Should Fred Hoiberg decide guard Bubu Palo deserves time on the court for the ISU men’s basketball team, ISU President Steven Leath won’t be inserting his opinion.
While Leath disagrees with a district court’s ruling Jan. 16 to grant Palo a temporary stay that has allowed him to rejoin the team, he told a small group of reporters Jan. 25 he respects the decision and any subsequent one made by Hoiberg.
“It’s obviously different than I view the situation, but we respect the court’s decision, of course,” Leath said. “I philosophically don’t see any reason for me to try and coach from the President’s office. It’s his responsibility now. Fred knows that, he understands that and I think he appreciates it.”
The ISU Office of Judicial Affairs charged Palo with violating the university’s Code of Conduct relating to sexual misconduct in September 2012 stemming from criminal charges of sexual abuse in the second degree that same month.
Criminal charges were dismissed in January 2013, and an administrative law judge ruled in May 2013 that charges by the university relating to the code of conduct were “not founded” according to court documents. Palo returned to the team and played 17 games during the 2012-13 season.
Leath heard an appeal of that decision during the summer and reversed it, removing Palo from the team Aug. 30, 2013.
“I agreed with most of (the administrative law judge’s) findings, essentially all of his findings, except his interpretation of our policy,” Leath said.
Leath didn’t go into specifics of the case on Jan. 25 citing federal law but said he, “listened to hours of recordings, read pages of text messages and other court materials.” Ultimately, he, with input from other university personnel, decided Palo had violated the code of conduct.
“Everybody involved with the university saw it in the same way,” Leath said. “Interestingly, the only people that saw it differently were people outside the academy who had never worked with our misconduct policy.”
Since Aug. 30, Palo has appealed Leath’s ruling to the Iowa Board of Regents, which affirmed the decision Dec. 5. Palo appealed the regents’ decision to the district court, which granted him a temporary stay to rejoin the team while the appeal plays out.
The Iowa Supreme Court on Jan. 24 denied a request by the regents for an immediate stay to keep Palo from rejoining the team. Palo dressed and sat on the bench Jan. 25 for the first time since last spring.
“It was definitely still a little weird, but it’s nice to kind of get that first game out of the way,” Palo said. “Hopefully now it’ll be smoother from here on out.”
In recent weeks Leath has come under fire for the timing of his decision, which Palo and his attorney Matt Boles say kept Palo from being able to transfer. Leath said those qualms were never brought up while he heard the appeal.
“The appeal came to me June 10. The parties thought it was reasonable that I give them two weeks to provide the information and then they wanted two weeks to rebut,” Leath said. “So there the first month was gone.
“I had a long-scheduled multi-week trip to Africa that was part of ISU’s program over there. By the time I got back it was August. I wanted to do a thorough, careful job, so I asked all parties would they have any objections if I waited until the end of the month. Nobody had any objections.”
According to a statement by Iowa State last week, Leath notified Palo and Boles Aug. 21 his decision would come within 10 days. The statement said Boles “did not raise any concerns with respect to the decision timeline.”
After Leath removed Palo from the team Aug. 30, Boles contacted ISU Athletic Director Jamie Pollard to inquire if Iowa State would support a waiver to transfer. Pollard notified Boles that both he and Leath would support the waiver.
“He knew we would sign an NCAA waiver if he asked for it,” Leath said. “It’s interesting that they didn’t ask us for it.”
Boles had no comment last week after Iowa State released its statement.
In Judge Thomas Bice’s decision to grant Palo a stay, he wondered why Palo’s scholarship was renewed in June. Leath said the appeal arrived on his desk after that decision had been made.
“I asked athletics, ‘Is he on scholarship?’ They said, ‘Well, we renewed it,’” Leath said. “I felt it was inappropriate to renege on an agreement.”
Since Palo was granted a stay to rejoin the team, Pollard has been vocal in his disagreement with the court’s decision. Leath was asked what he would tell perspective student athletes given the recent backlash.
“When you come out of (Jack Trice Stadium), it says ‘Honor Before Victory,’” Leath said. “As President, I take that seriously and I won’t retrench on that. I’m proud of it.
“If you don’t value honor before victory, don’t play here.”
Leath added one more point for student-athletes looking at Iowa State.
“The last six student-athlete misconduct cases that have come before us, every single one of them has ruled for the student athlete except this one,” Leath said. “That should tell everybody something.”
As to why Palo was allowed to remain a student at Iowa State despite not being able to participate in intercollegiate athletics, Leath said he wanted to give Palo an opportunity to complete his academic career.
“The fact that I let him stay in school and be on scholarship is somehow being used against us, which is also puzzling because stronger punishment is recommended,” Leath said. “I thought as a president, the student is good academically, he was a senior, we are an educational institution, let’s give him an opportunity to finish his degree and go on and go forth, because that could affect him for the rest of his life.
“The fact we were gentler and kinder is somehow being used as a criticism, which to me is nonsensical.”
For now, Palo will remain a member of the team while a district court hears an appeal. There is no timetable as to when the case will be wrapped up.
“Hopefully this thing gets resolved soon and there are no hard feelings on either party and we can put this behind us and worry about basketball,” said senior Melvin Ejim.