As March Madness hits the hardwood, fans of the Xavier University men's basketball team are facing a different type of distraction.
Former Musketeer standout Dez Wells learned Wednesday that the lawsuit he filed in August against the school for damaging his reputation will proceed to trial. It was one day before Xavier was set to begin postseason play in the Big East tournament.
Wells was accused of raping a student in 2012 and was ultimately expelled from the university after a board consisting of faculty, students and administrators found he had committed a "serious violation" against the student code of conduct.
Despite the fact a Hamilton County grand jury declined to indict him, the country prosecutor expressed his doubts the rape took place and the accuser came forward to say she didn't want to press charges, the expulsion stood.
Current student Kellie Gaustad believes her university acted brashly in its response to the allegations.
"The university was a little too quick to make judgments," the Cincinnati native said.
In part those sentiments are echoed in the lawsuit filed by Wells, a University of Maryland star and NBA prospect, who claims the university used him as a scapegoat.
He said the school was trying to demonstrate an aggressive response to sexual assault allegations after two federal investigations into Xavier allowing a student accused of two rapes to remain on campus.
"From the moment this nightmare began, I've told the truth. I am innocent," Wells said in a statement last year. "It's time to make this right. Xavier needs to set the record straight."
Student Scott Fullenkamp, a junior at XU, didn't want to take sides, but he would say that regardless of the legal outcome, he believes the university is going to take a public relations hit.
"Defamation, obviously, that's not to be taken lightly in any way, so as a result of that, I think it will hurt Xavier's reputation," he said.
Gaustad said it's an unfortunate time of year for this news to break.
The Musketeers basketball team is currently on the bubble to make the upcoming NCAA Tournament. On Thursday night, the team plays on national television against Marquette. If the Muskies win, they'll play again Friday. If they win Friday, they'll play Saturday and possibly Sunday if they catch a hot streak.
Those four games are four opportunities for the subject of Wells' lawsuit to be brought up on television broadcasts, referenced in newspapers and discussed on radio programs. The chatter will grow exponentially if the Musketeers earn an automatic berth or are selected for the NCAA tourney.
"It's unfortunate that those are overlapping and (Xavier is) going to be in the spotlight because of this issue going on," Gaustad said.
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