- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2006

This was supposed to be George Washington’s year, this Sweet 16 GW’s Sweet 16. After compiling a 27-1 regular season record and rising to a No. 6 national ranking, the Colonials seemed poised to make serious noise in the NCAA tournament.

Instead, it’s George Mason that’s taking the bows, GMU that’s improbably advancing to the Washington regional — at Verizon Center, just a few Metro stops from home. In Foggy Bottom, meanwhile, clouds are forming. Clouds of doubt. Clouds of suspicion. In the months ahead, this season may go from being one of the greatest in George Washington basketball history to one of the most regrettable.

As you may have heard, the New York Times and Washington Post have run stories recently questioning GW’s recruiting practices. The stories focus on one Darryl Schofield, a prep school coach/scholarship facilitator in Philadelphia whose name may soon be as radioactive in college hoops as Jack Abramoff’s is on Capitol Hill.

Two key Colonials, 6-9 forward Omar Williams and sixth man Maureece Rice, came out of the Schofield pipeline. (So did a Georgetown Hoya, little-used Marc Egerson.) The details, as laid out by the Times and Post, sound pretty gory — dubious schools, dubious grades, dubious college admittances. GW president Steve Trachtenberg has admitted to being “embarrassed” by the revelations, and the NCAA has had a task force studying “drive-through” prep schools since December. No telling what it’ll find.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time George Washington’s pursuit of big-time basketball glory may have clouded its judgment. Eleven years ago — how quickly we forget — the university was ready to give a scholarship to Richie Parker, a New York City hotshot who had a rather sizable black mark on his transcript: He had pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a 15-year-old girl at his school.

What a public relations disaster that turned out to be. Especially when Trachtenberg decided he could make everything right by also offering a scholarship to Parker’s victim (provided, of course, she met entrance requirements). A good many in the GW community were appalled, and Trachtenberg wisely reconsidered. (Parker wound up having a good but hardly great career at LIU.)

The way GW spins it, making allowances for Williams and Rice is all about giving kids — deserving kids — “opportunities.” Where have we heard that one before? Oh yeah, now I remember. It was when then-coach Mike Jarvis was trying to rationalize recruiting Parker … after other major programs had washed their hands of him.

“What’s so bad about giving somebody a chance, even if it means that person fails?” he asked. “Any school that tells you they never took a chance on a player, well, some of ‘em are lying. And if it is true, that’s more of a statement against them than for them.”

It’s interesting, though, how much more willing schools seem to be to take these chances when they’re down on their luck — or trying to break through to the next level. The Parker Fiasco followed a disappointing NIT season (after two consecutive NCAA bids); Williams arrived on campus on the heels of a 12-16 season, Karl Hobbs’ first in Foggy Bottom. A more successful program — with a more secure coach — probably avoids such dice rolling.

There’s no indication George Washington broke any rules in its admission of Williams and Rice. The players’ paperwork apparently passed through all the necessary hands before eligibility was granted. But that’s troubling enough. After all, admissions departments routinely send out reminders to applicants that, say, a teacher’s recommendation hasn’t been received. And yet no one at GW — or the NCAA Clearinghouse, for that matter — seems to have been overly concerned with whether Celestial Prep (Williams’ school) or Lutheran Christian Academy (Rice’s) was indeed a credible academic institution. (Which is great news for any of you high schoolers out there thinking of applying to the GW.)

Over in Fairfax, George Mason has reached the Sweet 16 without inspiring any investigations. In fact, Jim Larranaga is looking like Dudley Do-Right after suspending Tony Skinn for throwing a below-the-belt punch in the CAA tournament — even though it could have kept the on-the-bubble Patriots out of the NCAAs. Mason is being fitted for the glass slipper, and GW is being peppered with questions about its perceived slip-up. Some might say there’s justice in that.

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