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Rock Bottom: Mens' Hoops Under Investigation. Can This Mess Get Any Worse?

You have to feel bad for Dana Altman.

When Altman took the Oregon job in April, it looked as if a fairly successful rebuild could happen sooner rather than later.  The roster had underachieved the last couple of years, but it was full of talented, if inconsistent, players, and there wasn't a gaping hole to be found.  You thought that if Altman could just get the team to focus and play defense, Oregon would be back in the NCAAs sooner rather than later, especially with a shiny new arena to recruit to.

Fast forward to September.  On the brink of practice, Oregon finds its roster minus five players (Wiley, Humphrey, Crittle, Wilson, and now Dunigan), and with only nine scholarship players and two underclassmen on the roster (and I won't even go into the pickle of LeKendric Longmire's academic eligibility being in question), the realistic goal of rebuilding has gone from 1-2 years to us looking at a 4-5 year process.

Then, as if the basketball gods are mocking us, this bit of news hits last night:

The eligibility of "former members" of the Oregon men’s basketball team during the past two seasons is under investigation, the school acknowledged Tuesday night.

The UO statement came in response to a query from The Register-Guard, which has been told by sources that Michael Dunigan signed with a professional team in Israel, ending his college career after two seasons, because his eligibility was in question.

The short statement, credited to UO director of athletics Rob Mullens, indicated that the school had obtained information related to the eligibility of the unnamed players this summer and "immediately contacted the (Pac-10) office ... which in turn forwarded the information onto the NCAA for clarification."

There was no indication how either the conference or NCAA had responded.

Uh oh.

The eligibility issues are related to some sort of improper benefits, though what those benefits were and who provided them is not being released at this time.  This is almost certainly why Dunigan signed with a pro team in Israel, and why the summer trip to Italy was cancelled (as UO knew Dunigan wouldn't be allowed on that trip).  The Register-Guard says the probe only involed former players, and that nobody currently on the roster is thought to be implicated.  Nine players have either transferred or graduated in the past two years, in theory any or all could be involved.

Its not time to panic yet.  We have no idea who was involved.  We have no idea what kind of benefits are involved.  And, most importantly, we have no idea who knew about it or when.  We also have no idea if anyone played in any games while ineligible.  Its likely somebody did, but we have no idea how deep this goes at this point.

What kind of punishment we could be in store for depends on the answers to the above questions.  If ineligible players played in games, vacating those games is all but guaranteed (which, given our ninth and tenth place finishes the last two seasons isn't a terrible loss).  Probation is also a likely possibility.  That's slap on the wrist kind of stuff, and that the University reported itself makes it likely that could be the extent of our troubles.

The real issues come if coaches or University officials were involved.  This is a lack of institutional control, and is the thing that got USC football and basketball hammered.  Penalties if that were involved could include a postseason ban (again, not a big deal as we're not making the postseason anytime soon) or, if the infractions were egregiously bad, scholarship reductions.  With a roster badly in need of an overhaul, and a new coach needing to get his own recruits on the team, scholarship reductions are the one punishment that would be a damning blow.  Fortunately, we have no idea how bad this situation is, and there is absolutely no indication that we're anywhere near that level at this point.

Depending on the level of involvement, it could also tarnish Ernie Kent's legacy of running a clean program, which would be a shame.

I've been following Oregon basketball for fifteen years.  Two complete disasters of seasons and possible NCAA infractions definitely serves as the low point in that time.  We've hit rock bottom, its difficult to imagine things could get any worse.  But night is always darkest right before the dawn.  We won't compete for an NCAA spot this season, or likely for a  few seasons.  But I believe that we have a coach we can rally behind.  I won't be looking at the next two years in wins and losses, but rather, is the team playing hard?  Are they playing defense?  Learning Altman's system?  We we getting recruits that lay the ground work for future success?

I believe in Oregon basketball and, given the pricetag for the new arena that will need to be paid off, the Oregon administration will be giving the team everything it can to make it competitive.  What fans need to do is give the program support and time.  We have to ignore wins and losses right now.  If this team can play hard and make progress, that is all we can ask for.  Give Altman time.  He didn't ask for this mess, and he deserves five or six years to try and clean it up.