VESTAL, N.Y. -- Brewster the Bearcat threw T-shirts into the crowd, the pep band was as loud as ever, the players were greeted with an ovation, and the interim basketball coach thanked everybody for coming.
And yet Late Nite Madness this year at Binghamton University wasn't what it was supposed to be. Instead of celebrating a champion with a packed house, it was a soul-mending event for a campus reeling from a series of scandals that have battered the men's basketball program.
"It's terribly sad," said former Vermont coach Tom Brennan. "The worst-case scenario has developed."
It didn't take long.
In March, head coach Kevin Broadus and star players Emanuel "Tiki" Mayben, D.J. Rivera, and Malik Alvin choked back tears as they described winning the America East tournament before a raucous crowd. The triumph gave the university its first NCAA tournament berth, the measuring stick for bigtime college basketball.
Six months later, not one of them remains on the team.
Mayben was arrested in September, pleading not guilty to possessing and selling cocaine in his hometown of Troy, N.Y., and was kicked off the team. Two days later, the school released five more players -- including Rivera and Alvin -- with a vague reference to "commitment issues." Longtime athletic director Joel Thirer resigned within a week.
Broadus violated NCAA recruiting rules, the school self-reported, when he spoke with two potential recruits a day after the contact period had passed in October. Days later, he was placed on indefinite paid leave.
Mark Macon, an assistant who had played for disciplinarian John Chaney at Temple, was named interim coach. He took over a team reduced to seven scholarship players -- his top returning scorer averaged less than five points last season.
Binghamton is 11 days away from its season opener against Bloomsburg, and the Bearcats will play while a retired New York City judge oversees an independent investigation into the athletic department and turns over the results to the SUNY Board of Trustees.
Macon knows he's facing a tough season.
"We look forward to the challenge of coming out and competing every night and hopefully winning as many game as we possibly can," Macon said.
"I'm a teacher at heart, and that's what we do."
But the lessons of Binghamton, a state school 140 miles northwest of New York City, were no shock to college basketball insiders.
"What's happened there really should come as no surprise to anyone that was in the league or following that league," former Boston University coach Dennis Wolff said. "They were making a recipe for disaster by the way they were going about their business."
This was not the outcome envisioned when SUNY was striving to brand its schools in Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, and Stony Brook.
Moving to college basketball's premier division was part of the grand plan. Binghamton completed the jump from Division III in 2001 and hired Al Walker as head coach. He was unanimously selected by the university's advisory committee, in part because he was a magna cum laude graduate from SUNY Brockport and had coached at Cornell.
But Binghamton supporters sought to raise the athletic profile of the school, which had a tradition of academic excellence dating from when it was known as Harpur College (1950-65).
The school opened a new 5,322-seat arena in 2004. Three years later, Walker was given another job for the remainder of his contract after seven seasons, a record of 92-108, and a 100 percent graduation rate for players who completed their eligibility.
In April 2007, Binghamton hired Broadus, a Georgetown assistant. Known for giving troubled players second chances, the new coach embarked down a road aimed at basketball success.
In two seasons at Binghamton, Broadus landed several risky recruits:
- Rivera, who sat out a semester at Saint Joseph's because of academic problems, was granted a NCAA hardship waiver, transferred and didn't have to sit a year
- Mayben, who originally signed with Syracuse but did not meet eligibility standards, sat one year, played a season at Massachusetts, transferred to a community college and then to Binghamton.
- Alvin, who was recruited after leaving Texas-El Paso because of academic problems.
- Corey Chandler left Rutgers, then was released by Binghamton two days after Mayben's arrest.
"The concept of giving kids transferring in a [scholarship], I don't think anyone's against that," Wolff said. "But the idea that almost every guy that came in had been asked to leave where they had been before, that puts it in a different light in my mind."
Rivera, Alvin and Mayben accounted for 42 points a game last season as the Bearcats won 23 games, their best season but one that started with trouble. Alvin was arrested last November trying to steal condoms from a Wal-Mart, and while fleeing he knocked over an elderly woman, giving her a concussion. A larceny charge was dismissed and Alvin pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, police said.
"The problem with Binghamton was simply that the course that they chose, they were under suspicion from the beginning," Brennan said. "People said, 'Whoa, whoa, this guy's been at three schools. This guy's been at four schools. And then when the kid stole the condoms and knocked the woman over, he gets a two- or three-game suspension. Now, all these red flags are going off. What price glory here?"
America East officials knew problems were brewing. Despite Rivera being arguably the league's best player, he was relegated to second team all-conference, a move seen as a protest by America East coaches -- who select the team -- over his eligibility.
"I don't know if any league has the power to police a particular school," Wolff said. "But I do think that all the members are obligated to some degree to make sure that there are some standards you'd like everyone to live by."
More changes are undoubtedly coming.
Retired judge Judith Kaye will report her findings to SUNY chancellor Nancy Zimpher, known for taking a hard line on such problems. As president of the University of Cincinnati, she forced Bob Huggins out as men's basketball coach in 2005, demanding that the school recruit players who were serious students.
During Huggins' 16 years, the Bearcats made the Final Four and were ranked No. 1 for the first time in 34 years. They also piled up player arrests, went on NCAA probation and had one of the nation's lowest graduation rates in the 1990s.
"We expect our coaches to be role models, and we expect our students to be role models. I will not apologize for setting high standards," Zimpher said at the time.
Binghamton president Lois B. DeFleur declined comment because the investigation is ongoing. Broadus did not return a message.
Zimpher, who also did not return phone calls, made her position clear to the SUNY Board of Trustees two weeks ago: "Going forward, the State University of New York stands for the highest degree of integrity in its collegiate athletic program."
Brennan, whose 13th-seeded Vermont team stunned Syracuse in the 2005 NCAA tournament, said the extraordinary popularity of the tournament can cause schools to lose sight of their primary mission.
"I think [athletic director] Thirer got stars in his eyes and they had that nice building," he said. "I think with our success, people were saying, 'If Vermont could do it, we can do it.' And then you say, 'OK, how do we go about doing it?' And the course they chose, unfortunately, ended up blowing up in their face."