The NCAA hits Tech hard. Tech stands by Pastner

Josh Pastner had said that Georgia Tech needed to reach the Big Dance in 2020. On Thursday, we learned that the Yellow Jackets wouldn’t grace any dance of any size – not even a sock hop – until 2021, if then.

The NCAA committee on infractions delivered a devastating blow: Georgia Tech is banned from the 2019-20 postseason. That means no NCAA, no NIT, not even the ACC tournament. (Conferences won’t allow teams that aren’t postseason-eligible to play for their automatic bid.) This also means that Pastner, who’s about to enter Year 4, will enter Year 5 without having taken Tech to the NCAA tournament, which is what he was hired to do.

For a coach desperate to find any sort of traction, this is almost the worst possible news. (We say “almost” only because Pastner wasn’t sanctioned by the COI.) It’s getting docked a year for an unbelievably silly violation – assistant Darryl LaBarrie taking recruit Wendell Carter to a strip club and having distinguished Tech alum Jarrett Jack foot the ball – and an unbelievably poor choice of friends. The first wasn’t Pastner’s doing, though it occurred on his watch. The second was all Pastner’s doing.

Said Todd Stansbury, Tech’s athletic director, speaking on a conference call: “After our internal investigation, we did admonish Josh in his poor judgment in allowing Ron Bell to get close to the program.”

Then: “I continue to support Josh as our basketball coach.”

We stipulate for the thousandth time: Bell is the definition of friend-from-hell. But he's also the guy Pastner allowed access to two Division I programs and two sets of players in two different cities. Bell followed Pastner here from Memphis. As much as Pastner has tried to insist that he and Bell weren't all that close, there's a mountain of evidence to the contrary. (Read Alan Judd's story for documentation.)

On the night the AJC's Ken Sugiura broke the news that Tech had received a notice of allegations (NOA) from the COI, Pastner offered no comment other than to suggest everything included was old news. It kind of was – the LaBarrie/Carter/Jack story had circulated in basketball circles for a year; Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson had already served Bell-related suspensions – but with the NCAA, nothing is over until the COI has its say.

That came Thursday, and it included the one-year ban, four years of probation, four lost scholarships, the vacating of wins and “a prohibition from scheduling official visits in conjunction with home men’s basketball competitions during the first two years of probation.”

What that last bit means: Pastner can’t say to a recruit, “Come see how wild our crowd is when we play Duke in January.” The best selling point any coach has is hereby denied this coach, who might not last two more years. (Oh, and Jack can’t attend the Duke game, either. He’s banned from Tech events for three years.)

From COI’s summary: “Both sets of violations occurred because men’s basketball coaching staff members invited outside individuals into their program. They permitted these outside individuals to interact with their student-athletes, and those actions resulted in violations.”

Said COI spokesman Joel Maturi: “It goes without saying that adult entertainment has no place in college sports.”

Pastner comes across as a nice guy. He’s a much better coach, tactically speaking, than I’d been led to believe. He has, however, been living off three upsets – over North Carolina, Florida State and Notre Dame – that occurred between New Year’s Eve 2016 and Jan. 28, 2017. Those Jackets made the NIT final, not that anybody remembers NIT finals, and there has been nothing since.

Three seasons have yielded three Tuesday exits from the ACC tournament. Four recruiting cycles have passed without Pastner landing a major recruit – Okogie was a 3-star prospect who committed to Brian Gregory, Pastner’s predecessor – from this state, which just produced the nation’s No. 1 recruit, who signed with Georgia.

For late tuners-in, we should mention that Tech reached the NCAA tournament 10 times under Bobby Cremins and five under Paul Hewitt. Cremins’ 1990 team reached the Final Four. Hewitt’s 2004 Jackets played for the national championship. Over a 25-year span, Tech was a major part of March Madness.

Thursday’s penalties mean that more than a decade will pass without the Jackets gracing the only tournament that matters, which beggars belief. This is the capital city of a state that produces top-shelf talent, and Tech is a member of the conference that plays the best basketball. It shouldn’t be this hard.

Being shamed and slammed by the NCAA makes Pastner’s job even harder. A season targeted as a breakthrough has become a road to nowhere. And now we wonder about Tech. Does it keep making excuses for Pastner, even though Bell was his pal and LaBarrie – handed a three-year show-cause penalty by the COI – his hire? Does it continue to employ a coach who’s 48-53 (before forfeits)? Or does it say to itself, “We’re losing and we’re on probation. Is this really the best we can do?”

Here was Stansbury: “We are disappointed with the severity of the penalties imposed, some of which will have a direct and unfair impact on current student-athletes. We are exploring our options and giving serious consideration on whether to appeal some aspects of the decision.”

Yeah, right. As the COI made clear, it considers the proud Institute a serial offender. Good luck with that appeal.