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Coleman remains opposed to raising 'Fab Five' banners in 2013

Todd Needle/Daily
University President Mary Sue Coleman was in attendance at the Michigan men's basketball team's banquet on Tuesday. Buy this photo

By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published April 11, 2012

For the past decade, four banners have lain dormant, wrapped in plastic and placed among the columns of cardboard boxes in the archives of the Bentley Historical Library.

The banners represent one of the pinnacles of the Michigan men's basketball team’s success. Their resting place represents the program’s darkest hours.

And if the decision is left up to University President Mary Sue Coleman, that’s where the banners will remain.

“What happened was not good, and I don't think they'll ever go back up. I don't,” Coleman said in her fireside chat with students on Tuesday.

“Some day, I won't be president anymore, and maybe someone else will have a different view. But I think you have to reflect on the larger meaning and that we want to hold ourselves to a higher standard.”

On Nov. 7, 2002, three months into her presidency, Coleman ordered the removal of four banners representing two Final Four appearances, a Big Ten Tournament championship and an NIT championship from the rafters at Crisler Arena as part of the University’s self-imposed sanctions following the biggest scandal in the program’s history.

“To me, taking down those banners was like a dagger in my heart,” then-Athletic Director Bill Martin told reporters that afternoon.

The sanctions were in response to an ongoing legal case regarding former basketball team booster Ed Martin, who had admitted to running an illegal gambling operation from which he laundered money to members of the Michigan basketball team.

The four indicted players were headlined by legendary “Fab Five” member Chris Webber (1991-93). Joining Webber were Maurice Taylor (1993-97), Robert “Tractor” Traylor (1995-98) and Louis Bullock (1995-99).

An ensuing NCAA ruling imposed a bevy of restrictions and sanctions on the basketball program, capped by a 10-year forced disassociation between the University and the four players and the teams they represented. That 10-year period ends in 2013.

“From my point of view, taking the banners down was the right thing to do because it was a very difficult time for the University and we were ashamed of what happened because the University has higher standards than that,” Coleman said. “We're the University of Michigan — that shouldn't happen.”

Coleman’s contrast those made by former University president James Duderstadt, who held that position during the Fab Five’s Final Four runs in 1992 and 1993.

In anticipation of an ESPN documentary featuring the Fab Five released last March, Duderstadt told Yahoo that if he were still the University's president, he would “certainly try to find a way” to put the banners back up.

“The players themselves, I don’t think (they) caused us any harm at all,” Duderstadt said of the Fab Five. “I don’t think it was a good idea to pull down the NCAA banners or try to hide the seasons. I view them as a positive part of the University’s history.”

Within the documentary itself, though, Coleman and Athletic Director Dave Brandon stood steadfast that the University should not raise the banners once the 10-year separation ends.

Brandon said the University would be injuring its image by turning a blind eye to a gambling and money-laundering scandal, even if it’s a decade old.

The effect of that decision, though, is that the actions of four players spoiled the legacy of a long string of Michigan teams and individual players. Webber’s Fab Five teammate Jalen Rose produced the ESPN documentary in hopes of boosting the image of the scandal-ridden program. But it hasn’t changed the University administrators' minds.

“The reality is that it's a team sport,” Brandon said in the documentary. “The team wins together and the team loses together and the team is accountable together.

“Do I think it's fair to (the players) individually? No. Do I think it's the only way we can handle it institutionally? Yes.”

Brandon said the University had apologized for its actions during the 1990s, and he asked that Webber do the same. Webber has not yet commented and didn’t contribute to the Fab Five report.

Coleman determined that the scandal was on a larger scale than just the basketball program — it was University-wide.

“That was my analysis — that the higher-ups who should have known didn't ask questions — and it damaged the University and the program for a very long time,” Coleman said Tuesday.

Brandon was unavailable for comment on Wednesday and has not publicly commented on the topic since last March.

The decision regarding whether to raise the banners once again has not yet been discussed by the Athletic Department or the University administration, though it remains to be seen whether the NCAA would even allow Michigan to raise banners in 2013 that are not officially recognized.

Until then, the banners will sit, as they have for the past decade, placed on a shelf beside a nondescript cardboard box, each plastic roll bearing a one-line description:

1992 NCAA FINAL FOUR BANNER

1993 NCAA FINAL FOUR BANNER

For now, they are remain dusty, forbidden and forgotten.

— Daily Staff Reporter Peter Shahin contributed to this report.