Morgan State men's basketball coach Todd Bozeman said Sunday night that he has been suspended with pay by athletic director Floyd Kerr as a result of an incident toward the end of the team's road victory at South Carolina State on Saturday.
Bozeman said that he was called by Kerr around 11 p.m., Sunday to inform him that he was suspended pending an investigation into the incident, which involved what Bozeman had characterized as "accidental contact" with senior guard Larry Bastfield.
Ricky Lefft, a South Carolina attorney who represents Bozeman, said Monday that he had a brief discussion with Kerr on Sunday requesting a tape of the incident as well as a reason for the coach being placed on administrative leave. As of 1 p.m. Monday, he had yet to hear back from Kerr or any other administrator at Morgan State.
According to Lefft, Bozeman's most current contract, signed in 2009, includes a clause that states the coach has the right to appeal any action taken by the school that could lead to his termination. Lefft believes that the university has violated the contract with Bozeman by suspending him before he had the opportunity to appeal.
"They've already punished him without due process," Lefft said.
Neither Kerr nor acting vice-president for student affairs Tanya Rush responded to emails and telephone messages left by The Sun requesting a copy of the tape or to discuss Bozeman's situation.
Bozeman was en route back to Maryland Monday and was told by Kerr to "work from home" before reporting to a meeting in his office on Wednesday.
On the advice of his attorney, Bozeman asked Kerr to send him a letter in writing. Kerr then sent him an email stating that Bozeman was to return to Baltimore from Savannah, Ga., where the Bears are scheduled to play Savannah State tonight.
Bozeman said that Kerr informed him that he was to "separate" himself from the team and have no further contact with any of his players or assistant coaches until further notice. Bozeman said Kerr would not explain why he was being suspended.
The incident led the president of the host school to bring in campus police to see if the player wanted to press charges against his coach.
Some who viewed the incident in person, including school president George E. Cooper, thought that Bozeman had punched Bastfield in the face. Both Bozeman and Bastfield said Sunday night that the incident had been blown out of proportion.
In a telephone interview, Bastfield said that he "exaggerated" his reaction to the contact with Bozeman. Bastfield staggered a few feet backwards after contact with Bozeman, who, according to witnesses, yelled at Bastfield, "Get back here!" after he retreated.
"These people are completely off the charts" with the allegation, Bozeman said in a telephone interview. "I didn't hit him in the face."
But Christopher Johnson, a South Carolina State graduate who was attending the game, said that he and others clearly saw Bozeman strike the player and hear him yell at Bastfield moments later. Johnson said he was sitting in the front row of the upper level of the small gym.
"The fans all went, 'Ohhhhhhh' when it happened," Johnson said. "It was pretty dramatic."
Johnson emailed The Baltimore Sun Sunday about the incident, which took place in the final two minutes of Morgan State's victory, only the team's third win in 12 games of a season that began with seven straight defeats.
"If [Bozeman] had just grabbed his jersey, I wouldn't have contacted anyone," said Johnson, who also reached out to a reporter from ESPN via Twitter. "But there were a lot of people there who thought the coach was out of line."
One of them was Cooper, who Bozeman said tapped him on the shoulder after the team went through the customary post-game handshake to express his feelings about what he thought was inappropriate behavior by the coach.
Bozeman said that he did not know who Cooper was and that Cooper identified himself as "Dr. Cooper" but not as South Carolina State's president. Bozeman said that Cooper said that he was going to call the authorities, and Bozeman gave him Morgan State athletic director Floyd Kerr's phone number.
In the locker room after the game, Bozeman told his players that he was proud of their efforts in starting conference play with a victory, and informed them of Cooper's accusation. the accusation by Cooper. He said that he apologized to Bastfield for his aggressive manner, and that some thought he had hit the player.
Bastfield said that he didn't think much about it until he went to the bus taking the players from Orangeburg, S.C., to Savannah, Ga., for Monday's game. Before he got on the bus, two campus police officers asked if he wanted to press charges against Bozeman.