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Atlantic 10 Notebook

March 11, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Atlantic Ten Notebook

by David Francis

Xavier’s Wild Week

It’s that time of year again. It’s time to fill in the brackets, take 3 hour lunches, forget about everything else until 65 is down to 1.

It’s March. It’s tournament time. For a lot of people (including myself), this is the best time of the year. This is the time to take pride in the game I love, to celebrate the most exciting post-season format this side of the World Cup, to relish the fact that in college, most kids are playing not because of money or shoe contracts, but simply because they love the game.

That’s what makes what happened at St. Bonaventure this past week so disappointing.

In case you haven’t heard, the Bonnies elected to forfeit the rest of their season after it was discovered that junior college transfer Jamil Terrell never actually graduated from junior college. The Atlantic 10 forced the Bonnies to forfeit its six A-10 victories and banned them from playing in conference tournament because they used an ineligible player.

So what did the team do? It decided to forfeit its last two games. That’s right; instead of finishing the season without Terrell, St. Bonaventure quit. The team got together, without their coaches mind you, had a vote, and decided to quit.

My first reaction was indignation. How could a Division I college basketball team, many of them on scholarship, come to the conclusion that they would be better off to quit than to play their final two games? Do they not care for the university community, a community that feels shock and sadness, perhaps even betrayal, at their decision? Do they not take any pride in themselves individually or as a team? Despite the fact that they were losing one of their better players, the Bonnies had an obligation to their university and to themselves to finish the season.

St. Bonaventure is not Duke or North Carolina. But while their basketball traditions might not be storied, it is proud, Catholic university and their basketball team has historically been a reflection upon that pride. An NCAA bid, a run deep into the conference tournament-these were what mattered at St. Bonaventure. And these things were done with dignity. The player’s decision detracted from this.

I thought this until I found out more about what actually happened. What happened at St. Bonaventure was not the fault of the players. They were not cheating on test or betting on games. Terrell being named eligible was the fault of the university president, Robert Wickenheiser.

Wickenheiser was the one who declared Terrell eligible to play. In his fervor to win more basketball games, Wickenheiser ignored a few key eligibility requirements, like Terrell actually graduating from junior college. At the urging of head coach Jan van Breda Kolff, Wickenheiser OK’d Terrell with only a certificate in welding.

Then there’s the matter of banning the Bonnies from the A-10 tourney. I figured this was a punishment that had occurred at some point in the past, but as Stewart Mandel pointed out in his column on SI.com last week, there is absolutely no precedent for the A-10 higher-ups, led by Commissioner Linda Bruno, to ban a team from the tournament. The school forfeited the games it won with Terrell playing and has yet to be punished by the NCAA. It’s also not like they were going to stick Terrell, a center, at the point and hope no one noticed. They could have played the conference tournament without him.

So the players did nothing wrong and they got hosed in the decision by the A-10 not to allow them in the conference tournament. Does this make their decision not to finish the season right? I still don’t think so, if for no reason other than scholarships. There are a lot of kids paying a lot of money to go to St. Bonaventure. If I were one of them, I would be a bit perturbed that kids who go for free simply because they play basketball didn’t feel like fulfilling their end of the bargain.

I also don’t understand how a team could just give up. What about playing for pride? What about proving you can win without breaking the rules? You can go on and on about how the administration and coaching staff gives them nothing to be proud of, that they can’t take pride in playing in a crooked system. But ultimately, they’re playing for themselves and their classmates. That should be motivation enough to set aside whatever reservations you might have and play because you’re a member of a team representing something larger than the sum of its parts.

Whatever you think about the Bonnies’ decision, it’s just an ugly way to end a basketball season. March is supposed to be a time to celebrate college basketball. When things like this happen, I can’t wait for baseball.


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