In 2011, highly touted freshman guard Dez Wells and the Xavier Musketeers were poised to dominate the Atlantic 10 and make a run in the NCAA tournament. But it didn’t take long for Wells’s career to take an ominous turn, foreshadowing the tumultuous road ahead for him.
There was the suspension in the brawl with crosstown rival Cincinnati his freshman year, then his subsequent four-game suspension that rocked the program and nearly derailed the season and the hearing with the Xavier student conduct board after he was accused of raping a female student.
Wells found himself expelled, kicked off his team and unsure of his future, after a freshman season where he demonstrated so much promise. Wells decided to transfer to Maryland and wait out an appeal to have the NCAA waive the one-year rule of sitting out in College Park.
The appeal seemed like a long shot. After all, NCAA rules state:
“A student who transfers to any NCAA institution from a collegiate institution while the student is disqualified or suspended from the previous institution for disciplinary reasons (as opposed to academic reasons) must complete one calendar year of residence at the certifying institution.”
In a surprising turn of events, the NCAA overturned its initial decision to have Wells sit out a season, forgoing this long-established rule.
The new decision likely stemmed from news in Ohio. When a grand jury reviewed the details of the criminal charges against Wells, it threw them out due to a lack of any real evidence. Even the Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters lambasted Xavier, calling the university’s investigation “severely flawed” and advising Xavier to overhaul its investigation, according to ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan.
Now Wells has filed a federal lawsuit against Xavier, demanding an apology and damages after being wrongly dismissed from the school. Wells alleges that Xavier rushed the judiciary process and conducted a flawed investigation.
It’s a script that has played out before in Durham, North Carolina. Duke lacrosse fans know it well.
In March 2006, a North Carolina Central University student working as a stripper and dancer falsely accused three members of Duke University’s lacrosse team of raping her at a private house party.
As events progressed, it became apparent that the investigation was amounting to a witch-hunt. The alleged victim began flip-flopping her claims, and District Attorney Mike Nifong was succumbing to public pressure to label the alleged assault a racially bias-motivated crime.
Both Xavier and Duke were guilty of condemning their athletes rather than waiting for all the facts to emerge. Duke and the city of Durham allowed public opinion to sway its investigation of the lacrosse program. Xavier rushed their investigation of Wells without gathering all the facts, refusing to acknowledge the Ohio grand jury’s decision to throw out the alleged assault case altogether.
Both schools ignored due process, instead trying to preserve their reputation and integrity without thinking of the adverse costs to its innocent student-athletes.
Wells’s attorney Peter Ginsberg has faced this type of case before. In the 1990s, Ginsberg, represented former Dallas Cowboys wideout Michael Irvin and teammate Erik Williams when a local TV station’s reported rape allegations turned out to be false.
By allowing Wells to play immediately, the NCAA may be on course to set a new precedent.
Missouri Tigers guard Michael Dixon recently transferred to Memphis under similar circumstances. Dixon was suspended for the entirety of last season after two separate sexual assault claims became public. Although no charges were ever filed, Dixon and Missouri decided mutually to part ways paving the way for his transfer.
Now, Dixon’s eligibility remains up in the air. While NCAA rules seem to indicate that Dixon should have to ride the pine for a year, Dixon never faced any charges similar to Wells.
If Dixon is allowed to play, it could firmly establish a new precedent allowing players to transfer between schools even amidst criminal claims or charges. Such transfer rules could lead to a pseudo-free agent market feeding frenzy, where schools quickly look to offload disgraced athletes, whether guilty or not, and others will leap in to pick up the talent.
The question remains whether or not the NCAA should act separately from the judicial system. In what ways must universities defend their athletes, allowing them sufficient backing and due process until all the facts are revealed?
Facing constant harassment on the road in the ACC as opposing crowds chant “No means no!”, Wells reputation is no doubt in tatters. Through all this adversity, Wells will fight this uphill battle in the courtroom. In a manner that is calm and collected like his play at Maryland this past season, Wells will try to restore his reputation off the court, so he can finally find peace of mind playing on it.
By: Irfan Uraizee