Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Scandals, firings overshadow March Madness

By Connor Ennis
The Associated Press

This March, the madness is coming off the court. The week leading up to the NCAA tournament began with scandals and firings as Georgia coach Jim Harrick was suspended with pay Monday after an internal investigation showed three players took a phony class taught by his son.

Three other coaches were fired, another suspended and Bob Knight refused to accept his $250,000 salary because he and his Texas Tech team didn't perform up to expectations.

All of this on the day after St. Bonaventure's president was ousted and its athletic director and head coach were placed on administrative leave.

NCAA spokesman Wally Renfro called it an "unusual" string of events.

"I'm not sure there's precedent for the number of institutions in this position," he said.

Harrick was one of four coaches whose seasons ended Monday. The other three, however, were fired for a much simpler reason - losing too many games:

• Virginia Tech fired Ricky Stokes, two days after the Hokies failed to qualify for the Big East Conference tournament for the third straight year. He went 45-70 in his four seasons, and his teams won only 10 of 48 over three seasons in the Big East.

• Washington State fired Paul Graham, after the Cougars went 7-20 and won only two conference games. He was 31-79 in four seasons and had a 9-63 mark in the Pac-10.

• Columbia, with a 2-25 record, the worst in the school's 103-year basketball history, fired Armond Hill. The Lions ended the season with a school-record 18-game losing streak.

Stanford coach Mike Montgomery was also suspended Monday - but just for one game. The Pac-10 suspended Montgomery for his team's conference opener next season after he made contact with a referee during a Feb. 27 game against Arizona State. Montgomery said the contact was accidental.

The situation at Georgia is the murkiest, and will have the biggest effect on the NCAA tournament.

Georgia withdrew from the SEC and NCAA tournaments and, along with the NCAA, was looking into allegations brought two weeks ago by a former player.

"The evidence and the findings presented to us indicated there was academic fraud," Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley said. "There's no evidence at all that Coach Harrick knew about what took place."

Harrick, one of only three coaches to take four schools to the NCAA tournament, has three seasons left on a $700,000 per year contract.

Former player Tony Cole, who was kicked off the team last year, said assistant coach Jim Harrick Jr. taught a bogus class on coaching. Cole said he never attended the class, but still received an A. Starters Chris Daniels and Rashad Wright were also in the class.

Harrick Jr. was fired Wednesday; Daniels and Wright have been declared ineligible.

Ranked 21st in Monday's AP Top 25, the Bulldogs (19-8, 11-5) were a lock for a third straight invitation to the tourney, which would have been the longest such streak in school history.

On Sunday, St. Bonaventure's board of trustees unanimously sought and received president Robert Wickenheiser's resignation and put athletic director Gothard Lane and head coach Jan van Breda Kolff on administrative leave, pending a review.

The trouble at Bonaventure began when the Atlantic 10 Conference stripped the team of six league victories and barred it from conference postseason play after center Jamil Terrell was ruled ineligible for violating NCAA junior transfer guidelines. Afterward, the players said they would boycott the team's final two games.

And don't forget Villanova and Fresno State.

The Wildcats suspended 12 players for allegedly making unauthorized telephone calls by using a school access code. Villanova is staggering the suspensions, but will only have seven players when it plays Georgetown in the opening round of the Big East Conference tournament Wednesday night.

Fresno State kept itself out of the NCAA and NIT tournaments after a former student claimed he wrote papers for players for payment. The Western Athletic Conference then barred the Bulldogs from its tournament.

Asked about the spate of problems and the actions taken in each case, NCAA president Myles Brand said during a brief telephone interview: "I think we are starting to see a very important trend. I think the system is working, and I think in each of the situations ... the appropriate actions were taken."

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