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UConn should expel duo

Corruption in sports exists at every college to some degree, whether or not we choose to ignore it as fans. Players get caught cheating on tests, doing drugs and accepting money from boosters to support themselves. Fans cry foul at first, but then soon forget the transgressions as they would rather watch those players score touchdowns or swish jump shots than be kicked off the team.

But there comes a point where the line needs to be drawn, and that point is now with the current situation facing UConn’s backcourt duo of Marcus Williams and A.J. Price. Huskies’ head coach Jim Calhoun and the school administration had better kick these two out of school for committing one of the worst, non-violent crimes as a student-athlete.

Earlier this summer, Williams and Price were arrested for their involvement in stealing four laptop computers—some of which belonged to freshmen on the women’s basketball team—from student dorm rooms on UConn’s campus. According to court records, the two players did not steal the computers themselves but had a friend do it for them. Williams and Price then took the laptops, valued at a reported $11,000, and attempted to sell them to local pawn shops only to find that the shop owners would not purchase the stolen items for a high enough price.

The scheme blew up in their faces when the two players reportedly stiffed Christine Pettingell, the female student who drove them to the pawn shops. Pettingell notified the victims of the robbery, which eventually led to a police inquiry. After an investigation, both players were arrested.

Williams and Price’s crime is a new low for college athletes. This is different than Peter Warrick and Laveranues Coles taking free clothing or Chris Webber and Maurice Clarett accepting cash from program boosters. Williams and Price were deliberate and malicious; and worst of all they committed their crimes against fellow students and not NCAA bylaws.

There’s a code most students live by on a college campus, and that includes respecting other students’ property. To make matters even more serious, these weren’t just any other students, but in fact three of them were incoming women’s basketball players and the other was on the track and field team. Fellow students and fellow athletes! These are crimes committed by swindlers who do not deserve the scholarships awarded to them.

The legal process needs to run its course before Williams and Price can be punished by the school. It seems from all evidence so far, however, that they were at the very least peripherally involved and dumb enough to go along with the scheme. Once they receive their punishment from the judicial system, their cases will go before the University Hearing Board, which consists of two students, two members of the faculty and one judicial affairs officer.

“All students are treated the same,” Connecticut spokesperson Karen Grava told the press last week. “Joe history major is treated the same as Joe football or basketball star. The fact that someone is a star athlete or an amazing scholar doesn’t exempt them from the conduct code.”

I’m hoping that’s true, because if I were one of those students on the review board, I would vote to expel Williams and Price. Part of the intriguing appeal of college athletics is that each and everyone one of us can feel a part of the team. We celebrate wins and losses and use the collective first person to talk about games. But just imagine, for a moment, if you were a freshman and one of the Duke players stole your computer and tried to pawn it. You wouldn’t want him representing you or your school anymore. You wouldn’t consider him part of the same team. You wouldn’t think he deserved that full-ride scholarship anymore.

Indications are already, though, that Calhoun doesn’t see it the same way as me.

“I’m not in the business of throwing kids out of school,” he said last week to a local paper. “If they throw them out what productive thing is going to happen?”

The school should not be worried about the productivity of these two criminals, but rather with the integrity of its athletic program. UConn fans have been arguing that Williams and Price deserve a second chance, and that if they are cut loose another team will pick them up à la JamesOn Curry. If you recall, North Carolina rescinded its scholarship offer to the prized recruit after he was arrested on a drug charge in Feb. 2004. Curry has since been successful—and clean for that matter—at Oklahoma State University.

There’s a reason, though, that OSU is often known in basketball circles by a less than affectionate nickname: “Transfer U.” UConn, however, likes to broadcast a much different image—one that they like to think mirrors a certain school in Durham. If UConn wants to uphold that image, they would be wise to set an example and let Williams and Price go, even if it means losing a chance at this year’s national championship.

Rumor has it that should the players survive the review board, they will be suspended for a semester, punished by Calhoun and ultimately allowed to return to the program. If all goes according to Calhoun’s plan, they could be eligible to play down the stretch run of the upcoming season.

Here’s hoping that as a college basketball fan—not just a Duke fan—that these guys won’t be on the Huskies making a run to the Final Four this year. It’s time to draw the line.

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