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UCLA's Problem Bigger than Players

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UCLA head basketball coach Ben Howland speaks about the passing of coach John Wooden during a news conference at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, Friday, June 4, 2010.
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After Sports Illustrated’s piece on UCLA men’s basketball program went live on their website this morning, it’s apparent that the Bruins have a big problem on their hands. The problem is worse than those that author George Dohrmann enumerated in his piece: it’s the problem of irrelevancy.

These are some pretty lofty charges: casual marijuana and ecstasy use; insubordination of the coaching staff; actual abuse dished out by a player to his teammates; a head coach who is focused on the X’s and O’s seemingly oblivious to the dissension amongst his ranks. A former practice squad player who played with Kevin Love in the final Final Four team and the beginning of the nadir of the team confirmed Dohrmann’s story. “It’s dead on,” the player told me. The player made sure to tell me that head coach Ben Howland is a terrific game coach but lacked the charisma for recruiting.

For most programs across the country the national sports talk shows would run nonstop. SportsCenter would lead every hour to the story. Pardon the Interruption would devote the entire first segment to the allegations.

What really happened: the national talk shows devoted several minutes to it, SportsCenter buried the story 45 minutes into their show and Pardon the Interruption might have done a minute on the subject if at all. Essentially there were only crickets heard across the country.

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UCLA athletics have fallen on hard times. Both the football and men’s basketball teams stink, and mentioning the school elicits responses such as, “Oh that’s where that old guy coached something, right?”

It’s a disgrace. John Wooden coached there. Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton won national championships there. In the last decade the program went to three consecutive Final Fours. However aside from those three seasons, the revenue generating sports for the Bruins have been awful under Athletic Director Dan Guerrero’s watch.

This should help usher both Guerrero and Howland out of Westwood, but it won’t. This is UCLA after all, and the incompetence in their athletic department will allow this to fester until the only option would be to lance it off. Can UCLA continue to compete in the Pac-12 or will they have to be demoted to the West Coast Conference?

Since I actually want people to read my words, I think I’ve gone on too long about UCLA. Good luck with the Pac-12 tournament, with Jim Mora and doing whatever it is you’re doing with Pauley Pavilion.