Keith Strudler: Masiello Limps Back To Manhattan

Apr 9, 2014

The last few weeks have been rocky for Steve Masiello, to say the least. It started back in early March, when the Manhattan College head men’s basketball coach led the Jaspers to a berth in the NCAA tournament, where they almost upended the highly regarded Louisville Cardinals. On the backs of that, Masiello was offered the head coaching spot at the University of South Florida, a step into the big leagues for the high rising 36-year-old.

Of course, that arc came to a crashing halt when South Florida quickly and summarily cancelled the hire when his transcript from the University of Kentucky revealed he hadn’t finished his undergraduate degree, contrary to what his resume may have said. Which now left him in the hands of his nearly former employer, Manhattan College, who had the awkward job of deciding whether to keep your one foot out the door, not really a college graduate, but really great basketball coach. This is like deciding whether to take back Scarlett Johansson after she cheated on you. You know you shouldn’t, but really, are you going to do any better?

Manhattan has decided it can’t do any better. And so with that, they’re offering Masiello his job back, with one provision. He has to spend this summer earning the 10 credits to finish his degree, something that apparently Kentucky can do in rather quick fashion. Until then, Masiello will be on unpaid leave until he’s a real college graduate, not a fake one like the last 14 or so years.

Masiello isn’t the first coach to fabricate credentials. George O’Leary lost the head coaching job at Notre Dame because of a master’s degree that never was. He rebounded at UCF, where he took the Knights to its first ever BCS bowl game. So Masiello may still have a bright coaching future ahead of him.

It’s not worth analyzing Masiello’s excuse, or the rationale that he kind of forgot that that he didn’t graduate. Forgetting graduation is like forgetting your wife’s middle name. It’s an active omission, not a mistake.

The question is whether South Florida, or Manhattan made the right decision. Whether Masiello should have been hired, fired, or something in between. The easy answer to it all is no. Meaning no, he shouldn’t be the university’s highest paid employee without a college degree.

But is it truly that simple? Before we knew of Masiello’s falsehood, he was a prodigy, someone who could shape young talent into a collective action on a basketball court. And no one complained about his inability to do his job because he fell 10 credits short of piece of paper. Say what you want about Steve Masiello, but what you can’t say is that he’s bad at his job.

You can read this a whole lot of ways. Some might say it validates the notion that college athletics isn’t truly an educational experience, but rather a high stakes game of wins and losses. And college coaches are no more teachers than Sandra Bullock is an astronaut.

But what’s more likely is that we should realize the relative value of a college degree. In this case, we’ve determined it a binomial. Either you have it, or you don’t. That idea devalues it’s true worth as much as Steve Masiello’s amnesia has. A college degree can be deep and meaningful, and it can also be a four year frat party, a holding pen to adulthood. That determination comes more from the educational experience than from a degree audit. Oddly enough, this is the same debate happening around college sports right now – what exactly is the value of a college degree, especially when 40 or so hours a week of that time was playing football. Before we assume the degree the Holy Grail, lets at least try to remember what it was supposed to be for in the first place.

Now, it is fair and just to fire Steve Masiello not because he didn’t graduate, but because he lied. And in the academic world, we sometime say that a Ph.D. is required not because of the knowledge, but because it shows you can finish something. But let’s not make our own qualifiers more qualitative than they perhaps are. And maybe this is a message for all of us who have the opportunity to teach college students every day.

Should Steve Masiello have lost his job? I don’t know. Maybe we should ask him in a couple of months. A college graduate by then, he should have all the requisite skills to reason that out.

Keith Strudler is chair of the communication department at Marist College and director for the Marist College Center for Sports Communication.

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