Not counting the first four play-in games, March Madness officially started today. This is the college sports Super Bowl. People who generally do not give half a damn about the sport even fill out a bracket and pay some iota of attention to the games today (hello, Rebecca). For the third straight year, Illinois fans are stuck living vicariously through other teams. And for the fourth time in the past year, they had to read about an Illini basketball player being arrested.
In case you somehow missed the news, Kendrick Nunn was arrested last night for domestic battery for allegedly hitting a woman in an apartment. The exact same apartment that his roommate, friend, and teammate Jaylon Tate was just arrested in for allegedly hitting his girlfriend. This less than one month after teammate Leron Black was arrested for pulling a knife on a bouncer. And all of this of course began with former teammate Darius Paul's arrest in France for vandalism, public intoxication, and resisting arrest.
That's four scholarship players arrested in less than half a year. Almost one third of the available scholarship spots. That's insane. Three of the arrests were for violent crimes. Two of the violent crimes were against women. That is unacceptable.
The school has decided to wait things out before making a final decision on the fate of the three players. All are currently suspended indefinitely from team activities. But honestly, that's not enough.
When you have so many players simultaneously serving indefinite suspensions for violent crime arrests that you can't realistically hold a scrimmage during practice, something has gone completely wrong with your basketball program. And when your program has become that fundamentally flawed, someone has to take the blame. That someone is John Groce.
Is it completely fair to blame him for the actions of his players off the court? No. But here's the thing: they're his players. Paul's arrest was the only one of the four that comes close to something you can laugh off as a college kid being a college kid. "Oh, he got drunk and vandalized something? Boys will be boys!" I can't pretend I never got drunk and vandalized something. But I also hadn't already been kicked off a D-I basketball team for resisting arrest as a drunken minor and then pissed away my second chance.
The other three? Not even close. Each of the players made their own terrible decisions that even put them in the position to be accused and arrested of each crime. That's on them. But the fact that Groce somehow remains unable to somehow reach his players and maybe get them to think "Hey, maybe I shouldn't be doing this." is absolutely baffling. How do you not have your players behaving better after a teammate is arrested for brandishing a knife at a bouncer? In what world do you have two players arrested within one week for domestic abuse? Illinois stopped being a funny joke that people could laugh at and turned into something far more sad and disgusting at the drop of a hat.
One of the main arguments for keeping John Groce around for another year has been to wait and see what he could do with a potential grand slam recruiting class in 2017, but what exactly is he going to be able to sell those high school athletes and their families on? You can at least use the "molder of men" line when you're losing if you're running a clean program, but when four of your players get mugshots taken in in fewer than 200 days, you lose that card. You can survive multiple bad seasons. You can survive player issue scandals. But you can't survive both.
Josh Whitman, here's your window. Illinois basketball is officially below being a laughingstock. Fire John Groce.