Todd Hartley: No method to this madness
March madness indeed.
Just when college basketball nation should be gearing up for what promises to be one of the most wide-open NCAA tournaments in recent memory, it seems as if everyone involved in the men’s game is suffering from a very severe form of dementia.
At Villanova, most of the team was suspended for using an improper long-distance code while making phone calls. All of the players involved were given suspensions (though the Wildcats were allowed to stagger them in order to be able to field a team for the remainder of their games this season). Playing with only seven players last week, Villanova came up just short against Pittsburgh and lost a game that might have nudged it into NCAA tournament consideration.
Just a few weeks ago, Louisville was riding high under the direction of coach Rick Pitino and found itself in good position to make a run at a No. 1 seed, but then the Cardinals’ center, Marvin Stone, was suspended for being the focus of past recruiting violations. Never mind that the violations took place five years ago and involved Stone’s old school, Kentucky; In the black-and-white world of the NCAA, justice had to be served, so while the Wildcats are on their way to a No. 1 slot, the Cardinals are in a tailspin that has seen them plummet down the national rankings.
Worse still is the situation at Georgia. A former player named Tony Cole alleged that the coaching staff, headed by Jim Harrick and his son, Jim Harrick Jr., paid a $300 phone bill that he rang up while staying at a friend’s house, a major no-no in the eyes of the NCAA. Even Ray Charles could have seen this one coming; Cole had a police record in high school, and Harrick ran afoul of NCAA regulations during coaching stints at both UCLA and Rhode Island before ever even taking the job at Georgia.
Nevertheless, the university president, who hired the sullied coach in the first place and allowed Cole admission to the school, decided not to fire himself and instead unilaterally ruled the Bulldogs ineligible for both the SEC and NCAA tournaments in an attempt to avoid future sanctions against the team.
The real losers in this sordid affair, unfortunately, are the rest of the Georgia players, who worked hard all season only to see their dreams dashed at the last minute despite having done nothing improper themselves. The players asked for a restraining order to allow them to keep playing, but a judge ruled against it, meaning their season is officially over.
The worst example of lunacy, however, has to be the St. Bonaventure case. Like the schools mentioned above, St. Bona found itself faced with the suspension of a number of its players. But rather than soldier on through their misfortune, the remaining members of the Bonnies’ squad opted to boycott their final few games.
Initially, the Atlantic 10 Conference, of which St. Bonaventure is a member, toyed with the idea of dropping the Bonnies from the league, although this harsh sentence was never meted out. What did happen, though, was that the school’s coach and athletic director were both put on paid administrative leave, and the university president, who appeared to have nothing to do with the scandal, resigned for no discernible reason other than the fact that he supported the players’ decision to boycott.
So just what is the problem here? Is the NCAA too stringent in its roles as watchdog and police force, or is college basketball just peopled with criminal elements at the same rate as the general populace?
For a response to that question, one need look no further than women’s college hoops. Chances are that if you’ve heard anything about the women’s game recently it was that Connecticut lost last week to Villanova, ending the Huskies’ winning streak at 70 games, a women’s college basketball record. You did not hear, I imagine, anything about recruiting violations or suspensions, neither of which seem to plague the women’s game the way they do the men’s.
What that says to me is that the NCAA isn’t to blame. The men’s game apparently just attracts more seedy characters (see the aforementioned Harrick and Cole), and maybe, just maybe, it’s time for some of these schools to do a little house cleaning.
Or maybe men are just a little more susceptible to insanity at this time of year.
[Todd Hartley, whose recruitment in the fall of 1987 resulted in sanctions against Bob’s College of Knowledge, writes this column on Fridays in The Aspen Times. E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org]
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