Since the Nevin Shapiro mess dropped on Miami's head, the key college hoops questions have been as follows: What will Missouri do -- what can Missouri do -- about new head coach Frank Haith? Administrative leave? Termination? Or nothing at all?
Thus far, the answer has been "nothing." This is not exactly a surprise. For as bad as the Yahoo! bombshell looked for Haith -- the photos with Shapiro are bad enough, but the allegation that Shapiro arranged $10,000 for DeQuan Jones is even worse -- it's not clear whether Missouri has the cause needed to fire Haith under the terms of the contract he signed this spring. The language in the contract is occasionally vague. It's probably fair to surmise that if Missouri both wanted to and could fire Haith, it would have done so already. That the school has taken no action indicates that one of -- and probably both -- of those qualifications isn't true.
Thus, Tigers athletic director Mike Alden finds himself in a precarious position. For as long as the NCAA is investigating Haith's actions at Miami, the problem is still his, and there won't be any getting out of it. So what stance has the coach taken?
Judging by comments Alden made at a football fundraiser this week, it's fair to characterize that stance as "tepid, tentative support." From the Associated Press:
Asked by The Associated Press if he supports Haith, Alden replied, "We support the NCAA process." [...]
Alden briefly touched upon the situation in his remarks to boosters, noting that Haith met with the Missouri basketball team several days ago to discuss the matter. But he also emphasized that the alleged violations occurred at another school and singled out the returning basketball players as "a great group of guys."
"He's our coach," Alden told the AP. "There's a process that he's involved with -- that we're not involved with -- so we're just going to let that play out."
At this point, maybe that's the best thing Missouri can do. Taking action is more likely to result in a no-win situation. Firing Haith could lead to a messy cause lawsuit, and it would also leave a talented team with five returning starters without a coach before the start of an ambitious 2011-12 campaign. Placing Haith on administrative leave would have a similar effect, albeit without the lawsuit.
Stepping back and letting the NCAA conduct its investigation doesn't seem all that satisfying, especially given the high-profile nature of the story and the serious harm the allegations have already done to Haith's reputation. Besides, it's not as if Missouri fans were thrilled with the hire in the first place. They're especially displeased now, and with good reason.
But this route does allow Alden to let the NCAA Committee on Infractions make his decision for him. It's hardly an attractive option. But among the choices available to Alden, this one is the least unattractive. Sometimes, that's the best you can do.