Thursday, March 20, 2008
Root for the Georgia Bulldogs today, if you possibly can. You might have heard about their improbable run through the SEC tournament. Winning four games in three days and two games in one day after a tornado hit downtown Atlanta and played havoc with the tourney schedule. (An aside here, increased weather intensity will be the biggest global warming impact.)
But the disruption to their schedule and their ability to overcome it is not why we are asking you to pull for Georgia today. It is about a much more profound, important stance and a coach who has insisted on doing things right.
Dennis Felton took over a program mired in the abyss. Georgia had been destroyed by the academic fraud of Jim Harrick and son. Harrick's son and assistant coach was teaching the infamous "Strategies of Basketball" class for athletes. It featured a final exam with questions like, 'How many halves are in a basketball game?' and 'How many points is a three point basket worth?' Way to go Harricks, now there's a real college education like the rest of the student body is getting.
New Coach Felton had to clean up this mess. He started five years ago with a program featuring 11 walk-ons. Georgia had reason to believe in Felton, at Western Kentucky not only had Felton led on court success, but he graduated 100% of the players he recruited. Last year, Felton, a character with education guy, led a drive at Georgia to install tougher academic standards for athletes, including fines and suspensions for missed classes and tutoring appointments. Way to go Coach!!
And when push came to shove, he stuck to his guns and kicked the two leading scorers from last year off of the team before this season, when they wouldn't take their academics seriously. Of course, this had an adverse effect on the basketball court. Felton and Georgia struggled to a 13 up and 16 down mark heading into the SEC tournament. The media honks at ESPN and elsewhere were already starting a whisper campaign about Felton's job, then a remarkable run, four wins in three days and a little karmic redemption for a coach who surely deserves it.
Today, unless you are a Xavier alum (you're exempted) pull for Dennis Felton's Georgia Bulldogs, an example of what is right with college sports.
I firmly believe Coach K was lucky not to lose in the 1st round or he would have at least have heard a lot of whispering about having lost it, being past by...second round will be just enough to tamp that down a smidge.