Originally created 03/14/03

Official works overtime



NEW ORLEANS - The Southeastern Conference Tournament is usually a fun time for Freddy Jones.

The tickets have been sold and the money has been made, leaving Jones - Georgia's assistant athletic director in charge of ticket operations - with time to relax and enjoy what's happening on the court.

This year's SEC Tournament has been far from ordinary - and far from fun - for Jones, who has been put in charged with selling tickets the school couldn't use after the school pulled itself from the postseason amid findings of academic fraud.

"This is the busiest I've been at an SEC Tournament in 20 years," Jones said Thursday morning.

Jones arrived in New Orleans on Tuesday hoping to unload $30,000 worth of tickets that were originally designated for use by school officials, coaches' and players' families and other members of the team's traveling party.

Ticket managers at other SEC schools helped; Kentucky and LSU needed tickets and took some off his hands. Jones said he stopped short of hawking tickets outside the Superdome, "just for the sake of appearance."

"We've recouped some of our losses, but we've still got some to sell," he said.

On Monday, after Georgia president Michael Adams and athletic director Vince Dooley announced the Bulldogs' season was over because of findings of academic fraud in a class taught by former assistant coach Jim Harrick Jr., the athletic department offered refunds to fans who purchased tickets to the SEC Tournament.

Jones said his office has received "very few" calls from fans who want their money back.

"Some people were upset because they weren't getting refunds on their airline tickets or hotel rooms," Jones said. "Some of them had vacation days they took to come here."

Jones and other Georgia officials who made the trip said it feels strange representing a team that isn't even in New Orleans. It doesn't help that the program has been beset by scandal and criticism since Feb. 27, when former player Tony Cole went public with allegations of severe improprieties under Bulldogs head coach Jim Harrick and his son, Jim Harrick Jr.

"I've got friends here who come up to me and want to comfort me and say something nice," Jones said. "It's just awkward. And it's also strange being here and not being able to pull for the Dogs."

Being saddled with the burden of hawking tickets hasn't made things any easier.

"We're still a business," Jones said. "We had to buy these tickets, and we're going to recoup as much as we can, just from fiscal responsibility."

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or larry.williams@augustachronicle.com.