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UCLA Basketball Scandal: The Fish Rots from the Head Down

The fish rots from the head down.

When an organization or state fails, it is the leadership that is the root cause.

We already know Ben Howland has made mistakes, and it's obvious. He's admitted that he's made mistakes. However, it's telling of Howland, Guerrero, and Block, that none will really admit to exactly what they've done wrong or come clean with the details. This is the classic "mistakes were made" non-apology apology.

The expression "mistakes were made" is commonly used as a rhetorical device, whereby a speaker acknowledges that a situation was handled poorly or inappropriately but seeks to evade any direct admission or accusation of responsibility by using the passive voice. The acknowledgement of "mistakes" is framed in an abstract sense with no direct reference to who made the mistakes. An active voice construction would be along the lines of "I made mistakes" or "John Doe made mistakes." The speaker neither accepts personal responsibility nor accuses anyone else. The word "mistakes" also does not imply intent.

Again, this is a failure of leadership.

Dan Guerrero and Gene Block have been trying to throw Ben Howland under the bus. This has been recognized by Bill Plaschke, LAist, the OC Register's Scott Reid, NBC Sports' Mike Miller, and ESPN's Eamonn Brennan. It shouldn't work.

Howland has stated that he has reported anything "serious" through the appropriate channels:

Anything that I felt was something of a serious nature, I would always bring to Dan [Guerrero] or my superiors and I would deal with whichever players were involved.

So Dan Guerrero already knew about anything serious. Indeed, Dan Guerrero has admitted:

But I will say that we know of several issues that have occurred over the course of the years and we routed these individuals through our counseling or whatever mechanisms that we have in place to support our student athletes and we’ve monitored a number of these issues. Could decisions have been made differently in some regard? I would venture to say that in many cases, or at least in one or two cases Ben might say yeah we probably should have done things differently.

Additionally, Dan Guerrero has stated:

You have those allegations that the coaching staff knew about and ran them up the flagpole to either me or my staff and of course we handled those accordingly. There are some issues in there that never made it up to our office, but were handled internally by the coaching staff. And there are other issues that neither the coaching staff nor the administration knew.

So, despite some weasel words from Block, Guerrero, and Howland, it's important to note that all them are admitting that much of the content of the story is true. Indeed, there really hasn't been a serious denial. Guerrero's strongest defense seems to be "we didn't know". But it's still not clear which of the allegations fall into which category.

Again, someone needs to ask Dan Guerrero what did he know and when did he know it.

As we've stated, this isn't just about drugs. It's about a failure of leadership that goes all the way to the top.

The drug problem is illustrative of the failure of leadership. The drug policy is totally on the Athletic Department, and it appears to be a widespread problem. As Dan Guerrero stated:

That said, as it relates to the alleged drug use or alcohol consumption by former and current members of our men’s basketball team, let me state that UCLA has programs in place that address alcohol abuse and a stringent and comprehensive drug testing program administered and supervised by a panel of experts, campus administrators, doctors and lawyers.

Unfortunately, the Athletic Department's policy leaves much to be desired. Mike Leach reportedly has a zero tolerance policy towards drug use. Derek Dooley reportedly has a very strict policy as well. And yet, at UCLA, until recently, the coaches didn't even find out until a players fails a test for a second time.

UCLA drug policy calls for a one-game suspension upon a third positive test. The first positive test results in the team doctor being told, mandatory counseling and future testing. The second failed test results in the coach and associate athletic director being notified, with more counseling and tests.

That's crazy. It's no wonder UCLA has had drug problems on the football and basketball teams. The coaches didn't even know if a player fails a drug test the first time. How can the coaches be expect to discipline the players or make sure the players are getting the help they need if they don't even know? How can a coach know if his team has a problem? He can't. And this is Dan Guerrero's fault. And he's acknowledged as much. The stated goal of the UCLA "drug education and testing program" is

to promote a drug-free environment for the intercollegiate athletics program.

Additionally, the Student Athlete Handbook states Student-Athletes shall not use or be under the influence of drugs not prescribed by an authorized medical doctor. The Student Athlete Handbook also prohibits harassment, abuse, and hazing.

By that standard, clearly, Dan Guerrero has failed. Note that in the 2011-2012 policy there are changes from the policy as reported by the LA Times in 2010. Someone needs to ask when it was changed and why. Was it an acknowledgement of the problem? Did Howland, Neuheisal, or other coaches specifically request a change in the policy because they were in fact having drug problems with their teams?

The 2011-2012 drug policy has apparently changed so that the first positive results in coach and assistant AD notification. One mandatory counseling session is the sanction and the only permissible sanction. It's a good step to notify the coaches. However, the coaches are not permitted to take any disciplinary action. So really, what's the point?

The second positive test results in notification of the coach, assistant AD, and three counseling sessions, and possibly parental notification. Still, the player is not suspended until a third positive, and then only for one game. A new element has been added in that a fourth positive will apparently result in suspension and not renewing the grant-in-aid for the following year. The policy also allows student athletes to self-disclose that he or she may have a substance abuse problem. This in effect allows the student athlete to avoid penalties for up to 60 days. In other words, if a student athlete has two positives, he or she can self-report and avoid penalties for the third positive. Additionally, the student athlete may request a hearing, which is presumably necessary for due process reasons. Additionally, the policy specifically states that student athletes will not be subject to university disciplinary action as a result of drug testing and that information will not be turned over to law enforcement agencies. Additionally, the athletic department apparently destroys information, samples and documents relating to drug tests.

So Dan Guerrero has known that there is a drug problem, yet has permitted a lenient policy to remain in place, and hasn't given his coaches the opportunity to correct it. Indeed, coaches didn't even find out about the first positives until recently and are forbidden from imposing any sanctions for the first positive. This aspect of the scandal is a complete failure of leadership on Dan Guerrero's part and he it totally at fault for it.