SLU case sparks more questions than answers

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SLU case sparks more questions than answers

Arriving at the unmitigated truth wasn't always this complicated. It used to be straight and to the point. Now it's obscured by layers and layers of nuance and nonsense.

So please tell me why it's so darned difficult for anyone at St. Louis University to tell us why two of its basketball players, Kwamain Mitchell and Willie Reed, are no longer enrolled in school?

On Wednesday afternoon while the rest of their Billikens teammates were at Chaifetz Arena posing in front of flashing lights on Photo Day, Mitchell and Reed were off on their own, privately bracing for the very public storm that was about to explode as the result of a one-sentence statement from the university on their status as student-athletes:

"Saint Louis University men's basketball players Kwamain Mitchell and Willie Reed are currently not enrolled at the University. Federal law — the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) — does not allow the University to release any additional information without the consent of the students involved."

These carefully crafted words raised more questions than they answered. And it makes you wonder if it's all just a bit of blissfully naïve wishful thinking on the part of the university to believe that this would suffice to muffle all the Internet innuendo and campus gossip that has been filtering out since last spring.

"So what the heck just happened? That's a very good question," said Willie Reed Sr., father of SLU's former starting center.

"They're trying to blame my son for something he didn't do," said Reed, "and I'm not having it."

So here we are once again, stuck in the middle of another unclear and uncomfortable, but extremely complicated, sexually charged, he-said, she-said mess in the world of sports. Is this another adventure in misplaced athletic entitlement like a Ben Roethlisberger, jocks-behaving-badly pub crawl? Or is it closer to resembling the botched investigation and rush-to-judgment mess in the Duke lacrosse scandal, where no one involved was exactly a pure innocent, but assigning absolute guilt was a convoluted riddle?

With this story, all that we know for sure is that it begins (where else?) in a bar, with some over-served souls apparently making a series of light-headed decisions full of regrettable long-term consequences. And while no one will actually say the words that would physically draw a direct line from Point A to Point B, we don't exactly need a road map to connect the dots, do we?

It doesn't take much of a leap to wonder if the players' departure from school had something to do with the story that surfaced in May that several SLU basketball players were being questioned as part of a St. Louis police investigation into an alleged sexual assault on campus.

Willie Reed Sr. says his son and Mitchell were suspended last month by the university's student court for a full year because of allegations that they were involved in some unspecified violation of the school's detailed student code of conduct.

The suspension happened as a result of a behind-closed-door hearing before the school's student court. For reasons no one can adequately explain, the hearing didn't happen last spring or even over the summer. Instead, it was conducted after Mitchell and Reed returned to school last month.

According to Reed Sr., the alleged victim had an attorney and her parents present at the hearing, and the lawyer came armed with a thick book full of documents that supported her case.

His son was not given the same privileges. According to Reed Sr., statements that supported his son's innocence were not admitted into the proceeding. Neither player was allowed to have parents in the room, and the only legal representation Reed had was a second-year law student who had less than 48 hours to prepare his defense.

Reed Sr. said he was very angry and added, "We were not allowed to be there at all. Her parents were allowed to be there. Her parents were the ones who were pressing the school to kick them out for one year and that's what they (originally) did. Once I got involved in the process, (the university) tried to tell me it wasn't a legal matter. But it was a legal matter, because if it wasn't why did she have an attorney involved and why was her attorney allowed in the room when the student conduct code said no attorney was supposed to be involved?

"They still have not responded to that," he said.

But if the original hearing was smothered in unfair influence, you have to wonder if the appeals process tilted the influence the other way. Normally an appeal is supposed to take three or four days, according to university sources familiar with the process.

But as word began to get out in the media, this appeal dragged on until two days ago, and the result was a reduction of the suspension from one year to essentially a two-month punishment.

"They tried to come up with a compromise that didn't satisfy anyone," said Reed. "I'm sure the young lady's parents aren't happy because they wanted them kicked out for a year. But I'm not happy either, because I know my son didn't do what he was accused of. This thing was all screwed up."

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