- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2003

The Constitution makes no reference to postseason basketball tournaments, but a couple of University of Georgia players gave it the old college try yesterday anyway. Ezra Williams and Steven Thomas sued their school, which has shut down the program for the season because of academic infractions, for the right to play in the Southeastern Conference and NCAA tourneys.
Predictably, the judge denied their request for a temporary restraining order. Then, thumbing his nose at the Eighth Amendment the one prohibiting cruel and unusual punishments he scheduled a hearing for Monday, after the SEC tournament has been played and the NCAA field selected.
Such is the impotence of the college athlete. When the powers that be decide on a course of action, misguided or not, he's powerless to do much about it. It doesn't matter that Michigan, which is barred from the NCAA tournament, is being allowed to compete in the Big Ten tourney. It doesn't matter that there are other ways to deal with the problem of athletic malfeasance than just punishing an entire team. All that matters to the University of Georgia, at least is that a crime has been committed and somebody must pay. All that matters is damage control and appearing remorseful, so that the school might escape the full fury of the NCAA's wrath.
I seem to be about the only person in the country who cheered when the St.Bonaventure Bonnies, excluded from the Atlantic 10 tournament for using an ineligible player, refused to play their last two regular-season games. It was such a small protest who's going to miss another St. Bona-UMass matchup? and yet the team has been excoriated from coast to coast, called, among other things, a bunch of "quitters."
They're hardly that. Quitters, after all, take the easy way out, and there's nothing easy about the path the Bonnies have chosen. They've stood up, when plenty of teams wouldn't, and said, "Hey, wait a minute. You're penalizing us because of the mistakes of our elders? You're penalizing us because our coach recruited a non-qualifier and the athletic director and university president signed off on it? What kind of nonsense is that?"
And it is, of course, total nonsense. The player in question, Jamil Terrell, is hardly Shaquille O'Neal; he's a 6-foot-8 shot blocker who played about 20 minutes a game and averaged 6.9 points and 4.8 rebounds. After he was dropped from the roster, St. Bonaventure beat George Washington and lost by a point at Temple. The Bonnies certainly would have been competitive in the A-10 tournament without him.
But they never got the chance because the conference quit on them, denied them the opportunity to play in the A-10 tourney. I mean, come on, if you can let Fordham play, you can let anybody play. (The Rams were 2-25 before receiving two gift forfeits from St. Bona.)
"People have forgotten who started this and why all of this has happened," the Bonnies' Patricio Prato told the Buffalo News. "We're the ones who got cheated. We're the victims in this. Not only us, but also the fans and the entire St. Bonaventure community. Everybody got cheated, and we don't deserve it. … The A-10 punished us when we had nothing to do with this. The people who made the mistakes and put us in this situation should be punished, not us."
Exactly. In the Big Ten, they made contingency plans in the event Michigan won the conference tournament. In such an instance, the regular-season champion would receive the automatic bid. (And if the Wolverines were the regular-season champs, too, the second-place team would get the bid.) The Atlantic 10 could have done that with St. Bona, but it didn't. As a result, it had to deal with the embarrassment of two forfeited games.
It's a shame college athletes are so fractionalized, coached to look at the world as Us vs. Them. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if other A-10 players had sided with their St. Bonaventure brethren and announced, "We're not going to play in conference tournament unless the Bonnies play"? Boy, there would have been some serious scrambling then. But college athletics, alas, is a non-union shop. It's every jock for himself.
At Georgia, the players learned from news accounts that their season was over. The university didn't even have the courtesy to inform them of the decision. It has since apologized, saying "we deeply regret and are somewhat embarrassed" by the oversight.
Deeply regret? Phooey. In the NCAA, such behavior is typical. Unfortunately, the behavior of St. Bonaventure basketball team isn't.

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