Questions Abound in Xavier’s Handling of Dez Wells Fiasco: Was Due Process Served?

Statue of JusticeIf you are a college basketball fan or in particular a Xavier fan, you may want to grab a beverage and some peanuts. You are going to be reading for a while.

Yours truly had every intention of a long winter’s nap after diving into baseball head first as I did over the past season. The intention was to rest up and get ready for the new season, store up all that passion for a sport that brings it out in me far more than any.

Nearing the conclusion of the regular season I began column notes on a subject that just seemed to stick in my craw before deciding to junk it and just stick to baseball. However we are what we are and I just cannot seem to stifle the reporter of four decades in me even if I attend sporting events as a fan like I did Friday night going to the Xavier mens basketball opener.

Being a one-time member of the MLB Writer’s Association, I fancy myself as a “baseball guy.” It is my one true love. But being a Syracuse University guy where we treat college basketball like a religion, I suppose it qualifies me somewhat as a college hoop writer, since I keep a very watchful eye on the local and national basketball scene.

Old habits die-hard and when I received my latest update from Cincy Unscripted Saturday morning, written by a scribe I do not know,  the juices began to flow as if it were the final week of the MLB season. And all I honestly read was the headline, something to the effect the Musketeers will fool the critics.

Bingo! It was like the mention of Niagara Falls to the Three Stooges. Out came the old notes and here I sit at the keyboard.

It was early September and I happened to be on the Xavier campus and spotted a student newspaper hot of the presses and the cover story was about Dez Wells, former Xavier freshman hoop standout who was booted from school and it proclaimed that the grand jury had just declined to indict the former student of any charges.

In brief it was about how prosecutor Joe Deters of the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas assured there would be no charges filed against Wells of the sexual assault variety, already having been expelled from the proud institution on Victory Parkway.

It is common knowledge that Wells was shown the door for what the school termed “a serious violation of the Student Code of Conduct.” It is equally common knowledge that  he has since enrolled at the University of Maryland and just days ago the NCAA ruled he was cleared to play this season and suddenly I could feel that chicken bone in my throat once more.

At the time this was all shaking down when another student filed a complaint against Wells and of course Wells’ right to appeal, a Task Force on Sexual Violence at the school was called into action due to the seriousness of the claim and they (University Conduct Board), the judge, jury and executioner in this case as it turned out deemed Wells’ actions serious enough to say so long based on their decision and the own in-house disciplinary process.

I recall at the time wondering if the floodgates were open wide due to the high-profile person in question, possible past mistakes they may have felt they had made in similar cases at the school and just how valid were the claims. Was it a ‘he said, she said’ case?

A day later an opinion column in the Cincinnati Enquirer by an associate professor of legal studies at … Xavier … and retired Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas Judge Ann Marie Tracey penned a piece in essence fully defending the stance of the school, applauding its virtues and moral righteousness and how well it upheld the school’s values in this case.

Mind you, I have nothing but respect for the many I know at the school and the institution itself and making enemies of those I respect is not the plan. But I do feel it time to at least mention for a little background here that last July the Education Department reported Xavier must pay for counseling for one current student and ensure her safety on campus. It is also required to create training and reporting programs to comply with federal Title IX anti-discrimination laws.

Oh there is plenty more, but this little bundle of background info should suffice.

Certainly this school is not the first school ( I know I went to Syracuse remember?) that has to deal with high-profile cases and has to first and foremost preserve the image of its institution and after all it had already been working on the repairs to change back to the image of good citizens following the little skirmish last year on the basketball floor with the University of Cincinnati and the embarrassing comments by Xavier players that followed.

Such things like that little scene and the later thug-like comments by some Xavier players don’t happen at a place like XU to put the university in a bad light. Never has and for that the university can be very proud.

The particular group of players involved in the fiasco were not the norm at XU where good basketball and good citizens produce the perfect marketing combination, but that is a separate issue.

However it is oh so tempting from purely a basketball fan’s perspective to re-think some things regarding this season that could ultimately be a disaster concerning results and a season that has all the potential to be anything but one in which the school has become so accustomed to in terms of success and national prominence.

As the A-10 conference said hello to Butler and VCU, X said sayonara to Wells and Mark Lyons, Lyons a separate issue with the undertone that he too did not fit the desired student-athlete profile, not to mention an obvious personality conflict with head coach Chris Mack, incidentally a coach I really respect and fully stand behind as a sideline leader.

I think it is clear to all that without those two returning stars the prognosis for this squad is worlds different than it would have been.

But Xavier is walking a fine line here. The school, like most, especially the size of XU, seeks the proverbial feather in its cap for athletic success, not to mention the big money basketball success can deliver. But it too wants due recognition  for the judgment it showed the athletic world on Wells, a “look what we did, the righteous thing.”

As for Lyons, a standout guard even if not a standout guy by some reports, there is no denying his skill, he was simply unwanted and hello Arizona where it gladly took him.

In the case of Dezmine, it is serious stuff when you are expelled for a violation of the Student Code of Conduct, but mind you it was an in-house panel at X, not a jury.

Now the sticky part, the chicken bone if you will that has been lodged since this all came down a couple of months back and has again stirred me. The Grand Jury declined to indict Wells on any criminal sexual assault charges. None, that is None were filed.

Immediately following Deters, a high-profile guy himself in these parts, respectfully asked that the panel or University itself would reconsider the reinstatement of Wells based on this ruling. The university was having none of it despite his suggestion to at least revisit things.

At the time I was inclined to agree with Deters when he questioned what actual defense Wells had beyond his testimony and would have loved nothing more than to take it out of the hands of an XU hearing.

The university stuck by Title IX and essentially claimed in this case they did what they felt was best for the university. Now we are getting into an area where we are talking about a young man first here and a potential star basketball player second, even if it is tempting to reverse that order at times.

Was this in fact a case of a decision based on what best suits the university’s public image? We won’t even begin to get into probable cause or reasonable doubt, although they are realistic issues.

The school was worried about a player, or in this case suddenly a young man who was not up to the standard of an XU student, forget student athlete, thus expulsion as they dealt with the cleanup of an image that was first tarnished by a brawl.

XU has a marvelous culture and high standards and for that they command respect. In fact maybe their standards are higher than most and that University Conduct board is there to uphold the honor and integrity of the school which it feels it has.

It is one made up of students, staff and faculty that does not follow the rules of criminal procedure or even parliamentary rules of evidence.

Two things. Actually maybe it should in both cases.

And the other?  Time now to fast forward.

For the fundamental lack here of a better term, I find it exceedingly curious that the University of Maryland did not find Wells the person (oh so tempted to say criminal) that XU did and likewise the NCAA did not find that Wells was guilty of wrong doing so malicious that he would not be reinstated to play and start over with a clean slate at a new school.

Wells received a death sentence at Xavier but was welcomed by at Maryland with open arms and was cleared by an NCAA ruling body that takes pride in delivering swift justice to those who do not deserve to play.

It appears it was a case again, of he said, she said and one is left to wonder just who to believe, but we know the young man has been given the chance to begin anew and that should speak volumes in an effort to answer that very question.

Before one takes a side and many may that of the accuser, lest we forget that Wells not only was found innocent of something that could have landed him prison time, but will have to for some time if not forever, live with a tarnished name. He did not do something heinous enough to be denied a chance at Maryland nor did he in the eyes of the NCAA.

Sometimes you simply cannot have it both ways. You want integrity and well, you want   athletic success at the same time. And for eons at Xavier they have had both. But sometimes you take a chance on character with certain groups who pass through the doors.

As I alluded to, old habits die-hard and I could not help but arrive to the campus early Friday and began questioning people, random people for a myriad of public opinion surrounding the subject on the eve of the first hoop game with a young, inexperienced group who will be seriously challenged to maintain the standards of Xavier’s glorious basketball past.

Those associated with the school, as expected, took the party line and stood by the board and its findings and supported its swift justice and banishment of Wells as if they were washing their hands of the situation in the hope it would just go away and be quickly forgotten.

And when some of the points Deters made were brought up by yours truly, they were dismissed as the man was trying to grab headlines and make not only a bigger name for himself, but waves as well for a little free press.

Far be it from me to side with Deters, but his points were in fact very valid and stumping he was not. He does not have to.

But there was an equal number who strongly felt because of  his high-profile name, Wells was made an example of and maybe, just maybe justice was not served and a sticky situation was just quickly dealt with and dismissed as the university moved forward and hopefully out of the limelight, a light they did not wish to be in considering the its nature.

As for the upcoming season and the Cincy Unscripted essay that helped ignite this column, I will say this. In a recent pre-season overlook of the current edition, the Cincinnati Enquirer forecast some growing pains and a 16-14 season.

We are all of individual opinion, but I think this team will be very hard-pressed to reach that 16-14 mark and it spurred me to ask about it before the game around campus.

I found some to be the voice of realism and openly admitted they would be glad to take such a mark and would be happy to get an invitation to the NIT.

Then of course there were the staunch who turned a blind eye to some very real possibilities and proclaimed this was in fact another in the long string of NCAA teams and many added nothing less would be acceptable.

Really?

Think what you will. I personally would find it a huge success if this team manages a 16-14 mark. In fact I would embrace it if I were a big XU supporter. And I truly think those with delusions of more than this team is capable of would have been very, very pleased with its results had the Muskies kept Wells and Lyons around. But we will never know.

But the issues here  are not so much about wins, losses and tourney invitations in an effort to keep repeating basketball history at X. There are moral issues here. The University feels it did the right thing with Wells in light of morals. But I am left to wonder if what they did, when you really look at this and ask, was it in fact morally right?

I am not defending Wells for what he may have or may not have done. I am however wondering if he truly had the right to best defend himself? Maybe I am defending his right of simply being given the chance to properly defend himself, his character. I don’t know him personally and am not passing judgement either way.

Some may think he got what he deserved. I wonder if he really did not get what he deserved in the way of his rights.

But, I am wondering if he may have deserved a second chance and the right to realize his wrong doing in the eyes of others and right those wrongs and move forward a better person.

Institutions are about learning and life has a lot of lessons. 

But what bothers me as much as the clean slate he was given by others was the fact X would not even take a second look when the grand jury ruled he was innocent of criminal charges

Trust me, I am not alone.