Monday will mark one month since McMaster’s head football coach allegedly said or did something to an official during a game that got him in trouble. Something believed to be serious enough that the university put him on administrative leave pending an investigation.
A month later, he’s still not back at work.
Today, as the team prepares for its final regular-season game in Windsor on Saturday, nobody will say how far along the investigation is, what’s happening or offer any details about what he apparently did. Heck, they won’t even tell the interim head coach what’s going on.
“I know nothing,” Tom Flaxman says. “I’ve been told nothing.”
This is ridiculous.
The background is this: During a game against Wilfrid Laurier on Sept. 22, Greg Knox allegedly had some kind of incident with an official. He wasn’t kicked out of the game. Still, Ontario University Athletics had a hearing on the matter, heard Knox’s appeal of its initial decision and ultimately gave him a one-game suspension that he served last week.
McMaster, on the other hand, put him on leave and that’s where he remains. His school-mandated suspension will reach three games this weekend with no end in sight.
Here’s the problem with that.
By going into a cone of silence and leaving things in a state of limbo, Knox isn’t the only one being affected here. Also being hurt are the other coaches and the dozens of student-athletes on the football team who are facing a huge distraction week after week.
These players get four — in some cases, five — years to play. It’s a short career. They train all year to prepare. They suffer injuries. They sacrifice to be elite athletes because these experiences and these seasons matter to them. But with this state of uncertainty hanging over them, one of those seasons is being seriously messed up.
They’ve made a commitment to the school. Many, if not most, could’ve gone elsewhere. By dragging this thing along with no obvious sense of urgency to reach a conclusion the university isn’t showing the same measure of respect to them.
This isn’t a defence of Knox. If he did something wrong — which the OUA obviously believes he did, hence the one-game suspension it levied — so be it. Punish him. But one way or another, light a fire under the investigation and make a decision so there can be some stability for the students.
It’s not like there’s no template to follow. Several years ago, star quarterback Kyle Quinlan was involved in some kind of scuffle with an undercover police officer at a campus pub. The school put him on leave while it investigated but before the next weekend’s game, his three-game punishment was announced. It was decisive. More than that, it was prompt.
Agree with the penalty or not, that’s how you handle a difficult situation.
South of the border, Ohio State University’s football team had a mess on its hands this fall when coach Urban Meyer was accused of knowing about allegations of domestic abuse by an assistant coach but saying nothing. It was ugly. And it was way more complicated than what seems to be going on here. Yet it took less than a month to do an intensive investigation and announce his three-game suspension.
If the ongoing situation here is the result of the absence of an athletic director — Glen Grunwald left the school a couple months ago to take over Canada Basketball — then someone needs to step up and fill that gap. If these are the ponderous lumberings of an institution too laden with bureaucracy and process to be nimble enough to handle such a task, shame on the people there who have made it so. This isn’t the Warren Report. There can’t be more than a handful of witnesses involved.
The longer this goes on, the worse it looks for the university and the more secretive everything seems. The athletic department communications people are told they can’t speak of this, the coaches are largely unaware of what they’re supposed to say, and the school’s head of communications says there’s nothing new to report since the last thin-gruel release a week ago.
McMaster wants to be taken seriously as an athletic enterprise and wants members of the public to buy tickets to games, watch on TV, listen on the radio and read about its athletes in the paper. In short, it wants people to care. But then when people do care and do show great interest in a situation, they’re essentially told, there’s nothing to see here, move along.
The university has done better before. It should be doing better now.
If Knox did something wrong, by all means suspend him or punish him some other way. If he didn’t, exonerate and reinstate him. But one way or another, do something.
A month in, silence isn’t cutting it.