Irony at UGA and Auburn's Hoops Struggles

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about Auburn and SEC sports.

Surely you've seen it by now, the "final exam" that former Georgia assistant basketball coach Jim Harrick Jr. gave his students in a class he taught.

The multiple choice test included questions like how many points does a three-point basket count, how many halves are in a college basketball game, how many quarters are in a high school basketball game, what is the name of Georgia's coliseum, what color uniforms does the Georgia basketball team wear at home and so on.

And now every student who attends Georgia, every professor who works there, is paying the price in ridicule. Even Jay Leno cracked jokes about it.

Sadly, they aren't the only ones. Every college athlete who struggles to find time to balance serious athletics with serious studying should also be infuriated. They are all being painted with the same brush.

It's another hit for college athletics.

If Auburn folks think the clandestine trip to Louisville to interview Bobby Petrino was embarrassing, just think what it must be like to be at Colorado. No fewer than seven women have accused Colorado football players and recruits of rape. Coach Gary Barnett has been suspended and will likely be fired. It could take the Colorado program years to recover.

The public view of college athletics and college athletes is not good. And that's sad to me, because it flies in the face of what I have witnessed.

Most college athletes I have been around have truly wanted to succeed in their sport and in the classroom. Nine of the 13 players who played for Auburn in the Music City Bowl had already graduated. You don't get a degree from Auburn--or from Georgia, for that matter--without taking a lot of hard courses and doing a lot of hard work.

Over the years, most of the college athletes I've been associated with have been good people. Exceptions? Of course. Not all sportswriters are good people either. Heck, revelations in recent years have shown that a lot of Catholic priests aren't such terrific people.

One of the great things about college athletics is that a lot of young men and women get college degrees who otherwise wouldn't. That's a much larger contribution to society than how many are sent to the NFL or to the NBA.

The great irony at Georgia is that the Harricks--Jim's dad was the head coach--weren't there because of some athletic director with a win at all costs mentality. Vince Dooley didn't want the elder Harrick. President Michael Adams, who fancies himself a reformer, insisted he was the man for the job.

If Adams would have listened to Dooley, an example of an athlete who truly was also a scholar, Georgia would have been spared the embarrassment of taking its basketball program out of the postseason last year and the embarrassment of seeing the younger Harrick's lack of academic integrity exposed.

It should have raised a red flag to somebody at Georgia that a basketball coach was teaching a class that included basketball players. There's nothing inherently wrong with that if the coach is a person of integrity, but it would seem obvious that it was a situation that needed to be monitored.

It wasn't, and now the world is laughing at the University of Georgia.

A SEASON OF DISCONTENT

Nobody saw it coming. This was supposed to be a joyful Auburn basketball season. The Tigers were coming off a Sweet 16 run and had five of their top seven players back. Most said they would finish second in the SEC West, which would have certainly meant a fourth NCAA Tournament trip in six seasons.

Not only did the Tigers not finish second in the West, there is a good chance they will finish last in the West and last in the SEC overall. They've won four SEC games going into Saturday's finale at home against LSU. Even the NIT is a long shot, and I don't know why they'd want to go even if they were invited.

The injury to point guard Lewis Monroe hurt. It didn't help that freshman center Dwayne Curtis didn't get eligible until December. But even with those things, this Auburn team dramatically underachieved.

Lewis Monroe

In Auburn basketball, that happens more often than it should. It's time for someone to undertake a study of just why that is and what needs to be done about it. Something needs to be done to energize the program.

Like at most SEC schools, if the team is good, the fans will come. If it's not, they won't, though the crowds have actually been pretty good during the SEC season when you consider how the team has played.

Whether Cliff Ellis is the coach or someone else is the coach, he needs to be told that the days of playing mostly cupcakes in the preconference season are over. Basketball isn't like football. The nonconference schedules for SEC football teams have little impact on the final results (see LSU). Eight of 11 regular-season games are against SEC teams.

In basketball, the nonconference schedule can mean everything. The conventional wisdom is that Alabama would have gone to the NCAA Tournament even with a 7-9 SEC record. Why? Because its schedule is ranked as the toughest in the country. One loss can cost a football team a shot at the national championship. A loss to a national powerhouse in basketball can actually enhance a team's chances of getting into the NCAA Tournament.

A couple of years ago, CBS wanted Auburn to play at Duke in a nationally televised game. Duke wasn't willing to make a return trip, so Auburn turned it down. The Auburn players weren't consulted. I don't think there's much doubt they would have voted unanimously for the opportunity to play at Cameron Indoor Arena.

Barring a miracle in the SEC Tournament, this season is lost. Too many Auburn seasons for too many years have ended like this one. It's time for someone to do something about it.


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