Feb. 11, 2002: How in the world was Tony Cole ever accepted to the University of Georgia?

To refresh your memory, Cole is one of three UGA athletes being investigated for having raped a female student or having had consensual sex with her or some combination of both, depending on whose story you believe.

Call me naïve but I was hoping someone would say that Cole was attracted to Athens by the new School of Public and International Affairs and decided to get a head start on things by having a very public and international affair in his dorm room one night last January. But I think the truth is that he is here because of his considerable talents as a basketball player.

Admittedly, I have never met the young man but anyone who went to five different high schools and prep schools from Maine to California as well as to two community colleges, who didn’t have the grades to get into the University of Rhode Island and who is developing a higher profile as a sexual miscreant than a ball handler, had to look like trouble from the get-go.

I don’t blame basketball coach Jim Harrick for bringing Tony Cole to the University of Georgia. Harrick was hired to win games and obviously he thinks that Cole can help him do that. Rather, I blame those of us who call ourselves boosters. We applaud politely about the rising academic standards at Athens and we mean it, up to a point. But deep in our hearts we have a burning desire to consistently beat Tennessee and Florida and Georgia Tech. If it means going out on the margins and recruiting academically challenged athletes, then we say go do it. Besides, we rationalize, all the other schools do that, so why not us?

Gone are the days when athletic success was defined as winning a majority of your season’s games. Now, you have to win the conference championship and have a legitimate shot at a national championship to keep the natives happy and the sportswriters off your back. And if you are going to win consistently these days, you have to be willing to deal with a lot of kids who may be good athletes but bad character risks.

It disturbs me that my alma mater has to put up with this kind of wrong-headed thinking from a lot of alumni and from people who never spent one day in school at UGA. Having labored in the university’s fundraising vineyards for more than a few years, I can state without hesitation that the people who yell the loudest about the performance of the ball teams give the least amount of money to the university in general or they give no money at all. These people don’t care as much about SATs as they do PATs.

The rising academic level at the university is attracting so many excellent students that Athens hasn’t enough space for them all. But a good shooter or deft dribbler or snappy passer? Come right in. Someone who bopped around the nation as a part of the School-of-the-Month program can get in UGA while a good student in Lee County can’t. One can throw a no-look pass. The other one can’t.

College sports aren’t sports anymore. While we weren’t looking, they became big business. Television calls the shots. They pay the big bucks. They tell you to play your games early in the morning or late at night, never mind the inconvenience to ticket holders. If schools don’t cooperate they won’t get the money or sufficient exposure to attract enough talented 18-year-old athletes who are looking for a free ride to the pros. Don’t attract them and you won’t win. Don’t win and influential boosters will raise holy hell and make life miserable for the university.

Top-flight academic institution or national championship? Having both is damn near impossible. We have to make choices. Right now that choice seems to be an easy one for a lot of so-called supporters of the University of Georgia: Just win, baby, win. If that requires admitting a sexually overactive point guard who wouldn’t know a library from a beanbag, then so be it.