A UB Bulls’ decision to dismiss Moss themselves would have been a tough one, but a good one

The first time I spoke with Justin Moss was outside the men’s basketball team’s locker room in February 2014. He was just a role player that had a surprise 14-point performance.

He came off a little shy, quiet. Probably hadn’t been interviewed very much. We talked briefly about his heart condition that almost stopped him from playing basketball. He grew up in a rough area of Detroit.

Then came stardom.

Then came him posturizing former Kentucky forward and now NBA lottery pick Willie Cauley-Stein on national television. Then came the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year Award.

It became the ultimate feel-good story. A guy who had overcome growing up in a bad neighborhood and a heart condition was now an All-American Division-I basketball player getting a free education. All of that still happened.

But it got a sad ending.

Moss was expelled from UB last week for his involvement with an on-campus theft. Moss and teammates Raheem Johnson and Mory Diane were caught stealing $650 from the South Lake Village apartment of two football players. It’s been reported it was Moss’ second offense for theft since he got to UB – hence why he’s off the team and Johnson and Diane are still on it.

It’s natural to think about the decision Student-Wide Judiciary (SWJ), which handles incidents of student misconduct, made in expelling Moss. But what should be focused on here is the decision that was not made: the men’s basketball team’s decision not to dismiss Moss itself.

It would have been a tough decision – maybe even an unpopular one with some Bulls fans. But the right one.

It would have been a message from new head coach Nate Oats to his players: the off-court incidents that happened the past season are over. It would have been refreshing really, to see a team pick integrity over 17 points and 9 rebounds a game.

But that didn’t happen. The Bulls let SWJ decide Moss’ fate with their fingers crossed that the body would show mercy. Moss was still hanging around the team despite the legal trouble. He was a part of the team’s commercial shoot in late July – which will now have to be edited.

The Bulls did not have to let SWJ decide Moss’ fate first and it’s not a matter of “innocent until proven guilty.” Moss, Johnson and Diane admitted to the crime and returned the stolen money. The Bulls were able to kick Jamir Hanner off the team almost immediately after what former head coach Bobby Hurley would only call a violation of team rules.

Clearly there’s a double standard here. Hanner was backup and the team kicked him off themselves. Moss was a superstar and the team seems to have supported him through the SWJ process. I’ve had former football players complain about these same problems under the previous coaching staff, and it now seems it’s happening on the basketball team as well.

I’ve discussed the news with many friends and family over the past week. Quite a few told me, Jeez, he’s so good. Why couldn’t they just keep that quiet?

I couldn’t disagree more. Being a basketball player shouldn’t make you any different than the average student. If the normal UB student with another generic person number gets expelled after being caught stealing twice, then the MAC Player of the Year needs to get expelled too.

On a side note, University Police should be applauded for their handling of the case. The officer in charge of the case explained to a Bulls coach that he had a responsibility as a police officer to report criminal activity even if it implicates an athlete, according to the police report. It’s good to see things aren’t getting swept under the rug for star athletes like at other universities.

Not that it would have been easy for Oats to dismiss Moss himself – he was Moss’ high school coach after all. He knows the area Moss grew up in. He got him to a junior college after Toledo wouldn’t let him play basketball with his heart condition. I’m sure to kick Moss of the team himself would have been close to kicking off his own son.

But it’s what had to be done. It’s disappointing that didn’t happen. And what’s happened to the culture of the program is disappointing as well.

Hurley brought Buffalo national attention and a MAC Championship, sure – but at what cost? In the past year, two players were dismissed and a player was ruled academically ineligible.

Better players are sometime bigger risks when it comes to grades and off-court behavior. It’s clear Hurley was willing to take that risk. And now he isn’t even around to deal with the aftermath. Programs need to weigh the risks. And at this time, the Bulls need to weigh their priorities.

As for Moss, I hope he finds his way. He was close to graduating. I hope he’s able to transfer, even if it’s not to play basketball, to get his degree. He’s overcome a lot.

But he should still not be on the team and his team should have been the ones to deicide that.

Tom Dinki is the editor in chief and can be reached at tom.dinki@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tomdinki.