Turmoil surrounding Georgia and coach Jim Harrick were among the lowlights in a week filled with scandal
Jim Harrick is a proven winner, but controversy has followed him like a shadow. In 1996, a year and a half after winning a national title with UCLA, Harrick was fired by the Bruins for falsifying an expense report He landed at Rhode Island, where he built his program around troubled star Lamar Odom and, if allegations made by his former secretary are true, he committed various NCAA violations. He then bolted in 1999 for Georgia, where on Monday he was suspended with pay as the university investigated charges of academic fraud and allegations by former Bulldogs guard Tony Cole. Cole claimed that Harrick, with the help of his son Jim Jr., had arranged to wire him $300 to pay a phone bill and bought him a television. Cole also received an A in a course he says he never attended.
In addition to suspending Harrick (and putting his son on paid leave), the school pulled the No. 21 Bulldogs (19-8) out of the SEC and NCAA tournaments. "This is, I imagine, as bad as it gets," said Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley after he announced the decision with school president Michael Adams. The decision to pull out of postseason play came after Dooley declared two players, Chris Daniels and Rashad Wright, academically ineligible and charged them with unethical conduct. The players had taken the same class as Cole—Coaching Principles and Strategies in Basketball, taught by Jim Jr. There were 31 students in the class, including the three basketball players and seven other athletes. According to Dooley, Harrick's players all received A's.
The turmoil in Athens comes at a tough time for college basketball, as talk of bubble teams and Cinderellas has given way to a mass of scandals. Besides Georgia's problems:
? Fresno State, the first-place team in the Western Athletic Conference, banned itself from the NCAA tournament after a report of academic fraud under coach Jerry Tarkanian in 2000 (though Tarkanian hasn't been implicated).
? St. Bonaventure's players voted not to play their final two games after the Athantic 10 barred the Bonnies from competing in the conference tournament and made them forfeit six wins for playing with an ineligible player. That player, Jamil Terrell, was admitted at St. Bonaventure even though school president Robert Wickenheiser and coach Jan van Breda Kolff reportedly knew that Terrell shouldn't have been eligible to play. (The scandal cost Wickenheiser his job; he resigned on Sunday, and van Breda Kolff and athletic director Gothard Lane were put on administrative leave.)
? Villanova suspended 12 players for between three and eight games after they admitted to coach Jay Wright that they had made long-distance phone calls using the access code of an athletic department employee.
Most troubling, though, were the allegations surrounding Harrick. Harrick tried to save his job by calling Cole "a vindictive young man" and making dubious claims about his coaching past—in an ESPN interview Harrick said he had graduated eight of eight players at Rhode Island, when in fact only one of the nine players he recruited has graduated and Odom bolted for the NBA. Harrick also said he had never heard about a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Rhode Island last April by Christine King, Harrick's former secretary at Rhode Island, a claim Rams athletic director Ron Petro later disputed.
In her lawsuit, which Rhode Island settled by paying her $45,000, King claimed that Harrick had touched her improperly, and she enumerated several NCAA violations allegedly committed by him, including that he tried to change grades for Luther Clay and Odom; led players to boosters who would give them money; and paid a member of the women's basketball team $250 to cover up an assault by a Rams player. (Harrick says that he will be exonerated.)
So Georgia's season ends, and Harrick's future remains in doubt. On Monday, Bulldogs players stood in disbelief when told by associate athletic director Damon Evans that their dreams of a deep run in the NCAA tournament would never be realized. "You could see it in their faces," said Evans. "They had worked so hard and had such high hopes. They didn't ask a lot of questions; they were just terribly disappointed."