DEALING WITH THE MADNESS

Dayton 2 St. Bonaventure 0 F.
Strange score isn’t it? But that’s the official final score – the final of all forfeited games – of the Dayton v. St. Bonaventure game this past weekend.

The 2-0 score was just the tip of the wild scandal-ridden iceberg that has followed the NCAA this season. We’ve had the Harrick scandal, the Fresno St. scandal and even the Villanova long distance phone call scandal.

All of these scandals are individually bad for the game of basketball. Some involve academic fraud, the use of ineligible players and cover-ups. But the St. Bonaventure situation, which recently prompted the resignation of the school’s president, was different, producing a question about the competitive spirit of our young people and the people who lead them.

The way things were handled at St. Bonaventure was truly a disgrace. The Bonnies were forced to forfeit their conference wins and were banned from the Atlantic 10 Tournament for using an ineligible player. The team then voted not to play their last two games. If that wasn’t bad enough, things got worse when the administration backed their decision not to play. What the heck were they thinking?

I can understand the players being upset and losing their minds for a while but not playing games should never have been an option. And the coaches, athletic director and school administration should never have let it happen.

It’s sad because the players probably didn’t realize what they were doing. A player is only allotted a select number of games in their college career. Any game canceled is one game they will never get back. There is no pick-up game, no rec-league game or any other type of game that can even come close to a college basketball game. One cannot emulate the intensity or emotion found in a college basketball game.

Those players gave up their right to play in two games, something that they will regret later in life. They may not have understood it at the time, allowing their anger to take over. That’s when an authority figure of some sort should have stepped in. But it never happened. The “leaders” at St. Bonaventure let the players vote and even backed their decision by agreeing to pay Umass for the monies the Minuteman program would lose by not missing a home game.

What should have the school’s leaders done? They should have followed the lead of Villanova. The Wildcats found out this weekend that twelve of their players had illegally used a long distance telephone access card utilized and paid for by their athletic department. A minor infraction compared to many but one that found Villanova having to suspend twelve players anywhere between three and eight games.

With only 14 players on their roster, that put the Wildcats in a bind for their season finale against Pittsburgh, an opponent ranked in the top ten. With the seniors on the squad having to serve their suspensions immediately (difficult for them to serve suspensions next season when they aren’t there), the Wildcats’ two leading scorers had to sit the season finale and only had five scholarship players and two walk-ons available for Sunday’s game.

The Wildcats did not give up the ghost. They came together and fought valiantly against a superior opponent. The Wildcats lost to Pitt 56-54 in what was an inspiring effort. Coach Jay Wright, his staff and the players should be commended for their effort. What they did on Sunday was what athletics is all about. It’s why we play and follow games. Because it doesn’t matter who is supposed to win. It doesn’t matter what the “stakes” are. During a game, anything can happen. It’s a competition. It’s an opportunity for players to rise up and maybe play better than what people think they can. It’s a chance for them to play because they love the game and value the opportunity to try and beat an opponent, to be better than their foes, even if it’s for just one game.

The Wildcats actually did a lot to restore some faith in the game and remind us why we watch and why it’s wonderful. Don’t forget their effort as the NCAA Tourney approaches. It’s competition. For one game, any team can win and any team can lose. And there’s nothing better than the journey along the way.