courey -- who'd said she had been sexually assaulted by at least one MU football player in 2010. The Canadian-born swimmer committed suicide in June 2011, 16 months after the alleged assault took place.
"With ('Outside the Lines'), the ESPN stuff that came out about the swimmer, and now this stuff (with DGB), it's tough, for sure," offered Mizzou offensive lineman Evan Boehm, a native of Lee's Summit. "But you can't pay attention to it. That only hurts you.
"And when you look into the media, you're looking into the media too hard. And no offense to you guys, but if you read it, you're wasting your time.
"It's not for the athletes to read. It's for the folks on (the fan site) PowerMizzou (.com). It's for the old folks that read the newspaper at the coffee shops and all that stuff, and on the Internet. But everybody is going to have their opinions of Mizzou and, you know, we'll just see. And we can't let it affect this team, and I sure know it hasn't."
DGB. Basketball brouhahas. The Menu Courey case. An SEC East championship. A wild win in the Cotton Bowl. Michael Sam, the Tigers' best pass rusher, coming out as the first openly gay NFL Draft prospect, then finding comfort and -- in most cases, compassion -- from the campus as a whole.
Two edges. Same sword.
"It's frustrating," said Doug Bates, president of the Tiger Club. "Because I think the incidents you're referring to have overshadowed so many good things that are going on in the athletic department and around Mizzou."
By the major objective criteria, Alden's athletic department is a healthy -- even thriving -- place. In October 2013, the Tigers' football graduation success rate, or GSR, of 74 percent ranked fourth in the SEC, meaning roughly three-quarters of Mizzou's scholarship football players from 2003 through 2006 received a degree within six years. The athletic department scored an 84 as a whole.
The operating budget reported a $6.03 million surplus in 2013, with more SEC Network dollars on the way. Mizzou brought in $76.3 million in operating revenue in 2013, an increase of nearly $26 million over its reported $50.7 million take from the year before, and its first year in the black since 2009.
Football ticket sales shot up $3.6 million from 2012 to 2013. Memorial Stadium is undergoing a 6,000-seat, $72 million face-lift. Alden is one of five finalists for the Sports Business Journal's "Athletic Director of the Year" award.
Meanwhile, Brandon Orr, an academic coordinator with the MU wrestling, volleyball and swimming teams, was arrested in late March at an Oklahoma City hotel for public intoxication. In Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian's book "The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football," published by Doubleday last September, Mizzou athletics' tutoring department was described as "a hotbed for hooking up." Former MU running back Derrick Washington was convicted of sexually assaulting one of those aforementioned tutors in 2010. Former hoops standout Michael Dixon was twice accused of sexual assault while at Mizzou, and was suspended in December 2010 for an incident that reportedly involved a female staffer in the MU athletic department.
Two edges. Same sword.
"Most of what's going on in the athletic department is very positive and very good," Bates said. "And so the key for them is: What are they going to do to address it?"
Change can be slow; cultural change can be glacial. When it became clear that Sam's sexual orientation was becoming not just widely known around the athletic department, but in Columbia as a whole, Mizzou officials reached out to the university's LBGTQ Resource Center in order to help prepare and better acclimate its student-athletes -- and the male student-athletes, in particular.
While Sam was off-limits to the media for most of this past fall, the native Texan posted the best individual season of his collegiate career, helping Mizzou tie a school record for victories (12) in a single season.
"The way it didn't get out into the media, that just shows how close-knit a team we are, how close-knit a family that we have," Boehm said. "And he trusts us coming out and saying that. And you can see the good reason why he had that trust. And that just proves to you what (kind) of family that we have here. And it's very special."
But trust has to be a two-way street. Green-Beckham, a sophomore, had already been arrested on drug charges twice since enrolling at MU -- once in October 2012 and again this past January. While the Springfield, Mo., native was not formally charged for his role in an April burglary at a local townhome -- during which, according to a police report, he pushed a woman "with two hands making her fall down at least 4 stairs" -- there would be no fourth strike.
"Whether they're charged or not, the athletes should be held to a higher standard than that," Bates said.
"So I'm proud of them for doing the right thing. And that's what I expect out of my football coach and my athletic director, and the way they view the (department) running. And I'm not sure every program would have dismissed him, based on what they know.
"Now, how they prevent (these things) from happening going forward, well, that is the most difficult challenge. But part of it is the athletes -- (they) have to know, like anybody in society, they have to know that if they assault a woman or do something that's illegal or against the rules, that there are consequences to that. That's part of dealing with it.
"And I know they talk to athletes about respecting women and following the rules and doing everything that they're supposed to do. I think they are dealing with it. From a fan's perspective, they're talking the talk, (and) they're walking the walk. Like I said, the feedback of fans I talk to, there's no frustration. There is some disappointment, but there is no frustration or any kind of backlash or anything to Alden or (football coach Gary) Pinkel."
That said, the musical-chairs feel of the men's basketball program over the past five years or so hasn't helped -- at least as far as Alden's Q rating is concerned. Frank Haith bailed last month, just as predecessor Mike Anderson did, both before they'd even reached Year 6.
Unrealistic expectations? Unrealistic fan base (Kansas makes Final Fours and Elite Eights; why the #$*@ don't we?)?
Or was it an unrealistic administration?
"I think he's dealt with it very well, frankly," Bates said of Alden. "I know him and I see him a couple times a year. ... I think he's a good leader, and I think he's done a lot of really good things for Mizzou.
"There's just an unbelievable amount of growth in every way that you can measure it: academics, facilities, success on the field, fundraising, everything you would look for (in) an AD. ... I think he's overseen just a very impressive growth trend for Mizzou sports. So I would give him a very high grade."
Alums see the hiring of new hoops coach Kim Anderson -- who played for, and later coached with, the legendary Norm Stewart -- as a healing balm, if nothing else, after a tempestuous start to 2014. And, for Alden, a public-relations ace after weathering bogey after stinking bogey.
"Everybody goes back home," said Peeler, the Big Eight Conference Player of the Year in 1992, his senior season. "It's just a long time coming. (Kim Anderson) should have always had it, I felt."
Two edges. Same sword.
"That's what's special about Mizzou," Boehm said, "We're all a family and everybody talks to everybody. It's not just, 'You stay here and you stay there.' We all talk to each other and we all match up. And that's special. And that's the family atmosphere that we have."
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.