DAN WOLKEN

Why does Alabama let Brandon Miller keep playing? Crimson Tide can't provide answers | Opinion

Alabama isn't going to provide honest answers anytime soon. Which means we have no choice but to keep asking the question.

Dan Wolken
USA TODAY

It took until the second television timeout of Saturday’s game before the ESPN announcing crew assigned to Alabama-Arkansas discussed the biggest story in college basketball this season. 

The conversation lasted about 40 seconds. It included a brief timeline of everything that happened from the Jan. 15 arrest of former Alabama basketball player Darius Miles in connection to the killing of a 23-year old woman to the revelation Tuesday that Brandon Miller, Alabama’s best player and a future NBA lottery pick, transported the gun that was used to kill her. 

And then, almost in the blink of an eye, it was back to basketball.

“I thought it was as sharp of a shootaround as I’ve seen from Alabama this year,” said ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes in one of the most awkward transitions you’ll ever see between real life and sports. 

Alabama, indeed, was focused. The Crimson Tide went on to beat Arkansas, 86-83, and took yet another step toward an SEC championship and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It looked like a big celebration in sold-out Coleman Coliseum. 

But to the rest of the world, it was a disgrace. And it’s our job to make sure that Alabama’s season, as long as it goes, cannot be separated from the reality that the school’s administration has proceeded all along as if there was nothing to see here and its best player did nothing wrong. 

As I wrote Tuesday when we first learned of Miller’s involvement during a preliminary hearing for Miles and Michael Davis, who have been charged with capital murder in the death of Jamea Harris, there is a vast difference between Miller's legal liability and whether he acted in a way that should allow him to continue playing for Alabama. 

Brandon Miller during Saturday's game against Arkansas.

For prosecutors to charge Miller much less convict him, they’d need to prove that he knew that the gun he brought to the scene was intended for a criminal purpose. That’s a high bar, and likely an impossible one. Thus neither Miller nor Jaden Bradley, another Alabama basketball player at the scene, are considered suspects. 

But as more information has emerged since Tuesday, both about Miller's actions and the way Alabama handled everything since Jan. 15, the more questions need to be asked. Questions, to be sure, that Alabama would rather go away as it rampages into March trying to win a national championship. 

What was Miller thinking when he got a text message from Miles asking him to bring a gun to a bar after midnight? What did Miller do after the shooting, which his attorney Jim Standridge said in a statement, occurred just moments after Miller arrived and without him seeing or touching the weapon? Was Miller in the car when two bullets struck his windshield?

And though Standridge said that “as soon as (Miller) was notified that someone had been injured and the police wished to speak with him, he has fully cooperated with law enforcement's investigation,” it would seem important to know how long that gap was and what he was doing in the meantime.

Alabama not only doesn’t have a lot of answers to those questions — according to athletics director Greg Byrne, they didn’t know about the text message until Tuesday — it seems like the school has barely lifted a finger to find out. 

Byrne said on an ESPN-affiliated podcast this week that Alabama’s policy is not to do anything that would interfere with an ongoing police investigation, which is certainly appropriate.

But when you’re admittedly in the dark on the details of what happened with one former player in custody and two more at the scene of a horrific murder in a crowded area that could have easily turned into a mass shooting, why are you continuing on with the season as if nothing happened? Why were Miller and Bradley not held out of competition until the school had a chance to do its own investigation?

Every single day, college athletes are forced to miss games for reasons that fall well short of breaking the law. Was Alabama not even the least bit curious about what its best player was doing that night or how involved he might have been in how this situation turned so tragic? 

This goes beyond coach Nate Oats, who has apologized for his disastrous and callous comments Tuesday when he characterized Miller as being in the “wrong spot at the wrong time.” It goes beyond Byrne. This is the entire university, including the school president, putting their full support behind a basketball player who made terrible decisions that helped set awful consequences in motion. And they’ve collectively made the decision that as long as Miller didn't break the law, there’s not much more they can to do. Or, to be specific, nothing more they want to do. 

Alabama would rather win a national championship than find out what it doesn’t know, which means that this story cannot fade away. It can’t become 40 seconds of background noise in an ESPN broadcast after a commercial break. 

If Miller knew he was bringing the gun to Miles — and, at this point, everything suggests he did — why is he playing? We’re not going to get an honest answer from Alabama anytime soon. Which means we have no choice but to keep asking.