Wednesday, December 3, 1997
Too harsh a penalty? Hardly

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bob Goin said the NCAA was too harsh. He did not say why. He did not say how much of Ruben Patterson's suspension was excessive, and how much was acceptable.

Stressing the sensitive nature of the situation, and a need for proper protocol, the University of Cincinnati's new athletic director announced an appeal of the basketball star's penalty, but declined to justify it during a tight-lipped press conference Tuesday night.

If the decision roused Goin's righteous anger, it didn't register. He didn't raise his voice. He didn't pound the table. He didn't attempt to paint Patterson as the innocent victim of ridiculous rules, or as a reformed sinner deserving absolution.

Either Goin is saving his passion for the appropriate ears, or he is pursuing this appeal out of obligation rather than outrage. Certainly he has been around long enough to know that this fight may well be futile.

Two months ago, the NCAA declared University of Nevada-Las Vegas star Keon Clark ineligible for 11 games. Two weeks later, it rejected the University's appeal on his behalf.

UNLV case

Clark accepted travel expenses valued at $1,529.79 from one David Rodriguez, who subsequently became a registered sports agent. UC reckoned Ruben Patterson's improper benefits at $1,434, but that was before additional questions were asked about the relationship of Patterson and Tim McGee, the former Bengal turned NFL agent.

Presumably, Patterson's sanctions were more severe than Clark's because the NCAA has judged him more guilty. His appeal, therefore, faces formidable odds.

Barring a reprieve, Ruben Patterson will not return to Bob Huggins' lineup until the Bearcats' Jan. 18 game at Louisville.

To expect him back earlier is to court disappointment. To worry about it is to waste energy.

Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams, college basketball's regular season is almost irrelevant. Though he must sit out almost two months, Ruben Patterson is still eligible for 14 games before the Conference-USA Tournament, and will miss at most three games that could affect UC's draw.

He is permitted to practice with his teammates during his suspension, and will continue to benefit from the gentle guidance of Bob Huggins. He should emerge from his NCAA exile with fresher legs than the fellows who must guard him in March.

Patterson's statistics will surely suffer during the suspension, but his professional prospects could conceivably be enhanced. He will be unleashed at a point in the season when many players are fighting fatigue.

If he is committed to his long-term goals, Ruben Patterson may ultimately see this suspension as a short-term inconvenience. If the Bearcats are not immediately cohesive upon his return, they should derive some satisfaction from knowing that the calvalry is coming.

Soon after Williams

So far as the University is concerned, however, solace may be in short supply. Patterson's penalties, following so soon in the wake of the Charles Williams' fiasco, can only cause the NCAA enforcement staff to increase its scrutiny of UC basketball.

There is probably enough evidence already to indicate a ''lack of institutional control,'' which is the NCAA's catch-all complaint when infractions can plausibly be ascribed to negligence rather than deliberate deception.

If this is the NCAA's judgment, UC has already taken the pre-emptive step of supplying a fall guy: fired Athletic Director Gerald O'Dell. If O'Dell is not a sufficient human sacrifice, basketball assistant-in-limbo John Loyer is still available.

Probably, that's about as far as it goes. Based on the NCAA wrist slap recently applied to the University of Louisville, UC may emerge from this mess without losing any post-season eligibility or any scholarships.

Regarding the sanctions to date, harsh is a pretty harsh word.