Sunday, April 07, 2002

UC's bad reputation gets worse




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        Donald Little is neither the rule nor the exception. He is neither typical of University of Cincinnati basketball nor completely out of its controversial character.

        He's just the latest and most lurid image problem of Bob Huggins' tenure, a repeat reprobate who has shattered Art Long's school record for embarrassing escapades. It takes a pretty serious scandal to surpass a player best known for punching a police horse, but Little has reduced Long to comic relief.

        The formal charges are kidnapping and felonious assault. The allegations include torture and murderous threats. Some of the details are sketchy, but the outline is ominous. Little has been dismissed from the Bearcats basketball team — this time permanently — but UC will be hard-pressed to repair his damage.

        According to police reports, Little spent Monday in a melancholy mood. It was the day of the NCAA championship game, and Little is alleged to have spent the afternoon taping his roommate to a plastic lawn chair, then bashing and burning him in an apparent attempt to coerce a confession.

        Purportedly, Little was missing $2,500. His actions would indicate that he suspected his roommate, Justin Hodge, had some role in its disappearance. What a college athlete was doing with $2,500 in cash is a good questioní— one NCAA investigators may want to probe — but it's a digression at this stage. The larger story is that rather than report a robbery, Little evidently chose to conduct his own inquisition.

        Hodge was called to the apartment. He would leave it in need of medical attention. There are bound to be different versions of what went on within those walls, but the tale Hodge told police sounds like a lost episode of The Sopranos. Hodge claims to have been hit in the head with a whiskey bottle, stabbed, struck in the face with a weight bar, and scalded with cigarettes and a heated coat hanger. He says he heard Little instruct friends to kill him and dump his body in Columbus.

        Following Little's arrest, UC's first response was to defer any decision while the case was pending. This position had two advantages: It preserved Little's presumption of innocence and his remaining eligibility. More than once, UC has been able to justify reinstating suspended athletes on the basis of reduced or dropped charges. If the case against Little did not stand up, Huggins might have been able to salvage his starting center.

        Yet UC's second-day response demonstrated this was no routine infraction. The allegations were too ugly. The heat was too high. Though UC officials were careful not to convict Little before the courts could, the decision to drop him from the program and deny him an appeal was tantamount to a guilty verdict.

        Ostensibly, UC's excuse was that Little had violated the conditions of an earlier reinstatement contract. Obviously, Little is not the sort of person UC wants associated with its athletic programs.

        With Kenyon Martin leading the NBA in flagrant fouls, and the NCAA's graduation survey an annual source of embarrassment, UC's national image is at low ebb. Whether Little's penalty fits his crime is yet to be determined, but it certainly fits the politics of expediency.

       Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456; e-mail: tsullivan@enquirer.com.

Little stories:
Grove, Little may be charged in bar fight May 5, 2001
UC boots Little May 20, 2001
Little charged in bar incident May 22, 2001
Little arraigned on assault charge May 23, 2001
Little's UC days may not be over July 25, 2001
Little pleads guilty in bar incident Sept. 6, 2001
UC reinstates Little Sept. 22, 2001
UC's Little accused of torturing roommate April 3, 2002
Little kicked off Bearcats April 4, 2002



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