By Ralph Hutchinson, Sports Editor

After 16 years, just a few shy of the minimum for a retirement with full pension, University of Cincinnati men's basketball coach Bob Huggins is history. On August 23, University President Nancy Zimpher sent an ultimatum to the coach's lawyer, saying he had until 2 PM of the 24th to resign, or be fired. He was unable to personally respond, as he was out of town at the time. She held a press conference that afternoon to explain why Huggins had to go. Some statements in that conference sounded disturbing, and bordering on racist. She says she wants "higher standards." Just what does she mean by that?

Why is Nancy Zimpher so determined to be rid of Huggins? She talks about wanting a new direction as UC enters the Big East Conference. Is Bob Huggins a losing coach who just cannot take them there? Hardly! He is the winningest coach in the history of the institution with a record of 399 and 127. That is a .759 winning average. His 16 years have included 14 consecutive NCAA appearances. In five different seasons, at least one organization named him coach of the year. He was even named Conference USA's coach of the decade. The list of his accomplishments goes on and on, so there is no question as to whether he is good enough to coach in the Big East. A better question would be, "Can anyone fill his shoes now that the competition is going to get much tougher?" Since winning is not the problem, is it loyalty? Huggins has turned down offers from the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers and Miami Heat. He even said no to his alma mater West Virginia, rather than abandoning UC or its players. If this is not loyalty, what is?

Since winning is not the problem, and loyalty is not the problem, could it be that Nancy Zimpher sees Bob Huggins as an embarrassment? There is one legitimate thing Nancy Zimpher could cite if she does see Huggins that way. He was arrested for DUI in June of 2004, and pleaded no contest. That was certainly a blow to his reputation, and the university's, but if that was the problem, why was he not fired right then?

Over the years, some of the players Huggins has recruited have not graduated, and others have gotten into trouble with the law. When this has happened, talk radio switch boards have lit up. Callers have accused him of recruiting players who have no academic credentials just because they can play basketball. To be fair, there have been players who left early for the pros or got into trouble, but why single out Bob Huggins? All major college programs have lost student athletes to the pros. From time to time, all colleges and universities have had student athletes get in trouble. It seems to me that the NBA and NFL use college as a farm system, and that our whole society gives special treatment to athletes that may go to their heads, and make them think that they can do no wrong. These problems are much bigger than one coach.

Some of Huggins' most vicious critics on talk radio and other forums have gone beyond accusing him of bringing unqualified students to UC. A few have gone so far as to accuse him of bringing a criminal element to campus, citing players like Ruben Patterson, Donald Little, and Roy Bright. Does Zimpher agree with them? In her press conference she said, "Character counts," and that she makes "no apologies for setting high standards". Does "high standards" mean that underprivileged and minority youths who may not have the best grades and test scores, but are hoping for a chance at a higher education through athletics, are no longer welcome at the University of Cincinnati? Is it now an institution for wealthy suburban and usually white kids with high grades and test scores only? Over the years, countless young people from humble backgrounds have been given the opportunity to learn at the university level because of their athletic talents. Not all have taken full advantage of these opportunities, but many have seized them and excelled. At the same time, many wealthy suburban kids with good high school grades and test scores have come to campus only to drink, party, and flunk out.

Is Nancy Zimpher saying that Huggins and his players have poor character, or that he has low standards? Does Nancy Zimpher want a whiter University of Cincinnati? Are the hate and venom spewing callers to talk radio the people she wants to impress? I hardly think that they will be the ones to decide what reputation UC will have as an academic institution.