Suspended players may miss tournament

Posted: Monday, March 10, 2003

PHILADELPHIA -- Gary Buchanan hoped to end his career at Villanova with a trip to the NCAA tournament. Now, he might not even join his teammates at the Big East tournament.

Buchanan was one of 12 players suspended by Villanova on Saturday for allegedly making unauthorized telephone calls -- the latest in a string of recent college basketball scandals, including ones at Georgia, Fresno State and St. Bonaventure.

The senior guard and six other teammates were on the bench in street clothes for Villanova's near upset of No. 7 Pittsburgh on Sunday. The Wildcats had the ball and a chance to win in the final seconds, but lost 56-54.

The suspensions, ranging from three to eight games, were staggered, allowing Villanova to field a seven-man team. The same seven players will suit up for the Wildcats' first-round tournament game against Georgetown on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

However, it's uncertain whether the suspended players will be allowed to travel with the team to New York for the conference tournament. The school will consult with the NCAA before making its decision, possibly on Monday.

''I'm sorry about the whole situation,'' said Buchanan, the team's leading scorer at 15.4 points per game. ''I felt like I let my team down.''

He has plenty of company lately as college basketball has been rocked by three other scandals in the past week.

At Georgia, former player Tony Cole accused assistant coach Jim Harrick Jr. of paying his bills, doing schoolwork and teaching a sham class on coaching. Harrick Jr. was fired by the school last Wednesday.

Last Monday, the Atlantic 10 stripped St. Bonaventure of six conference victories and barred it from the league's postseason tournament after the school was found to have used an ineligible player. The next day, the school informed the conference the players would boycott their final two regular-season games.

On Sunday, St. Bonaventure President Robert Wickenheiser resigned and the university's board of trustees, which unanimously sought Wickenheiser's resignation, also placed athletics director Gothard Lane and head coach Jan van Breda Kolff on administrative leave.

Fresno State, responding to claims by a former student that he wrote papers for players for payment, said last week it would keep itself out of the NCAA tournament and NIT. The Western Athletic Conference then ruled the Bulldogs out of this week's conference tournament. In December, the school placed its basketball team and athletic department on self-probation for two years for numerous NCAA rules violations, including payments from agents to players.

On Sunday, Villanova seniors Buchanan, Ricky Wright, Andrew Sullivan and Lou Ruskey joined Andreas Bloch, Chris Charles and Jason Fraser on the bench. Randy Foye, Marcus Austin, Allan Ray, Derrick Snowden and Curtis Sumpter were allowed to play, despite being among the 12 players affected.

The players suspended allegedly obtained an athletic department employee's secret telephone access number and used the code to run up long distance charges. The university learned of the breach on Tuesday.

''If I knew it was wrong, I wouldn't have done it,'' Buchanan said. ''We tried to be regular students, but we're not.''

Wright said he didn't even consider the ramifications of using the code.

''A mistake is a mistake,'' Wright said. ''The NCAA has rules and we have to abide by them.''

Unauthorized phone calls constitute an extra benefit that is prohibited for student-athletes under NCAA rules.

For charges of $100 or less, punishment guidelines call only for the player to make restitution. For larger sums, the guidelines mandate suspensions.

Villanova worked with the NCAA in determining the penalties and doesn't expect the players to face additional sanctions.

''This is going to be a tough couple weeks for us, but we will get stronger for this,'' Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. ''Villanova will be OK.''

This was the second scandal involving a Villanova basketball player in seven years. In 1996, star guard Kerry Kittles was suspended for the final three games of the season for charging more than $3,000 worth of calls to a university employee's phone card.

Kittles had been the 1995 Big East player of the year and was the leading scorer for the fourth-ranked Wildcats when he was suspended Feb. 22, 1996, on the eve of a nationally televised game against No. 3 Connecticut.

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