University: Program won't be sacked

Updated: February 14, 2004, 9:28 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- St. John's University on Thursday denied a report that its president might recommend suspending the school's basketball program if it can't remain scandal-free.

"In no way shape or form are we thinking of disbanding the program," declared Jody Fisher, the school's chief spokesman.

The New York Daily News reported the scenario Thursday, quoting the school's president, the Rev. Donald Harrington.

"I would go to the board [of trustees] and say, 'It's now my conviction we can't do it,' " if the program's troubles persist, Harrington said, according to the Daily News.

"The university's values and mission are too important," Harrington said. "If the question is, 'Would you sacrifice your principles rather than face fact?' The answer is no. We will not sacrifice our principles or our mission. Ultimately, that would be the decision of our trustees, but that would be my recommendation."

On Wednesday, guard Elijah Ingram withdrew from the university, one week after he and five teammates broke curfew to go to a strip club.

Ingram, a sophomore who led the team in scoring, left on the same day the St. John's judicial board suspended teammate Abe Keita from school for one year, the university announced.

Both Ingram and Keita already were permanently suspended from the basketball team. Ingram's decision spared him from appearing before the judicial board.

A third teammate, Grady Reynolds, was expelled from St. John's last week. Two other players were suspended from the basketball team but remained in school, while another player still faced unspecified lesser discipline.

The players got in trouble following a 71-51 loss to Pittsburgh on Feb. 4. A 38-year-old woman told police she was gang raped by St. John's players she met at a strip club outside the city.

No criminal charges were filed against the players, and the woman -- Sherri Ann Urbanek-Bach -- said she made up the story after the players refused to pay her $1,000 for sex, according to court documents. She was charged with prostitution, attempted extortion and filing fictitious reports.

Last weekend, Harrington was criticized for making incentive remarks by blaming the program's culture for its woes. He since has apologized for those remarks.

"I regret that my own statements had even increased the pain of some of our students," Harrington said. "I was very careful to say that while I wish I could find a better word -- the word I used was culture -- I did not mean it in terms of ethnicity or religion, but rather the environment, the context, the expectations one of another."

The Red Storm have dealt with their share of troubles this season. In early December, senior guard Willie Shaw, suspended after being arrested for possession of marijuana, was dismissed from the team.

On Dec. 19, Mike Jarvis became the first Big East coach to be fired during a season.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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