BCCC quits NJCAA women's basketball tournament

School cites rules violations, removes coach, who denies charges

March 17, 2010|By Mike Klingaman | mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

Ashley Jones was supposed to have the spotlight tonight, playing before a big crowd and a slew of basketball scouts in the first round of the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II tournament in Peoria, Ill.

Instead, Jones and her teammates at undefeated Baltimore City Community College are sitting home, wondering what might have been.

BCCC, which went 24-0 and is ranked No. 16 nationally, withdrew voluntarily from the tournament last week after an internal investigation into alleged NJCAA violations. The school also removed Renard Smith, who had coached the Lady Panthers to both the Maryland JuCo and Region XX titles this season.

BCCC officials declined to comment on the nature of the infractions, as did the NJCAA, but said that the team will not forfeit any victories or eligibility.

In a statement, the NJCAA said that it "recognizes this was a difficult decision and commends BCCC for its swift action."

Players learned of the decision while preparing for the nationals, said Jones, a sophomore forward from Old Mill who decried the timing of the ruling.

"We had a chance to win it all," said Jones, whose 13.4 rebounds per game led the conference. "This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a chance for us to get looks from the four-year schools."

Players are still "crying, upset, angry and confused," said Tanira McClurkin, a freshman from St. Frances and one of BCCC's top scorers (13.5 points).

"Everybody is hurt - and mad," she said. "I don't know who to blame. For us to have accomplished so much, and now this. ... "

McClurkin said the team was told that a self-audit by the school turned up violations in Federal Work-Study, a program that provides part-time employment to students.

Her coach disputed that notion.

"There were no violations," said Smith, 42, who took over the team in 2005. "If there were, why didn't they strip us of any wins?"

Smith called the charges a smoke screen to cover up personal conflicts between himself and a BCCC administrator, and the school's unwillingness to pay for the team's trip to the nationals.

"On Monday [March 8], I gave the athletic department a bill with the estimated cost, between $15,000 and $18,000," said Smith, a Dunbar and Morgan State graduate who previously was an assistant coach at St. Frances and Northern. "The next day, I was told [the school] was investigating the work-study program.

"It's truly a crime to treat women athletes like this. The integrity of that institution has been destroyed, and I can't see any high school coaches wanting to send their kids there."

BCCC officials declined to comment.

The school's place in the 12-team nationals was taken by Prince George's Community College (18-7), runner-up in the regionals and a team that lost twice to BCCC this season.

"Where do we go from here?" asked Charda Lomax, a sophomore guard from Frederick Douglass. "Everything we worked for is gone."

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