Awhile back, I went through the roll call of Pac-12 basketball programs and how they were doing in attendance in the new era of movable starting times and every game on television. As poorly as Washington State drew in 2013-14, and the fact Oregon State had its lowest attendance in history, the one that came through in neon lights was Oregon.
There was a reason for WSU and OSU. Competitively, they were pretty lousy. Not so, Oregon.
The Ducks were up 2.4 percent this year, but at 7,782 fans a game, they still fall some 4,500 seats short of capacity in the new Matthew Knight Arena. This, despite having a team that’s been in the NCAA tournament the past two seasons, being in a classic college town, and playing an entertaining style. I’ve heard varying rationales, from a tight parking situation around the arena to donor fatigue — boosters pouring out big bucks for priority seats not only at the new arena but for football at Autzen Stadium — to the fact that the basketball program has been populated by a lot of here-and-gone players to whom fans have developed little attachment.
Now Oregon has a problem that goes far beyond the attendance matter, but will surely impact it. Three players — Dominic Artis, Damyean Dotson and Brandon Austin — have been barred from team activities and are widely believed to be gone from the program after their part in a rape investigation over events of the night of March 8.
A female alleged she was the victim of sexual assault, but authorities determined there was no way the case could be proved. Meanwhile, the police report is out there, and it’s repulsive, including group sex in a bathroom at a party. It might be the height of naivete, but I’ll say it anyway: Regardless of whether the sex was consensual, you’d like to think players in your basketball program would have the common sense to say nothing good is going to come of this, and I’m not going to be a part of it.
This is now a raging topic in Eugene. Students Thursday marched on the Johnson Hall administration building and protested Oregon’s handling of the incident. It has been commanding banner headlines in the Register-Guard, and well it should. Among the key issues is this: While the investigation was heating up in March, the players (Dotson and Artis; Austin was redshirting) were allowed to play on. This week, Oregon released a statement that law-enforcement organizations “often request” that the university wait to take action so as not to interfere with an investigation. (I found it interesting that Oregon didn’t say it was asked not to do so in this case.)
There’s also a question of when Duck athletic officials actually knew of the events, and when head coach Dana Altman knew.
I commend you to three pieces. Steve Duin, Oregonian columnist, weighed in Thursday with this blog. Austin Meek of the Register-Guard had this column, and Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com noted the growing mess over Oregon’s relative silence on the matter.
Fanning the heat on Altman is the fact that Austin had already been a part of a sexual-assault case when he was at Providence College, and Altman had subsequently seemed to minimize Austin’s role in that one. Now Austin has switched coasts, and his name is associated with two different sexual-assault investigations.
If issues aren’t already blurry, here’s another one: It would be unfair to pin this on the transient nature of Altman’s roster, the heavy reliance on transfers, but the seemingly unfettered addition of Austin is natural cause to wonder just how seriously Altman and Co. vetted that process.
Altman has maintained that he wants to establish a more stable regime built around high school players, but the actions seem to speak otherwise. Here’s a staggering statistic: He has signed 12 high school players in his four seasons at Oregon. If Artis and Dotson are gone, only one of the 12 has made it past his sophomore year there.
That’s an issue peripheral to the one that sizzles today in Eugene. But it’s one more headache for the Ducks in a season that already had a couple of lesser ones. Dotson was picked up for using false ID in the early-morning hours at a campus-area bar in February on a home weekend against the Washington schools; and Artis and Ben Carter were dealt a nine-game NCAA suspension to start the season for selling team-issued shoes.
No question Altman is a dynamite coach. But lately, there’s reason to wonder what kind of program manager he is.