Don James once said there was the court of law, and there was my court.
His team. His rules. His investigation. His judgment.
That is the way to run a big-time college sports program. Clear, swift, unmistakable.
Unless, of course, a mistake is made.
The Huskies football coach once kicked off two players during a bowl trip for involvement in a fight at a bar in a restaurant. The players claimed they were innocent victims of a racially inspired confrontation by employees.
No matter, James told them. Wrong place at the wrong time. Besides, they had broken team rules previously.
Some time later, the restaurant chain, as part of a court-ordered settlement of a class-action civil rights case, took out full-page ads in area newspapers to apologize to anyone mistreated by the chains racially discriminatory policies and actions.
But there was no rewind button for the players’ bowl game, college careers or reputations. The news of the ads was a big deal in Los Angeles, barely noted in Seattle.
That long-ago episode came to mind Tuesday when coach Lorenzo Romar waited until the eve of the Pac-10 basketball tournament to take action on a bad episode he knew all about within 24 hours of its Jan. 8 occurrence.
I dont have specific knowledge of what information was exchanged between Romar and Venoy Overton. But I have general knowledge of what is exchanged between a good coach and a miscreant player.
For most kids in the big-time jock culture, the worst decision possible is to lie to Coach. Its easier to lie to parents, girlfriends, cops and judges than it is to the man who holds their sports future in his hands.
For most coaches in the big-time jock culture, the worst decision possible is to give in to impulse. The need for control, order, reputation and success is overwhelming, and the urge is to regain all swiftly, by any means.
But Romar, Overton, the team and Huskies fans had to wait two months for resolution while the distraction helped jeopardize a season rich in possibility.
Just as no one can quantify the damage done to the girls involved in the sexual encounter with Overton, no one can quantify the damage done to the Huskies season by having to silently tiptoe around his foolishness.
But it is safe to say that a misdemeanor charge of buying alcohol for a minor hardly begins to describe the consequences.
Yet there was no way around the handling of this extraordinary predicament knowledge that a bad thing had been done to underage girls by a team member, yet being unable to remove aspersions from the innocent, much less take action until the allegation of criminal activity was validated or dismissed.
All were left to swing in the wind.
Romar and the university had to wait until now, even though it was widely understood around campus and town that the perp was Overton, news that was tweeted up and down the West Coast, making him the target of teasing and taunts, some vicious, at every road stop.
Suspending Overton for the tourney after a charge was filed, was the right thing to do, regardless of competitive consequences. A good argument can be made that Overton, a senior, deserves to be fired now, including any subsequent postseason tourney. But in a somber press conference Tuesday, Romar suggested other action has been taken.
There have been some internal dealings with Venoy that I wont go into, because its family stuff, he said. But I did not want to outwardly discipline twice.
There is a law against double jeopardy, but the legal issue is down to a misdemeanor. This is a team-rules and image issue. The fact that the allegations of forced sex failed to rise to a prosecutable case doesnt mean a bad thing didnt happen, and Romars program has taken a hit that keeps on hurting into a third month. As soon as Washington is done with the season, Romar would do the program a favor by explaining, in a situation that no longer has many secrets, what has gone down.
On the other hand, throwing away Overton now just to prove Romar is a disciplinarian isnt likely to repair a team image, nor help Overton. The damage has been done; a salvage operation has to be undertaken.
Overton messed up big time, causing problems for many and grief for some. Basketball is secondary to what needs to be done to repair some lives and reputations.
This has been the toughest year since Ive been a coach here, for me, Romar said. His elaboration included the injury losses of Tyreese Breshers and Abdul Gaddy, but the burden unmentioned was managing Overton, as well as the reactions to him by teammates and the public.
It will continue for what remains of the season. Regarding a discipline issue, its about as uncontrollable a situation as a coach can have; this isnt Klay Thompson getting caught with some pot in his car and serving a one-game suspension thats easily forgotten by media and most Washington State fans.
Discussion about this odd, rare circumstance will follow Washington to Los Angeles, and presuming some grace/desperation on the part of the selection committee, into the NCAA tourney.
Romars season is about to get tougher, yet his Christian conscience would never forgive him for throwing away Overton now.
The only real win for Washington from here on is to endure with a little dignity while avoiding further damage. That means keeping Overton close, instead of on the street.