While the possibility of GW hosting a first-round tournament game became less likely after a loss to Xavier last week, it became impossible after Atlantic 10 opponent St. Bonaventure forfeited six conference wins because of an ineligible player on its men’s basketball team.
This means GW, which had a chance to secure the fourth seed in the Atlantic 10 West and the accompanying first-round home court advantage, can now only hope for a fifth-place finish and a road game. The Colonials (10-16, 4-11 A-10) have not won a conference road game all season.
Presidents of the 12 A-10 universities, including GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, endorsed St. Bonaventure’s self-imposed forfeits and banned the team from next weekend’s tournament in a conference call Monday. Conference officials were not involved in the decision, A-10 Assistant Commissioner of Public Relations Ray Cella said.
The presidents also decided to alter the A-10 standings, awarding wins to every opponent that lost to the Bonnies while the ineligible player, junior Jamil Terrell, was on the court.
“I voted for this, but it was not a good thing for GW, as the decision hurt us in the rankings whereas it helped other teams,” Trachtenberg said. “But it seemed to me you had to get past self interest and look at the bigger question which was the way the A-10 was perceived. (The A-10) has been a relatively scandal-free initiative and I wanted to be sure its integrity was recognized.”
The integrity of the normally scandal-free league has been called into question of late as the decision came on the same day A-10 member Rhode Island announced it was investigating actions by former coach Jim Harrick, Sr. and former assistant Jim Harrick, Jr. The alleged NCAA violations include cash payments to players and academic fraud by the Harricks’ staff. Harrick, Jr. was fired from his current position at the University of Georgia Wednesday for similar allegations.
A day later, St. Bonaventure players made a controversial decision to forego their final two games. Bonnies Head Coach Jan van Brenda Kolff and the Bonnies’ athletic department have acquiesced to that decision, an action that brought heavy scrutiny from the A-10 and many college basketball experts, including GW Athletic Director Jack Kvancz.
“Now I’m not (in St. Bonaventure’s position), but I think you’re in a league and you have an obligation to play,” he said. “I don’t think anything like this would happen at GW, but I would hope, and argue, that we would not forfeit games to screw up the seeding of everyone else. I don’t think there’s any way you can do this without affecting the other teams.”
While A-10 Commissioner Linda Bruno was unavailable for comment, Cella said he endorsed her earlier statement that the A-10 is “extremely disappointed that St. Bonaventure has taken this action.”
The only win the Bonnies (13-14, 1-13 A-10) did not forfeit is an overtime victory against GW last Saturday because Terrell was held out of the game after St. Bonaventure asked the conference and the NCAA for clarification on his eligibility. Last week, the NCAA declared the transfer from Coastal Georgia Community College ineligible for not meeting academic requirements for junior college transfers.
Trachtenberg said because St. Bonaventure President Robert J. Wickenheiser admitted to everything, there was no dispute over the facts of the situation, but there was debate over what action should be taken.
One option entertained was to eliminate St. Bonaventure from the tournament and keep the standings intact. But Trachtenberg said the presidents “thought it was important that there be a sign of the seriousness with which we took the misdemeanor” and agreed their decision would be best for the long-term health of the conference.
GW Head Coach Karl Hobbs declined to endorse or criticize the decision, saying only that it “was something that was taken totally out of our hands and we can’t control it.
“What we can control is how we play,” he said.
The decision hurt other A-10 teams, namely Temple, which had clinched a first-round bye but is now still competing with Rhode Island, which received two forfeited wins. Richmond also now clinches a first-round bye because St. Bonaventure dropped to sixth place in the East.
“Yeah we got screwed, but I’m not going to sit here and cry about it,” Kvancz said. “It hurts us the most when other teams got a win, but I would look at the way we are playing and we are playing better. I think you can sit there and cry in your milk, but what does that get you? So let’s go play.”
The tournament will now feature five teams with first-round byes and three opening round games. In addition to the bid awarded to Richmond, Xavier, St. Joseph’s and Dayton’s first round byes remain intact.
ESPN.com reported St. Bonaventure Athletic Director Gothar Lane said the Bonnies agreed to pay back financial losses from the two forfeited games. Kvancz said GW will not lose any money because any revenue from the potential first-round game would have gone to the A-10.
Cella said that he could not speculate on St. Bonaventure’s future in the A-10, but said that the situation would be a topic of discussion at the regularly scheduled Presidents Council meeting April 1.
Kvancz said while it is a difficult thing to do, any school can be asked to leave the A-10 at any time and he thinks the severity of the offense could warrant further ramifications.
“I think it will certainly be discussed that they could leave (the conference),” he said.