By Robert Husseman • Sports Editor • 

Still on his Feet: Leadership lacking in Oregon rape scandal

College sports observers put forth their best impressions of former Tennessee senator Howard Baker when a disturbing police report was made public earlier this week.

Three University of Oregon basketball players – Dominic Artis, Brandon Austin and Damyean Dotson – were alleged to have had nonconsensual sex with a female student in two off-campus residences. The Eugene Police Department initially considered charging Dotson with forcible rape but declined to do so. Artis was interviewed by police about the alleged sexual assault but not charged; Austin obtained counsel and declined to be interviewed by police.

The details of the incident put forth in the report are sordid and stomach-churning. Lane County district attorney Alex Gardner told members of the media on Tuesday that conflicting accounts from the victim and witnesses who saw her at an off-campus party muddled the picture, but it is clear from reading the report that something went wrong. The victim and the basketball players were not on the same page in the moment.

The alleged assault occurred on March 8. On March 13, a police report was filed by the victim’s father. Players were not interviewed until April, but the university has admitted through spokesmen that the UO police department received word of the incident on March 9 from the victim’s father.

Two more important points on the timeline: March 12-13 and March 20. Those are, in order, the dates of the Pac-12 Conference men’s basketball tournament, which Artis and Dotson participated in (Austin, a transfer from Providence College, was ineligible to play), and the date of Oregon’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament first-round game against BYU. Again, Artis and Dotson played.

News of the alleged incident broke Monday, and all three players were declared suspended from team activities. (As of Thursday, it appears the players remain members of the basketball team.) The suspension raised questions: why were Oregon players still eligible to play in the NCAA Tournament? Why did Ducks head coach Dana Altman play them? What was Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens’ role in all this?

This is where we bring Sen. Baker back: what did Altman and Mullens know, and when did they know it?

There are no clear answers. It seems highly unlikely that Altman and Mullens were not informed of the allegations, and how they handled them is rightly being called into question. Further compounding matters is an open police investigation in Providence, R.I., on an alleged sexual assault perpetrated by Austin while a member of the Providence men’s basketball team. Did he, Duck supporters wonder, offend a second time?

University supporters are quick to point out that the Eugene Police Department recommended that Oregon not do anything to interfere with the case. That does not exempt the athletic department from conducting its own investigation into the matter. What confounds me the most is this: how confident could the Oregon athletic department be as to not act toward players in the middle of a rape investigation?

Perhaps that is because the Oregon basketball coaches had other interests at heart. Altman was due a $50,000 bonus for his team’s victory in the NCAA Tournament, and assistant coaches Tony Stubblefield, Brian Fish and Kevin McKenna also earned bonuses of $15,000 each. (Fish is now the head men’s basketball coach at Montana State.) Even Mullens was due a bonus of $25,000 due to Oregon’s NCAA Tournament selection.

Mullens released a two-paragraph statement on the matter, and Altman has yet to speak publicly. Whether the university is internally investigating the matter or stonewalling interested inquiries in the hopes of short memory is not known.

What we have is perception: Altman allowed two alleged rapists to represent the university on perhaps the most visible stage in college sports. Guilty or no, there will be many who cannot shake that image and cannot shake the moral gymnastics – or lack thereof – required to produce that image.

Artis, Austin and Dotson must be removed from the team. It is a foregone conclusion. Gardner indicated that the basic facts of the assault as the victim told police are not in dispute, and as such, it is clear that all three players acted inappropriately. This action must be taken as soon as possible.

Dana Altman should be fired, effective immediately. As the Jerry Sandusky scandal showed the rest of the nation (and the members of the Penn State community that have paid attention), the head coach is ultimately responsible for what is happening in his program. Altman exhibited either willful or unacceptable ignorance in these matters. Compounding the issue, he appears perfectly willing to overlook the fact that Austin had a pending sexual assault case hanging over his head before welcoming him into Eugene.

Rob Mullens’ leadership over the basketball program as athletic director is highly questionable, and if he was found to have suppressed information about the police investigation or encouraged Altman to keep Artis and Dotson playing, he too should be fired. Anyone else found to have withheld information from the public or other necessary parties should also be fired. There should be a line of firings up to Johnson Hall, up to UO President Michael Gottfredson himself, if negligence and legerdemain can be proven up the chain of command.

There was no leadership from the university on this issue. Rather than asking ourselves who should fall on the sword, we should ask who is willing to take a stand.

I’ve actually found myself admiring the success Altman has had at Oregon. He created two NCAA Tournament teams out of Elmer’s glue, popsicle sticks, and hopes and dreams. The NCAA cannot effectively discipline those who break its rules, so Altman could take on as many transfers as he wanted, toe the line, and win as often as he could.

Where my reasoning went wrong is now open to the world: with serious human and moral issues at play, Altman and Oregon cannot shed the win-now mentality.

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