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Posted at 11:01 AM ET, 01/25/2012

Maryland’s decision to name Comcast Center floor for former Coach Gary Williams not cheered by all


Gary Williams and Lefty Driesell, shown in 2006. (John McDonnell - THE WASHINGTON POST)
The ceremony just before tip-off of Wednesday’s Maryland-Duke game, in which the Comcast Center court will be named for former men’s basketball Coach Gary Williams, is expected to last roughly six minutes.

But the decision behind the honor has been a source of concern for some Maryland alumni and supporters, who enumerate their objections on a Web site: www.MDCourtSellOut.com.

In addition, former Maryland basketball coach Lefty Driesell shared his concerns in a private e-mail to Maryland Chancellor Brit Kirwan, who made the decision to name the court for Williams.

“This is nothing personal,” Driesell said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “It’s nothing against Gary. He had a lot of good teams and won the national championship.

“But I don’t think his name — or anybody’s name — should be on the Maryland basketball court. Number one, I am not interested in my name being on the court. I don’t think it’s fair to have any one name on Maryland’s basketball court because it’s too great a university and too great a basketball program, and [Maryland basketball coach] is too big a job to have one person’s name on the court.

“Tom McMillen, Len Elmore, John Lucas, Buck Williams, Albert King, Adrian Branch, Len Bias and others — they’re the people that really put Maryland on the map in basketball. It’s sort of an insult to them, because they’re the ones that built the program.”

A spokesperson for the group that has enumerated its objections on the Internet could not be reached for comment. But its Web site cites the sub-par graduation rate of Williams’s players as its chief objection, ranking at the bottom of the ACC and fifth-worst in NCAA Division I over the last 15 years, according to NCAA data.

The group also objects to what it characterizes as the “blatant hypocrisy” behind the decision to name the court for Williams, given that Kirwan serves as co-chair of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, which has long advocated that any college teams with graduation rates below 50 percent should be barred from competing in the post-season.

According to NCAA figures, the graduation rate of Williams’s squads was 21.4 percent from 1995 to 2010.

Given that, the group raises questions about why Williams is the more appropriate choice to be so honored rather than Maryland women’s coach Brenda Frese, whose teams graduated 69.4 percent of its players in the same period, according to NCAA data.

Moreover, given the Maryland athletics department’s current financial crisis, which has led to a decision to cut eight of the university’s 27 varsity teams, it notes that naming rights to the arena could have been sold to a corporation to create a badly needed new revenue stream.

According to a report in Wednesday’s Baltimore Sun, the Maryland Board of Regents was told in September that a significant philanthropic donation could be tied to a decision to name the court for Williams. But in a statement, Kirwan denied that was the case.

“The approval of the naming of the University of Maryland court at Comcast Center in honor of Gary Williams was my decision alone, under my authority as chancellor,” Kirwan said. “A possible gift was not a factor in my consideration. As men’s basketball coach from 1989 through 2011, Coach Williams brought an enduring legacy to Maryland basketball that helped lead to greater national visibility and enhanced stature for the College Park campus overall. As a result, I felt it appropriate to approve the strong recommendation coming from the campus to honor Gary Williams in this fashion.”

By  |  11:01 AM ET, 01/25/2012

 
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