Last night, UNC Asheville released a statement in the form of a FAQ addressing what I will call “Kimmel-Gate.” The statement is available on the school website and the Citizen-Times (along with an off-color rebuttal from Keith Jarrett).
Before I address the FAQ point-by-point, let me make a few things clear.
- I don’t have an axe to grind with Janet Cone or Anne Ponder (apart from their current handling of the situation). Although I don’t know Ms. Cone, I’ve had a cordial relationship with Ms. Ponder ever since she became Chancellor.
- I also do not think that the current situation has arisen as a result of malice on the part of Ms. Cone or Chancellor Ponder. As a fellow alumnus told me yesterday, “Janet Cone wants to win basketball games.” This may not excuse incompetence, but neither the Chancellor or the AD is trying to throw the men’s basketball program “under the bus.”
- Nor do I have any basis on which to claim that Ms. Cone or Chancellor Ponder are giving preference to the Southern Conference on the basis of gender preference. Unless anyone has any verifiable evidence to the contrary, please stop implying as such on message boards and comments sections of certain local newspapers.
Note that the FAQ takes the form of an interrogatory, with the questions selected by the university and answered by the university, with no opportunity for clarification. Again, the statement is available here and here, so I’ll refrain from taking up space and address each question in turn.
1. Once they were faced with the threat of losing all post-season games, the response to give up the one game that actually conflicted with the SoCon tournament is logical and appropriate. When an other side in an argument has leverage, you get what you can out of a deal. The problem, of course, is that Ms. Cone put the University in this position in the first place.
2. Eddie Biedenbach sure didn’t sound like he was consulted on this decision when he was quoted in the Citizen-Times on Monday. And if I were in Eddie’s shoes, I would have raised all holy hell about this. The answer states that “Eddie was aware of our commitment to the Southern Conference.” I haven’t read the contract, but I was also certainly aware of the schools’ commitment, given that it was published in local and regional media outlets. That doesn’t mean I was consulted.
3. Two issues are important here: The lack of communication between Ms. Cone and the Big South; and the negligent/reckless actions of Ms. Cone in negotiating the SoCon tournament. I’ll deal with the second issue later. For now, the fact that there was no communication between the Big South Conference and Ms. Cone regarding the propriety of UNC Asheville hosting a another conference’s basketball tournaments is extremely troubling. The answer does not state whether Ms. Cone consulted with the Big South at the time that the university’s agreement with the SoCon was negotiated, but three plausible options exist: She failed to consult with the conference, she ignored the conference’s recommendation, or she received false/misleading advice from the conference. Of the three, option one is the most likely given that this public debacle is occurring now, not back in 2010 when the agreement with the Southern Conference was inked.
4. The statement indicates that “[t]he opportunity for the SoCon Women to play their games in Kimmel Arena was a key component for the bid to host the tournament.” I bet it was. It’s a great arena, and I’m happy to let other conferences/organizations host events there. But in negotiating these events, the University has to protect its interests in the arena space, especially our men’s and women’s basketball teams. It baffles me that Ms. Cone did not work to include a clause in the contract which stated something to the effect of:
“Should the opportunity for UNIVERSITY to host a Big South conference tournament arise, SOUTHERN games will be rescheduled or moved to accommodate UNIVERSITY as needed.”
This is further evidence of an incompetent contract negotiation on the part of Ms. Cone. The statement released by the University also states that Ms. Cone was unaware of “potential conflicts,” namely the situation that UNC Asheville may be facing in a month. Please. The Big South tournament has been held the week before spring break for as long as I can remember, and while the university states that the Big South was “actively pursuing” a neutral site, nothing was official. I’ll say it again: If you’re making decisions, you don’t make decisions based on hypothetical scenarios, no matter how plausible they might be. You make decisions based upon the current situation. The continuation of a higher-seed based tournament was certainly foreseeable to a reasonable party. Why was it not foreseeable to Ms. Cone?
5. It’s a good thing that Ms. Cone knows the Big South bylaws so well; she can put it down as a skill when she’s interviewing for her next job. Seriously, the university is just now trying to resolve this? They’ve known about a potential conflict for almost two years. This should have been a moot issue and resolved before the contract with the Southern Conference was signed, let alone 9 weeks before the conference tournament.
6. If the Big South is moving to a neutral/fixed site format, then that’s good news. But this is the first I’ve heard of it. type “big south tournament city” into Google and you won’t find anything about bidding, potential host cities, etc. Also of note: the Southern Conference inked its agreement with Asheville in 2010. Using the same timeline, if the Big South Conference moved to a fixed site format tomorrow, then it could be 2014 before such a change occurs. I welcome the change, but again, this never should have been an issue.
In Chancellor Ponder’s interview with the Citizen-Times, she says that she “know[s] our UNC Asheville fans are devoted. When they understand the clear story completely, I know that they will continue to be loyal fans of the Bulldogs.” I agree. Nothing that Ms. Cone has done or failed to do has diminished my loyalty to the university or this basketball team. Indeed, I think it’s a great thing that so many people have expressed their displeasure. It demonstrates our passion for Bulldog Basketball. However, as a graduate of UNC Asheville, I think I’m smart enough to draw a distinction between my loyalty to an institution and loyalty to members within an institution. If an individual’s actions are harming the institution to which I am loyal, then something needs to change. I’ll always be a Bulldog fan. But I don’t think that Janet Cone will always be UNC Asheville’s Athletics Director.