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Standing up for ‘scapegoat’ Sylvia

When Meghan Austin was an assistant on Chowan University women’s basketball coach Pat Mashuda’s staff for three seasons I admired her passion and dedication, not just to the coaching profession, but also to female student athletes.  Austin said she always wanted to do everything she could to help them grow physically, spiritually, and academically.

She always said that she had some great role models as coaches during her playing and later early coaching careers.

In case you hadn’t followed her, Meghan left the Lady Hawks in 2013 to spend one season as an assistant at Charleston (SC) Southern University of the Big South Conference, an NCAA Division-I program.

Last year Austin landed the head coaching position for the MontreatCollege women’s basketball team. Montreat is a small NAIA school located about 20 miles from Asheville and also the hometown of famed evangelist Dr. Billy Graham.

Last week, Austin wrote an op-ed piece in the Raleigh News & Observer in defense of her former coach at the University of North Carolina, Sylvia Hatchell, claiming the Carolina women’s program is being scapegoated in this summer’s NCAA allegations on Carolina stemming from an investigation conducted into an academic scandal at UNC that spanned two decades.

While many felt the men’s basketball program – and coach Roy Williams – dodged a bullet, and similarly for coach Larry Fedora and the football program, both coaches were given contract extensions, but Hatchell did not receive one.  2018 may be her last year on the bench.

Hatchell has served as Carolina’s women’s coach since 1986. She’s led the Lady Heels to three NCAA Final Fours, including a national championship in 1994. She owns more wins than any other active women’s coach and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013; six years after Williams and 30 years after a fellow named Smith.

While the basketball and football programs are likely going to face NCAA punishment, it’s the women’s basketball program that is going to get hit the hardest, and that’s part of what had Austin’s dander up and made her call out the administration.

“It’s really hard to work for a boss who doesn’t support you and have your back, and that is what Hatchell and her staff are forced to do at this point,” Austin wrote. “It is hard to believe that in the year 2015, we still have people of power who do not support female teams as well as they do their male counterparts.

“I am proud to be a member of the UNC women’s basketball program, but I cannot say I am proud to be represented by an administration that will throw a legendary coach to the wolves to protect men’s athletic teams.”

Austin referred to Hatchell, former N.C.State coach Kay Yow and former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt as three of the sport’s biggest leaders.

“(Hatchell) deserves to be honored like these other two women, but she won’t be able to choose when she retires from the game because UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham refuses to renew her contract,” her missive continued. “How is that fair? Hatchell’s name is in the record books beside these other two legendary coaches who both battled illness through their final years of coaching, just as Hatchell has rebounded from her leukemia. The biggest difference is the others were allowed to retire on their own terms.”

Austin may be correct in that the school’s strategy is to throw the women’s team under the bus. Do the NCAA-math: UNC men’s basketball is one of the college game’s flagship programs, and football is a cash-cow at nearly every power conference school.

We’ll have to wait until UNC responds to the allegations to find out whether Austin is right about sacrificing women’s basketball, and that’s a reasonable assumption since women’s basketball is the sport most frequently mentioned in the allegations.

But don’t lay all this at the foot of the university and athletic director Cunningham.

To paraphrase the late, great Jerry Tarkanian, “The NCAA is so mad at Roy Williams and Carolina, they’ll probably slap two more years of probation on the UNC women’s team.”

Yep, the same NCAA – in case you’ve forgotten – that got it all wrong about Miami football.

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer with Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.