By Joe Pinter, News Editor, @JPinter93
This Day in Bonaventure History
February 6, 2003
Dr. Robert Wickenheiser’s story is well-known around St. Bonaventure University. When the trustees appointed Wickenheiser as the 19th president in school history in 1994, it was the first time a Franciscan Friar was not the university president. Wickenheiser was however, a Benedictine monk.
Wickenheiser came from a small town in North Dakota. He received many degrees in English, and even helped publish numerous works during his time at other colleges. But his real passion was basketball.
When Wickenheiser was named president, nearly everyone in the Bonaventure community thought it was a great move. He had saved other universities from fiscal problems before and Bonaventure’s situation was dire.
After just a few short years, Wickenheiser balanced the books, while at the same time making several important advancements. He supported the development of Clare College, which was referred to by experts as a “national model” for core curriculum. He also helped revitalize and expand the University Ministries, establish the Franciscan Center for Social Concern and the building of the Quick Arts Center.
But it was Wickenheiser’s passion for basketball that would lead to his, and nearly the university’ demise.
It all started when coach and Bonaventure alumnus, Jim Baron left for the greener pastures of Rhode Island. Wickenheiser and Gothard Lane, athletic director, led an exhaustive search that ended with the hiring of Jan van Breda Kolff, a former NBA player and son of coaching legend Butch van Breda Kolff. When van Breda Kolff was hired, Wickenheiser requested that his own son, Kort, be an assistant coach on van Breda Kolff’s staff.
With Wickenheiser striving for the same success that brought the team to the NCAA Tournament a few years earlier, he overrode the input from the admissions and financial aid departments in allowing junior college transfer Jamil Terrell into Bonaventure. Lane immediately told trustee chairman Bill Swan that somebody had to keep Wickenheiser out of the athletic department, but Swan did nothing.
After the admissions and financial aid departments realized Terrell was both attending Bonaventure and participating in athletics, they did a thorough investigation of his records. They determined he was not eligible, not having the required associate’s degree. He only had a degree in welding.
Once Swan was informed, he realized he should have done something while he had the chance. The NCAA made Bonaventure forfeit the season, and it started a full investigation of the case. Angered by this, the players refused to participate in the remaining games.
When the NCAA determined who was at fault, it levied harsh penalties against the school. The contracts of Lane, van Breda Kolff and Kort Wickenheiser were terminated.
It was on this day that Bob Wickenheiser, disgraced and tarnished, resigned as president.
It would be nearly ten years until Bonaventure’s basketball program returned to prominence. Tough penalties by the NCAA made competition very hard for the school.