The University of Alabama has stated that it was a “group decision” to allow Brandon Miller to continue playing for the Crimson Tide basketball team in the wake of the revelation that Miller transported a teammate’s gun to a shootout in a crowded student bar district that left a young mother dead.
In truth, it was a single person's decision, or should have been: university president Stuart Bell.
Bell is the one in charge. Bell, not a basketball coach or an athletic administrator, is the one who is entrusted with the stewardship of the entire university, not merely getting the Crimson Tide to its first-ever Final Four.
Yet we haven’t heard a word from Bell about the Miller decision or any other aspect of the basketball team’s role in the Jan. 15 shooting on a Tuscaloosa street corner, just steps from campus. Jamea Harris, 23, was killed that night.
It’s sheer luck that the tragedy didn’t extend to other victims, notably innocent Alabama students who could have been caught up as at least 11 bullets were fired.
Instead, the school appears more than content in repeatedly sending basketball coach Nate Oats to talk, even though he’s proven ineffective, if not incapable, of handling such a serious issue. Bell has been nowhere to be found.
Darius Miles, a junior forward, and Miles’ friend, Michael Davis, are both facing capital murder charges. Miller, and fellow freshman Jaden Bradley, who was also on the scene, have not been charged and are unlikely to be charged with any crime. Both have remained in the starting lineup.
The decision to carry on without pause or consequence has stunned college athletics, enraged Harris’ family and no doubt caused concern among at least some Alabama students and parents who may not share the program’s win-at-all-costs, reputation-be-damned ethos.
Sometimes “group decision” is used to spread out the credit for a particularly good idea. That can’t be the case here as the university has received intense blowback and still faces considerable exposure because it did not conduct its own investigation and thus has little idea what fully transpired that night.
Alabama, for example, says it only learned that Miles texted Miller to bring him the gun he had left in the backseat of Miller’s car when it came out in court testimony.
What other details could emerge? The school has no idea.
Even if you believe that a benching, let alone expulsion, should only come if a player is charged with a crime stemming from a shootout/murder, the fact Alabama is flying blind here, hoping and praying there aren’t more negative details, has to cause concern over the process.
If Stuart Bell has an explanation for all of this, then he should step up and present it.
Yet, Bell has said nothing.
No interviews. No comments. No statements.
Instead, almost all of the public relations has been handled by Oats. He is a heck of a basketball coach but his public comments — from clueless to enraging — have mostly made things worse.
Oats originally explained Miller was simply “in the wrong spot at the wrong time,” which was akin to pouring kerosene on a fire. He later said he didn’t know about the bring-my-gun text message or the ferrying of said weapon.
If we take Oats at his word, then it means neither he nor any of his staff heard any details or even a bit of chatter within a team that saw one player charged with murder, another bring the gun, a third be on the scene and, per police testimony, the murder weapon, wrapped in a bloody sweatshirt, wind up in an apartment shared by numerous players.
You’d think at least some of that might have been a point of discussion amongst the guys.
Of course, neither Oats, nor maybe anyone else, also didn’t know that Miller’s pregame introduction routine included being patted down by a teammate, ostensibly searching for weapons. Oats has deemed that inappropriate and said it would stop, yet clumsily compared it to “like when TSA checks you before you get on a plane.”
“We, as the adults in the room, should’ve been more sensitive to how it could’ve been interpreted,” Oats said. “I dropped the ball. That’s it. I dropped the ball on it.”
At least he’s admitting it, let alone facing the public. Not so much for Bell, who is the ultimate “adult in the room.” Everyone would like to think their basketball coach is capable of viewing the bigger picture, but Oats is clearly tunnel visioned on winning a national title. He is who he is. Bama is fine with that. It gave him a rich contract extension after the shooting.
That’s why these kinds of decisions get made at the presidential level — or the trustee level, where they presumably aren’t clouded by pom-poms and booster pressure.
In nearly eight years on the job, Bell has continued Alabama’s notable rise as an academic institution, improving programs and drawing undergrads from across the country (in-state students now make up just 37 percent of enrollment).
It’s part of what makes this so confusing. The basketball program has torched its reputation, which extends to the entire school. And it can only get worse if anything else is unearthed, which isn’t unusual in chaotic murder cases.
More notably, one woman is dead and it could have been more. Gunfire where the students hang out might seem like an important issue to a university president. It assuredly is to at least some of those full-tuition-paying, out-of-state parents.
They might like to hear from the president on why Miller is still playing or how the decision was reached or what happened or will happen in an attempt to prevent shootings in the future.
Or maybe they just want to win basketball games, which is why the public keeps hearing from Nate Oats, and not the guy who is supposedly in charge of the place.