Last week Todd Bozeman was reinstated as Morgan State men’s basketball head coach. He had missed three games after being suspended because he was alleged to have hit a player during a January 7 game against South Carolina State.
Bozeman says he didn’t hit Larry Batsfield, but South Carolina State President George Cooper, who claimed he was sitting nearby and witnessed the incident, says he did. The coach later told Morgan State officials that the situation was blown out of proportion.
“I love my players,” Bozeman said in an Associated Press article. “I’m an emotional coach, but I don’t get physical with my players in that way. I hug them; I kiss them on the forehead.”
However, given last fall’s death of a Florida A&M band student, allegedly because of hazing, and now the Bozeman suspension, are HBCUs now getting a black eye as a result? When HBCUs are clamoring for more presence in the mainstream media other than over compliance and accreditation issues, this latest incident isn’t a good way to get your name in the spotlight.
Therefore, last weekend I called Mark Gray, who regularly covers HBCU sports — he does play-by-play for the Heritage Sports Radio Network (HSRN) and hosts his own radio talk show. He’s also a Morgan State alum.
Bozeman is a tough coach and can be emotional on the sidelines when coaching during contests. “His kids don’t get into trouble, and they graduate. He’s not a madman,” notes Gray.
Bozeman is no saint — he’s had a couple of “embarrassing blemishes” during his time at Morgan State, Gray recalls. “Do I know him well enough to know that he wouldn’t abuse a player on the sidelines? Yes! He’s a tough love coach — he’s more Bill Parcells than Tony Dungy.”
Maybe he’s needs some anger management classes, but Gray suggests another explanation: “I really think that Todd is a victim of some professional playa-hating. I know that there are some haters inside the [athletic] department.
“It’s the arrogance and ignorance of HBCU presidents, who continually get away with this stuff,” continues Gray, pointing to “a veil of secrecy” — no one knows what really happened at the game. The player never said anything about it, nor did his teammates; yet the coach gets suspended.
Everyone from the school president right on down to the athletic director suddenly becomes Harpo Marx and clams up, hiding behind what Gray calls “the insulation of ‘no comment.’
“You either get on top of the story and move on, or put the kibosh on it,” suggests the broadcaster.
Back in October, Gray wrote on his “Gray Matters” blog on the HSRN website, “Athletics [is] the best public relations and marketing tool that any university has. Up to this point Bozeman is Morgan State.” He expanded on that view in our discussion.
“They’ve played in four conference championship games in a row,” continues Gray. “He [Bozeman] supports all the other programs — he goes to softball games, football games, volleyball games. Forbes Magazine named Morgan [State] one of the top 10 American colleges and universities last year. I guarantee you nobody knows that, but they know who Todd Bozeman is.”
Last fall we sadly learned about the FAMU hazing incident that allegedly led to a band member’s death; now the Bozeman did-he-or-didn’t-he incident kicks off the new year. Gray says a Morgan State beat writer “didn’t even write [about it] because he didn’t think there was anything to it. Wouldn’t you think the [media] people who were covering the game, [if they] thought there was something [to the story], they would’ve written on it?”
The Bozeman matter is “a classic case of what happens at HBCUs” where sometimes “misguided decisions” rule supreme, says Gray. “The powers that be have jumped the gun” and rushed to judgment on Bozeman, he believes.
“This is not a hazing incident. You talk to the former players who have played for him. To a man…they’ll die for him.”
Does college basketball need a makeover?
Despite the fact that most coaches behave professionally on the sidelines, Division I men’s basketball currently has a bad image in regards to on-court sportsmanship and the behavior of coaches and players, says the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel.
At the recent annual NCAA convention held earlier this month, the panel asked all rules committees to look at improving the image of their respective sports, wrote NCAA.org reporter Greg Johnson. However, men’s hoops seems to have the worst image currently.
“A few coaches create negative images for college basketball due to their behavior toward officials and their own players,” said Johnson. “Committee members want to make sure that student-athletes control their actions toward officials, other players and fans.”
Anoka-Ramsey Community College was atop last week’s National Junior College Athletic Association’s Division III women’s basketball weekly poll. The team was one of three Minnesota schools in the top 10; the others were Northland (sixth) and Mesabi Range (ninth).
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.