As a journalism student, professors have indoctrinated me with the belief that the press is a watchdog. It is supposed to recognize when something is not right, and it has a responsibility to bring it to the public's attention.
Senior Jamar Samuels, the second-leading scorer of 8-seed Kansas State, was declared ineligible for his team's second game in the NCAA tournament against 1-seed Syracuse. The Wildcats found out the night before the game. An article on ESPN quoted athletic director John Currie as saying the issue did not stem from academics nor from the team's stay in Pittsburgh. Coach Frank Martin said he was not part of the decision to bench Samuels and said in his opinion Samuels did nothing wrong.
"Jamar is one of the greatest kids I've been around," Martin said after the game. "What took place as we found out last night was completely unfortunate. As a university we have to take a stance and protect our university, and unfortunately it put him in a tough spot. He has, in my opinion, done nothing wrong, but you always have to err on the side of caution and not do something and look back on it and then regret your decision. Please don't ask me any questions on it because I had nothing to do with the decision. Any questions pertaining to this matter, please direct to John Currie, my boss."
From what reporters in Pittsburgh have conveyed, Currie has declined to comment further.
Three aspects of this situation motivate me to explore further what exactly happened here. The first and second points I make pertain to the initiation of this suspension by the NCAA/Kansas State, and the third - and most compelling - question involves Martin.
1) If this suspension happened to a team that commanded more of a national spotlight - Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, etc. - there would be a huge outcry.
Can you imagine if in Thomas Robinson's senior season he was held out of a third-round NCAA game and then Bill Self came out and said he did nothing wrong? People would be all over it. It would be a huge deal. The administration would be under all sorts of heat to explain the travesty of ending a senior's career on the bench. Yet for this ... I haven't seen many inquiries from anyone other than Kansas State supporters.
2) Regardless of whether Samuels did something wrong or not, his sudden suspension raises questions of NCAA consistency.
Why was Jamar Samuels declared ineligible in the middle of the NCAA tournament and held out of the Wildcats game against No. 1 Syracuse when just a few months ago the five Ohio State football players who traded jerseys and memorabilia for tattoos were suspended for five games at the beginning of the next season but still allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas?
3) Martin's comments on this suspension of Samuels differ dramatically from his reaction to other eligibility or suspension issues that have arisen in the past couple years.
Kansas State basketball is not a stranger to suspensions. Seniors Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly were suspended early last season for accepting impermissible benefits. Martin suspended Jordan Henriquez for one game earlier this season, and Samuels was actually suspended for three games at the start of this season for violating team rules.
What makes today's situation different from those is that Martin all but said he disagreed with how this all turned out. In previous suspension situations, he has readily acknowledged mistakes by players, and the players themselves have acknowledged their mistakes.
This time, the coach just seemed deeply troubled that a player who has been with him for five years missed his final opportunity to play in a Kansas State uniform. Asked what he learned from the senior, the coach commented on Samuels' perseverance.
There exists the possibility that the NCAA and/or Kansas State had some good reasons to cloak this suspension in secrecy - perhaps protecting the privacy of Samuels and his family, which would be understandable. Maybe Samuels did nothing wrong, or maybe he did break a rule. However, I just hope that Samuels missing his final game as a Wildcat was not the result of some rinky-dink rule like the one that states that athletes can be provided bagels but not the cream cheese to go with them.
"How to be resilient. How to continue to battle. I've been as hard on Jamar as any kid I've ever coached, and he never ran away from it. He came in as a freshman thinking he was the third pick in the NBA draft, and he's getting ready to walk out with a college degree and a man who's ready for life." Martin paused, and as he continued to talk, his voice trembled, and he brought his hand to his face and rubbed his mouth. His eyes filled with sadness. "I don't get to coach him anymore. That's not fun."
That would be a travesty.