JOURNALISTIC FEUDING erupted between New York-area sports columnists over coverage of Seton Hall University's decision to offer a basketball scholarship to an accused sex offender.
Seton Hall, the Catholic university based in suburban South Orange, N.J., eventually withdrew the offer - but not until 10 days after New York high school star Richie Parker had pleaded guilty to a sex felony, and three days after press criticism sparked a public controversy.
In the journalistic fracas, sports columnists exchanged potshots - cheap shots, to some - in print. Two New Jersey sports columnists made disparaging references to the New York media. New York Post sports columnist Phil Mushnick took umbrage and accused colleagues across the Hudson River of playing hometown booster for Seton Hall.
The rift erupted after Mushnick penned a scathing attack on Seton Hall for keeping Parker's scholarship offer open - even after he had pleaded guilty. Mushnick, who read in the Hackensack, N.J.-based Record of Parker's plea and of Seton Hall's continued interest in him, joined the press opposition begun by New York Daily News sports columnist Ian O'Connor.
Parker, an 18-year-old, six-foot-five guard, whose average 25 points a game ranked him among the nation's top recruiting prospects, signed a letter of intent Nov. 14 to attend Seton Hall on full scholarship - even though he was already facing two sodomy counts in connection with a January 1994 incident in which he and another male student were accused of forcing a 14-year-old girl to perform oral sex on them in a school stairway.
Seton Hall acted on the theories that (1) the accused are innocent until proven guilty, and, (2) if it didn't sign him, another school would. The scholarship, worth about $19,000 a year, was contingent on …