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At what price victory?

Longwood University’s 2007 move to the highest level of competition in the National Collegiate Athletics Association has been, on balance, a positive one.

A Division I athletics program brings unprecedented exposure to a university, helps attract prospective students and enhances their college experience once they are on campus. Studies have shown that colleges’ success on the playing fields also motivates donors to give more generously to academic causes. It’s no wonder that administrators are motivated to have their athletic teams compete at the highest level.

But big-time sports has its pitfalls, the biggest of which is the pressure on coaches to win at any cost.

We were reminded of the seedy side of high-level college athletics this month when two standout members of the Longwood men’s basketball team — athletes with checkered pasts who, by most any objective assessment, never should have been on the team to start with — were suspended indefinitely for what the university called “conduct unbecoming of a Longwood student-athlete.”

Herald Sports Editor Hannah Davis dug a little deeper and found that Shaquille Johnson and Jason Pimentel were charged earlier that week with misdemeanor marijuana possession. Incredibly, Pimentel was arrested just days after he had been found innocent of an assault charge that had been reduced from sexual battery.

Longwood recycled Johnson and Pimentel after they had been dismissed from the basketball teams at Auburn University and Old Dominion University, respectively. Johnson was dismissed by Auburn after a pot possession conviction there, and Pimentel’s departure from ODU was “just kind of a cumulative thing,” the Monarchs’ coach said at the time.

Longwood rolled the dice on both, and while the Lancers gained a few points and perhaps a victory or two thanks to Johnson’s and Pimentel’s on-court talents, the university’s reputation has taken a hit off the court. While we all enjoy winning sports teams, Longwood’s integrity as an institution of higher learning is more important than the success of its basketball team.