Tech withdraws NCAA appeal, won’t play in ACC tournament

Only days before a decision was due and 21 weeks after the options were first presented, Georgia Tech decided to withdraw its appeal of the NCAA's postseason ban on Monday. As a result, Tech will not compete in the ACC tournament, which begins March 10 in Greensboro, N.C., and surrender any chance to play in the NCAA tournament or NIT, but will go into the 2020-21 season without any possibility of facing a postseason ban.

The school will continue to go forward with its appeal of two other NCAA sanctions, a scholarship reduction and recruiting restrictions. In a statement, athletic director Todd Stansbury said that it was in the best interest of the team to drop the appeal and “remove the cloud of a potential postseason ban from hanging over our team as we move into next season and beyond.”

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The possibility of withdrawing the appeal and accepting the ban has loomed over coach Josh Pastner's fourth season, particularly as the Yellow Jackets' NCAA tournament hopes grew increasingly dim. When the NCAA levied its sanctions on Tech for unrelated recruiting violations involving a former friend of coach Josh Pastner (deemed a booster by the NCAA) and former assistant coach Darryl LaBarrie on Sept. 26 and then when the school declared its intent to appeal three of the penalties on Nov. 15, Pastner held expectations that his team would compete for the Jackets' first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010.

By filing the appeal, Tech was virtually assuring itself of postseason eligibility for this season. By NCAA rules, penalties under appeal aren’t enforced until after the appeals process is complete, and the standard length of an appeal made it highly unlikely that a decision could be rendered by the end of the season.

Tech had the potential to make the tournament this season and possibly take its medicine in 2021 if the appeal failed. However, an ankle injury to linchpin point guard Jose Alvarado in November led to a string of non-conference losses, which were followed by competitive but costly defeats in ACC play in January.

Even after a late-season charge that had pushed Tech to a tie for fifth in the ACC after its Saturday home win over Miami, Tech’s record was such that winning the ACC tournament and capturing the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament appeared to be the Jackets’ sole route.

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At the same time, even as Tech officials held the belief that the penalties were excessive and unfair to current team members — school president Angel Cabrera told the AJC in an e-mail Sunday that he believed that the severity of the sanctions “is unprecedented and unfair to our students” — they had to consider the reality that appeals of NCAA penalties are rarely successful. As a result, the institute faced the possibility of the team not making the tournament this season, losing the appeal and then not being eligible next year, when all but one member of Pastner’s playing rotation (center James Banks) would be slated to return and positioned to be Pastner’s best team.

Moreover, in that lose/lose scenario, it would have been tempting for key returnees, such as Alvarado, forward Moses Wright and guard Michael Devoe, to contemplate transferring, which would have heavily disabled the roster and potentially put Tech and Pastner in another rebuilding situation.

Ultimately, pragmatism won out with Monday’s decision. The clear losers in this decision are Banks and fellow senior Shembari Phillips, whose last shots at playing in the NCAA tournament have disappeared. Last week, Banks said that “you know what every kid wants. You want that ‘One Shining Moment,’ ” referring to the NCAA tournament. Playing at their peak at season’s end, their teammates were also undoubtedly eager to test themselves in Greensboro. At 9-9 with two games remaining, Tech has a chance to finish above .500 in league play for the first time since 2004, when the Jackets reached the national championship game.

“The hardest part of this decision was knowing the effect that it has on the two seniors on this year’s team – James Banks and Shembari Phillips,” Stansbury said in his statement. “I am very disappointed for them and hope that our entire Georgia Tech family will rally around them to make the final games of their college basketball careers special.”

ACC officials, now scrambling to rearrange tournament scheduling and other logistics with a week’s lead time, probably weren’t crazy about the decision either, particularly its timing. Nor, presumably, are the Tech fans who have already made financial and time commitments to attend the tournament.

In a statement, Pastner said he supported and was happy about the decision and echoed his disappointment for Banks and Phillips.

“We will do everything in our power over the final two games of the season to send James and Shembari out on a high note.”

Tech plays Pitt on Wednesday at McCamish Pavilion — it will be senior night for Banks and Phillips — and will complete its season at Clemson Friday night. The Jackets will go into the 2020-21 season — which Pastner has pegged all along as the one when Tech will be ready to make the tournament — with the decks clear.