Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Niagara won't fall for it

A recent news article related the story of the Niagara University men's basketball team, dismissing fifth-year senior Kamau Gordon for conduct "unbecoming" to the program. Good for Niagara, a small Catholic university in upstate New York. Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin said the university holds it student-athletes to a higher standard, and it was clear Gordon did not want to live up to those standards. Niagara plays in the MAAC Conference, with such schools as Siena, Marist, Fairfield and Loyola. These are all fine colleges, where the administration runs the basketball program, not the other way around. Niagara was 26-9 last season and played in the NIT postseason tournament, missing out on an at-large NCAA bid after falling in the MAAC tournament. From that spot, Niagara understandably could have bent a rule, or "made an exception," to try to reach the NCAA tournament and the pot of gold that goes with it. But the university stayed true to its values and mission, and should be lauded for that. Too often, the media is quick to tear down a program for running afoul of the rules (see the last few Binghamton posts in this blog) but slow to cite a program for doing things the right way. One big reason that Niagara does things the right way is that coach Joe Mihalich has been running the program for 11 years, and is quite happy to work at the mid-major level. No dreams of grandeur for Mihalich, no visions of roaming the sidelines at Kentucky or UCLA. He played and later was on the coaching staff at LaSalle University in Philadelphia -- for 17 years! He's comfortable with himself at this level, and the program has thrived because of the stability and continuity he brings. So kudos to Niagara for maintaining its high standards and emphasis on strong values, even at the possible expense of a few wins -- and perhaps a trip to the NCAAs.
-- David Rubinstein