As questions mount, where is Huggins?

Saturday, May 9, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bob Huggins
The snoops never did find the smoking gun at the University of Cincinnati, just a lot of spent bullets. A clear pattern of petty infractions. A critical mass of misdemeanors.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association concluded its preliminary inquiry of Bearcat basketball without uncovering a single crime you could classify as scandalous. Yet there were too many mistakes to ignore, too much duplicity to dismiss, and too plain a policy of pushing the rules envelope to let it slide as mere sloppiness.

The cumulative effect of UC's crimes was defined as "major violations." The euphemistic charge is a failure "to exercise appropriate institutional control." The penalties could be ponderous, including postseason bans, recruiting restrictions and scholarship limitations.

The coach, however, is safe.

Bob Huggins' hoops empire stands accused of dozens of assorted improprieties -- most of them now acknowledged as fact -- but none that have been traced directly to the man in charge.

Huggins is ultimately responsible for the operation of his basketball program, of course, and a more hands-on coach would be hard to find. Yet so far as this case is concerned, the famous sideline screamer is curiously silent and fingerprint-free.

He has left the explanations to an administrator who was not in town when the violations occurred and the blame to an assistant coach in protracted limbo.

No-show for news

If Huggins is innocent of the allegations, he does himself a disservice by failing to account for his actions. If he is involved, his culpability is compounded by allowing John Loyer to take the fall. Bob Huggins is not a guy who normally needs a nudge to speak his mind, but it would be mighty nice to hear from him now.

UC Athletic Director Bob Goin said he asked Huggins not to appear at Friday's news conference detailing the NCAA's findings. This may have been prudent legal policy, but it was lousy public relations.

"I know about Bobby Huggins and I consider him to be an honorable man who may have made some mistakes," Goin said.

What Goin could not say was if investigators had ever asked Huggins whether Loyer was acting on instructions when he started cutting corners to make Charles Williams eligible. It would seem a pretty basic question, what with Loyer on the longest leave of absence since Amelia Earhart, but maybe it doesn't matter.

Maybe Bob Huggins' basketball program means so much to the University of Cincinnati that his oversights will be overlooked. A clause in Huggins' contract stipulates he can be terminated for "deliberate and major violation" of NCAA rules, but the chances of it being invoked are remote. Huggins is closer to Pete Gillen than he is to being fired.

"Bob Huggins has never been mentioned in any of these charges," Goin said. "There's no evidence at this stage of the game that Bob Huggins did anything to violate NCAA rules."

How does this happen?

So how does it happen? How does an assistant coach arrange registration, tuition and a one-on-one algebra class for a player without the blessing of his boss? How can a boss as attentive as Bob Huggins fail to recognize the risks being taken on his behalf? How has UC managed to commit "major" violations under three of its last four basketball coaches?

"Part of my job," Goin said, "is to find out why did that supervision, why did that monitoring fall apart."

A snob might say UC can not compete with the cream of college basketball -- with Kentucky and North Carolina and UCLA -- without some shortcuts on the recruiting trail.

A sycophant might say the NCAA rules are too Byzantine to be followed, even by the most scrupulous schools.

A cynic might say UC does the same things as everyone else, but it just clumsy enough to get caught.

What Bob Huggins has to say should be interesting. It should also be soon.

Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at