A Stench From The (SEC) East

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about Auburn, SEC and other college sports programs.

The difference was striking. On Senior Night in Athens, Georgia got its biggest win of the season, knocking off No. 3 Florida 82-81. Twenty-four hours later, on Senior Night in Auburn, the Tigers kept their division championship hopes alive with a 69-54 victory over Arkansas. That's where the similarities ended.

At Georgia, assistant coach Jim Harrick Jr. watched the game from a tunnel near the floor because he'd been suspended. The next day, athletic director Vince Dooley said Harrick Jr.'s days as a Georgia assistant were finished. His father, Jim Harrick, probably won't be far behind.

At Auburn, guard Derrick Bird thanked coaches and fans for his career. Bird, Marquis Daniels and Donny Calton finished careers marked by class and dignity. All will soon be Auburn University graduates. You don't have to be in Athens to notice the stench from the Georgia basketball program. And that was the case even before Tony Cole went public last week with accusations of extra benefits and grade fixing.

Georgia president Michael Adams, who fancies himself a reformer, is the reason the Harricks are in town. He pushed Harrick, then the coach at Rhode Island, for the job, conveniently ignoring that Harrick had been fired at UCLA for filing a fraudulent expense account and that there were rumblings of serious discontent at Rhode Island.

Harrick Jr. taught a basketball coaching course at Georgia in which Bulldog players were among his students. That should have set off alarm bells. Adams didn't even know it. That's the class Cole said he never attended and still received an A. Man, that's a shock.

It speaks volumes that Harrick signed Cole in the first place. Cole had been to more than a half dozen high schools and junior colleges, leaving most under unpleasant circumstances. But, hey, he could play basketball. He was nothing but trouble at Georgia before finally being dismissed from the team after being charged with rape. The charges were later dropped.

At Auburn, coach Cliff Ellis talked about his seniors being the epitome of student-athletes, quality people who went to class, worked hard on the court and would get their degrees. At Georgia, Harrick talked about himself, trying without success to stem the flood that is rising against him.

Georgia is on its way to a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. It is one of a handful of teams that has the kind of talent needed to make a run at the Final Four. Auburn needs to win Saturday to be confident of an NCAA bid. It won't likely be knocking on the door of the Final Four. Ellis has received plenty of criticism as the season has wound down. But as we head into the final weekend, some perspective is in order. Ellis signs good guys who conduct themselves well. He graduates his players. His team is tied for first place in the SEC West. Which program is in the best shape? It seems pretty obvious to me. It isn't Georgia.

LEARNING TO QUIT

Georgia isn't the only college basketball program in turmoil. The events that unfolded at St. Bonaventure were, in many ways, more remarkable than those at Georgia. The Bonnies were forced to forfeit six games when it turned out that a player was admitted and certified as eligible even though a welding certificate was all he had to show for his junior college years. The Bonnies were told they could not participate in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

St. Bonaventure's players got together. They were angry. They said they didn't want to play the final two games on their schedule. One would expect that the coach, Jan van Breda Kolff, and the president, Robert J. Wickenheiser, would have moved in to calm the players. If they persisted, I know what I would have told them. I would have told them they were on athletic scholarships, that they were obligated to play, and if they didn't, they would not be on scholarship next year.

Instead, van Breda Kolff and Wickenheiser backed the players' stance. St. Bonaventure was scheduled to play UMass on Wednesday night and didn't show. It won't show for Saturday's game against Dayton. St. Bonaventure is a well-respected Catholic university. What a fine lesson it has taught: When things get tough, quit.

Until next time…


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