Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Georgia withdraws from SEC, NCAA play

Harrick suspended

By Paul Newberry
The Associated Press

ATHENS, Ga. - Less than two weeks after a former player went public with accusations of payoffs and bogus classes, Georgia called it quits.

The No. 21 Bulldogs stunningly ended their season Monday, withdrawing from the Southeastern Conference and NCAA tournaments after finding that three players committed academic fraud in a class taught by coach Jim Harrick's son.

Harrick was suspended with pay, appearing to have little hope of reclaiming his job.

"Coach Harrick is ultimately responsible for the program," athletic director Vince Dooley said. "We're not talking about allegations anymore. We're talking about findings of a most serious nature."

Dooley said the school has found no evidence that Harrick was directly involved in the classroom shenanigans involving his son. Jim Harrick Jr., an assistant coach, was fired last week.

Still, the actions of the son could wind up dooming the father, whose program is in shambles no matter what the outcome.

"We're taking this one step at a time," Dooley said. "There might be something else tomorrow."

The fast-moving case was sparked by former player Tony Cole, kicked off the team last year. He accused Jim Harrick Jr. of paying his bills, doing schoolwork and teaching a sham class on coaching. Cole also said he used the elder Harrick's credit card to buy a television and got money from a booster.

Cole said he never attended the coaching class, but received an A. Two other players - starters Chris Daniels and Rashad Wright - were also in the class and got As. They were declared ineligible Monday for academic fraud and unethical conduct.

The decision to end the season drew an angry reaction from the rest of the team. Some players met with president Michael Adams on the lawn of his home.

"It's not fair, man," said Fred Gibson, a backup guard. "We didn't do anything wrong."

Dooley said there were more than 30 students in Harrick Jr.'s class - including 10 Georgia athletes - and all got an A. The athletic director said there was no evidence that anyone else received grades for work they didn't do.

Georgia (19-8, 11-5 SEC) was a lock to receive a third straight invitation to the NCAA tourney, which would have been the longest such streak in school history.

The Bulldogs were supposed to meet Arkansas on Thursday in the SEC tournament at New Orleans. Instead, the conference hastily rearranged its brackets, giving Tennessee a first-round bye and scheduling only three games instead of four on the opening day.

The news caps a spate of scandals in men's college basketball, including:

• Suspensions of 12 players for using a school access code to make phone calls at Villanova;

• Forfeits of six wins and boycotts of two other games at St. Bonaventure;

• Claims by a former student that he wrote papers for players for payment at Fresno State.

"I think we are starting to see a very important trend. I think the system is working," said NCAA president Myles Brand, putting a positive spin on all the troubles. "The appropriate actions were taken."

Adams, who was instrumental in Harrick's hiring four years ago, said a decision on the coach's fate would be made after the investigation is complete.

"This case could take more twists and turns," Adams said. "I can't predict how it will turn out."

Reached at his home Monday night, Harrick declined to discuss his suspension.

"Absolutely not," he said. "Thank you for calling."

Harrick has a 470-235 record in 23 seasons as a college head coach, and led UCLA to the 1995 national championship. But this is the second time he has been disciplined because of ethical lapses.

Harrick was fired by UCLA in 1996 for lying about an expense report. He then went to Rhode Island, taking that school to the regional finals of the 1998 NCAA tournament. But he also has been accused of improprieties during his two years there.

Cole's attorney, Steve Sadow of Atlanta, said his client was upset that Georgia called off its season. He also said Cole never would have made the allegations if Harrick had let him return to the team.

Cole was suspended during the 2001-02 season after being charged in a campus rape case. Even though the charges were dropped, he was kicked off the team for repeated violations of team rules. Cole was allowed to remain on scholarship but left school in January.

"It's so ironic that if the school had continued to let him play like they promised, there wouldn't be a story, there wouldn't be an investigation," Sadow said. "That doesn't make it right, but it's ironic that's the way it turned out."

Cole has been charged with trespassing and passing a bad check in Athens before returning home to Baton Rouge, La.

Dooley said Wright and Daniels could be reinstated for next season. Both are juniors.

"They are both 3.0 students," Dooley said. "They didn't need this course to be eligible. It meant nothing for them. They'll probably get an F in the course now, but it won't have any impact on them academically."

Dooley sympathized with the players who weren't involved, but said it was important for the school to take a strong stand - a pre-emptive move that could lessen sanctions from the NCAA.

"My heart goes out to the players," Dooley said. "We had to make the right decision. Unfortunately, some have to suffer as a result of that."

Wright and Daniels could not be reached for comment.

Georgia's two best players have likely played their final college game. Ezra Williams is a senior, while Jarvis Hayes is expected to give up his final season to enter the NBA draft.

"Jarvis Hayes is going to leave," Gibson said. "The team is going to break apart."

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