CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander surveyed more than 100 coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled everyone from head coaches at elite programs to assistants at some of the smallest Division I schools. In exchange for complete anonymity, the coaches provided unfiltered honesty about a number of topics in the sport. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be posting the results on nine questions they were asked.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett created headlines in April when he announced, just weeks after winning the national championship, that his Cavaliers would not be visiting the White House. The official explanation was that “it would be difficult, if not impossible, to get everyone back together.” But when you consider that teams in similar situations, literally for decades, managed to figure it out, well, that explanation doesn’t suffice. Plus, it should be noted that when Virginia raises its championship banner in September, every player from its championship team is expected to attend the ceremony — which suggests it’s not actually impossible to get everybody back together if everybody wants to get back together.
Simply put, the Cavaliers just didn’t want to go to the White House.
It’s impossible not to notice that three schools (North Carolina, Villanova and Virginia) have won national championships in men’s basketball since Donald J. Trump became the 45th President of the United States — and none of them have visited the White House despite the fact that it was an annual tradition before Trump was inaugurated. The school that stands out most is Villanova, if only because the Wildcats visited President Obama‘s White House after winning the 2016 NCAA Tournament, and coach Jay Wright later described it as “the experience of a lifetime for all of us.” Then Villanova won the 2018 NCAA Tournament, while President Trump was in office, but the Wildcats did not return to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
“It’s just a different time,” Wright answered when asked about it.
For the most part, we got three kinds of answers to this question. There are coaches who would not visit Trump‘s White House under any circumstances, coaches who would be up for going but would ultimately let their players decide, and coaches who wouldn’t be excited about going for a variety of reasons but still would because they simply don’t think it’s right to reject the opportunity, regardless of the man in office. But what was most interesting is that almost nobody suggested they’d be enthusiastic about going, even the coaches who probably voted for Trump, because, even if they support him, they know the majority of their players, who are often African-Americans, probably don’t. As one coach put it, “I’d like to go because I think it would be a great experience. But I’d lose credibility with my kids if I made them go.”
Left-leaning coaches made it clear they would’ve had no problem visiting President Bush while right-leaning coaches insisted they would’ve been thrilled to visit President Barack Obama. Like so many other things right now, this issue is unique to Trump. The majority of coaches we spoke with either despise the man or understand he’s despised by so many, so intensely, that visiting him would create a public perception they’d rather avoid. Some used strong language while discussing the topic. Many cited concerns about racism and hate speech as their reasoning. And what we learned in the process is that though there’s no guarantee every national champion in men’s basketball will skip a visit to the White House as long as President Trump is in office, it certainly seems like a likely scenario.