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Chris Dufresne ON COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Quitting Time

Forfeits by St. Bonaventure are lost cause not only for players but for university officials who allowed controversial walkout

March 08, 2003|Chris Dufresne

The St. Bonaventure basketball players who opted this week to forfeit their final two regular-season games -- and the university officials who supported that decision -- grossly underestimated the national backlash that ensued from misunderstanding a fundamental tenet of American culture:

We do not suffer quitters gladly.

Bluto Blutarsky didn't quite get his history right when, in the movie "Animal House," he famously blurted, "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?" But he echoed our general sentiments.

If not for this attack on our bedrock, the St. Bonaventure flap might have remained a regional story involving a low-rung school from the second-tier Atlantic 10 Conference.

It was hardly talk-show fodder that tiny St. Bonaventure out of western New York would self-impose sanctions after revelations junior center Jamil Terrell failed to meet academic standards when he transferred last year from Coastal Georgia Community College (though he did receive a welding certificate).

Determining St. Bonaventure's forfeiture of six games to be insufficient penance, Atlantic 10 presidents banned the Bonnies from the conference's tournament, beginning Monday on campus sites.

This ignited the firestorm.

In response, on Tuesday, the school's players voted to forfeit final games against Massachusetts and Dayton.

"At that point," A-10 spokesman Ray Cella said, "it became a national story."

The outrage has yet to subside while the controversy has damaged the reputation of a prestigious Catholic institution, compromised the integrity of athletic competition, fueled speculation that St. Bonaventure might be expelled from the Atlantic 10 and jeopardized the future of the school's president, athletic director and coach.

"I don't see how anyone survives," one NCAA Division I-A athletic director said Friday.

The controversy might have been contained if not for what many perceive as the outlandish behavior of players who walked out on their commitments and the administrators who allowed it to happen.

Bob Marcum, the former Massachusetts athletic director who now holds the same title at Marshall, said he would have scoured the campus for warm bodies to play those games.

"I just wonder how fast you can get five guys from intramurals and have them eligible, and make sure the uniforms fit," Marcum said.

Sacrifice?

In 1970, the Marshall football program was decimated by a plane crash.

"At one time, this football team was wiped out," Marcum said. "We had to go with very young people, inexperienced players, but they stepped up and played after that plane crash."

The repercussions stemming from St. Bonaventure's decision to say bon voyage to the regular season are short-term and far-reaching.

The school agreed to reimburse Massachusetts for revenues lost for Tuesday's scheduled game at Amherst, estimated to be $50,000 to $100,000, but you can't write a check for everything.

Because the forfeitures affected conference standings, Richmond lost a first-round home game in the Atlantic 10 tournament -- and additional lost revenue -- although it ended up instead with a first-round bye.

Temple thought it had clinched a first-round tournament bye last week, lost it when Rhode Island was awarded one of the forfeit wins, then earned the bye back Thursday night with a victory over LaSalle.

The Atlantic 10 standings as they stand appear to be chalked with typographical errors. The forfeits have been noted but overall records have not changed pending possible NCAA sanctions.

This explains how St. Bonaventure could be 1-15 in conference play and 13-14 overall.

In producing next year's media guide, Cella of the Atlantic 10 may spend half his summer hitting the asterisk key.

"Whoever follows me will not have a clue what happened this year," Cella said.

Because St. Bonaventure quit before the finish line, Dayton will go 12 days before playing its next game, in next week's conference tournament.

Cella called the NCAA to make sure the canceled Dayton game will not affect the Flyers' Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) rating and was told it would not. Dayton is 19 in this week's RPI.

The Flyers are a top-25 team and a cinch to make the NCAA tournament but could be affected by the layoff.

"There is a rhythm to the season, and this disrupts that rhythm," Dayton Athletic Director Ted Kissell said Friday.

Kissell thinks the St. Bonaventure story became national news in part because Robert Wickenheiser, the school's president, had direct involvement in the recruitment of Terrell, the ineligible player.

Even more than that, Kissell said, is the nation's unwillingness to accept the players at St. Bonaventure calling it quits.

"The most basic trust we have is that we're going to play the games," Kissell said. "In this instance, that trust was betrayed."

Kissell holds the St. Bonaventure players responsible while emphasizing it should not have been their decision.

"The kids in middle of this, they're full of disappointment," he said, "The failure is the failure of leadership."

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