Case No. 427 (Confidential Report No. 78  by the National Collegiate Athletic Association Committee on Infractions to the NCAA Council) began quietly, if ominously, enough on Oct. 4, 1972 with a form letter from NCAA Assistant Executive Director Warren Brown to Long Beach State President Stephen Horn. The key passage read: "This letter is a preliminary indication of a possible inquiry into the athletic practices and policies of California State College, Long Beach."
In the succeeding months two NCAA investigators periodically appeared on the Long Beach campus for what they called "visits" with several basketball and football players. All-America Ed Ratleff, quizzed for an hour about possible illegal offers made by the basketball staff, recalls: "I told them, 'Look, I don't have anything to tell you. Why don't you go over to UCLA or some other school where they have money and talk to them?' "
Quarterback Randy Drake, summoned from the practice field and ushered into an office while still in full uniform, pronounced himself "insulted" by the tenor of the questioning and clomped out the door with helmet in hand. Word went around that, as one beaming player put it upon emerging from the interrogation room, "everybody and everything is cool at Long Beach."
The investigation, however, not only continued but broadened. Soon there were accounts of NCAA investigators talking to relatives and friends of players, to high school coaches, playground directors, bankers, teachers, girl friends, landlords, boosters, lawyers and handwriting analysts. NCAA investigators, it was reported, were asking hard questions about Long Beach State in New York, Detroit, San Francisco, Phoenix, St. Louis, Las Vegas, East Rutherford, N.J., Hattiesburg, Miss., Ypsilanti, Mich. and the Los Angeles County Jail. They were scrutinizing credit-card receipts, test scores, foundation budgets, car registrations, checking accounts, travel vouchers, grade transcripts, bank loans and motel records. They were, it was whispered, talking to everybody. They were probing into everything.
Still, the feeling prevailed that Long Beach State was clean, that at worst the NCAA sleuths might turn up a minor infraction or two. But just in case, whenever the subject of the NCAA investigation was seriously broached, some coaches and boosters began secretly tape-recording their conversations.
On April 1, 1973, after five seasons at Long Beach State, Basketball Coach Jerry Tarkanian accepted "a long-standing offer that is too good to refuse" and left for a new coaching job at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Four days later Warren Brown sent another letter to President Horn. The key passage read: "The allegations and charges have been investigated and appear to be of sufficient substance to warrant an official inquiry."
On Jan. 1, 1974, making good on "a promise I made to my wife two years ago," Football Coach Jim Stangeland resigned after his fifth season at Long Beach State and went into private business.
Five days later, at its 68th annual convention in San Francisco, the NCAA Council ruled: "California State University, Long Beach, has been placed on indefinite probation for not less than three years. The probationary period covers the sports of basketball and football and sanctions include prohibiting the 49ers from appearing in any postseason competition and from appearing in any NCAA television packages in those sports. In the judgment of the Council, the violations involved in this case were among the most serious which it has ever considered."
On Jan. 8, after futile attempts at gaining an appeal, Long Beach State reluctantly complied with NCAA rules and declared ineligible Roscoe Pondexter and Glenn McDonald, both starters on the school's nationally ranked basketball team. Each player was cited for having "a fraudulent test score credited to him which, in fact, he knew he did not properly achieve." Case No. 427, the NCAA then decreed, was closed.
But in Long Beach and elsewhere the deep wound inflicted by the NCAA is still very much open and festering; questions are still being asked. Was Long Beach State the victim of an NCAA vendetta? Is Jerry Tarkanian a criminal? Was there some unique evil force at work? Did Jim Stangeland escape unscathed? Is everyone telling the truth?
The answer to all of the above is no. The two big questions, however, remain: What really happened? Is what happened indicative of a degeneration of order and morality throughout college sport? A few things are certain at Long Beach: before, during and after the NCAA issued its communiques, intercollegiate athletics at Long Beach State was, as elsewhere, a complex mix of men and motives, a source of pride and achievement and, alas, cause for great bitterness and suspicion.
Any understanding of Case No. 427 must begin with an appreciation of what is and what is not happening these days behind the scenes in intercollegiate sport. To be blunt, cheating as defined by the NCAA is widespread. Allowing for exaggeration, for unfounded rumors, for accusations made as excuses for defeat, there are too many complaints from too many quarters to conclude otherwise.
There are, for example, the declarations of such coaches as Pepperdine's Gary Colson: "I don't think you can win big without cheating." Or Ed Murphy, who recently resigned from New Mexico State where he was an assistant basketball coach and chief recruiter: "This is the worst year I've ever seen for cheating." Or Penn State's Joe Paterno: "There were probably more illegal offers made in recruiting last year than ever before." Or Texas' Darrell Royal: "You're out there trying to sell yourself and your school and the prospect ain't hearing a word you're saying. All he's wondering is when you're going to start talking money." Or Indiana's Bobby Knight: "When they get to the bottom of Watergate, they'll find a football coach." Or Notre Dame's Digger Phelps: "I think we've created a monster."
The NCAA's reaction, attacking the effect rather than the cause, is to crack down harder. But with a grand total of four full-time investigators, 669 member institutions and a 253-page manual jam-packed with a bewildering array of regulations, NCAA enforcement is still at best a hit-and-mostly-miss proposition.
"If cheating is so universal," says one NCAA investigator, "then why isn't my phone jumping off the hook?" The answer: because the NCAA's dependence on tips from informers repels most of those who are supposed to be doing the informing. "I've never blown the whistle on anyone yet," says Joe Paterno, "and I never will." A cynic would add that if the NCAA is wanting for proof of wickedness, it is only because, after so many years of practice, the amateurs have become pros at covering up.
The majority of coaches take the attitude of South Carolina's Frank McGuire: "Most of the time I don't want to know what goes on. When a prize recruit comes in here, he's shown around by Mr. So-and-So, a prominent businessman. Whatever happens, happens on that end."
Drastic changes are needed, but by its very structure the NCAA is too bureaucratic to implement, much less expedite, the kind of extreme solution proposed by Pan American University's Abe Lemons: "The only answer is to give every coach a lie-detector test, beginning with those guys whose teams make the playoffs. They could never publish the results, though. Lordy, it would blow the lid off."
The NCAA investigative team, concerned only with the breaking and not the making of the rules, keeps the lid on one sensitive issue simply by ignoring it. It is, nonetheless, a fact that as more and more black athletes leave the ghetto to go to college, more and more (95% of the athletes cited in the Long Beach State case) run afoul of the NCAA.
Questions of exploitation aside, ghettos mean economic and cultural deprivation, which in turn means that the most common and flagrant abuses of NCAA rules occur in the areas of transportation and grade qualification. How, in short, does an impoverished black athlete get to the far-flung college of his choice? And once there how does he measure up to white, middle-class entrance-exam standards that are, most educators agree, discriminatory and no true measure of intelligence? More often than not, the answer is—with a little help from his friends.
To that add the easy everybody-else-is-doing-it rationale, the insidious lure of the fat pro contract, the proliferation of fast-buck agents, the overeagerness of well-heeled boosters, the increasing competition for bodies and, perhaps most of all, the ever-present pressure to win, and you have Cases No. 428 through No. 1,000.
Long Beach State itself began as a charity case. Originally populated by retired folk from the Midwest, the city was a lot less interested in higher education than in lower curbs to accommodate wheelchair traffic. Through the 1940s Long Beach was also a sailor's town; when the Pacific Fleet finally weighed anchor, it left behind a sprawling shipyard to the west and a string of tattoo parlors and a tawdry carnival midway called "the Pike" hard by the sea.
Affluence of a sort came with the development of oil rights, and for years the city's favored sons, leaving behind oil pumps that still incessantly nod away in backyards and between supermarkets, went off to seek knowledge at USC and UCLA. The less endowed enrolled in something called Los Angeles-Orange County State College, which consisted of a faculty of 13 teaching 160 students in the living rooms, bedrooms and even bathrooms of a converted apartment house. The nickname 49ers was adopted not as a reflection of the area's rich and colorful past—no gold miner's pick ever broke ground in Long Beach—but because the school happened to be founded in 1949.
With the donation of 320 hilly acres that once were bean fields, LA-OCSC replanted and reclassified itself as Long Beach State College. In no time at all, through sundry cross-pollinations—California State College at Long Beach; California State College, Long Beach; California State University, Long Beach—it sprouted into an instant megaversity. Now, with an enrollment of 31,674, Long Beach State is larger than either of its far more celebrated neighbors, UCLA and USC.
For all its rapid, protean growth, Long Beach State was long known as "The Mausoleum on the Hill." Through the eras of panty raids and student demonstrations, about the only excitement on the hill was the daily traffic snarls in parking lots that are larger than some college campuses. Commuter-based (only 865 students live on campus), older (average age: 24), more self-supporting (40% are employed) and other-directed (40% are married), the Long Beach State student body is not inclined to get misty-eyed at the first strains of the College Hymn, much less turn out in howling masses to see the Brown and Gold knock heads on the playing fields.
For its part, Long Beach is trying to assert its rights as a city that is larger than Miami but less renowned than, say, Youngstown. Promoters are busily striving to sell the city's very salable sun-sea-and-sailboat image, plus such attractions as the nouveau-quaint Seaport Village and the doughty old Queen Mary, the $63 million tourist gamble that is afloat—but just barely—right out there among towering offshore oil rigs that are dressed up like Disneyland rides.
Vestiges of early bean fields remain, if only in the mind. Striving to disassociate itself from the urban sprawl that is Greater Los Angeles, city and college suffer from what President Horn calls an "Avis complex." Athletically, basketball in Long Beach still means the Los Angeles Lakers and UCLA, football the Los Angeles Rams and USC. Laments one native, "Even the earthquake that virtually shattered Long Beach in 1933 is known as the Los Angeles earthquake."
A man named Fred Miller, a seismic force in his own right, tried to change all that. An assistant football coach at Long Beach State looking to make better use of his Ph. D., he took over as athletic director in 1967. Young, aggressive and possessed of a vision of the 49ers competing before cheering throngs in a 40,000-seat domed stadium, he began by searching for new coaching talent and forth-rightly confronting the Big Question: Will Long Beach support a winner?
There was no easy answer, especially considering that 49er basketball games were held in a dinky—and half vacant—gymnasium while the football team had to travel six miles to play its home games at Veterans Memorial Stadium, a one-sided structure with 17,500 seats—12,000 or more of them usually empty when the 49ers took the field.
But Miller hustled. Oh, how he hustled. An ex-tackle for the Washington Redskins, he led power plays to help found the Pacific Coast Athletic Association and such seemingly big-league appurtenances as the Pasadena Bowl. "Fred didn't go over people's heads to get things done," recalls a friend, "he went through them."
"True," says Miller, relaxing on his patio in Tempe, Ariz., where he is now the athletic director at Arizona State. "There were no channels to go through in those days, no real athletic department. We were an appendage of the phys ed department and we had to grub for everything. Our budget was so tight you could play a tune on it."
Jerry Tarkanian found that out in 1968 when, without bothering to ask about salary, he came to Long Beach State from Pasadena City College and discovered that his $13,300 annual reward for making it to the "bigs" represented a $4,900 pay cut. Tarkanian was Miller's No. 1 choice to bring the school fans, fame and fortune, probably in that order. In four seasons at Riverside City College and two at Pasadena he had taken a pair of last-place basketball teams and run up a 201-11 record, winning four conference and four state junior college titles in the process.
Tarkanian, a native of Euclid, Ohio, who migrated West after his father died when he was 11, looks like a retired welterweight boxer. That tough-guy visage helped gain him a reputation as a coach who had rapport with what he calls the question-mark kids, the talented but often troubled youths who come off the asphalt courts carrying a basketball and a grudge.
There were, for instance, the Trapp brothers, John Q. and George, whose parents moved from Detroit to California for the expressed purpose of having their sons play for Tarkanian, "the only man," said their father, "who could ever handle those boys." Recalls Tarkanian: "John Q. couldn't hold a conversation or look you in the eye when I first got him. George was mean, vicious. You should see them today." John Q. is now back with his mentor in Las Vegas, completing the few credits he needs for his degree. George, meanwhile, is a $120,000-a-year forward for the Detroit Pistons.
Then there was Sam Robinson, a high school All-America from Los Angeles who moved to Pasadena with his mother and younger brothers so he, too, could play JC ball under Tarkanian. It was one big—very big—family.
Tarkanian's wife Lois, who has a master's degree in education, helped the players brush up on their reading skills, did their laundry, sent turkeys to their homes at Christmas, arranged job interviews and regularly drove their relatives to work. Tarkanian, a shouter of the old school, added the finishing touches—or hard knocks, when needed—on the court during practice.
Word got around that Tarkanian was a special kind of coach, that he would rip you and jive you but never deny you, that, as Lewis Brown, one of four high school All-Americas who followed him to Las Vegas, puts it, "Tark ain't white, man, he's Armenian."
Teachers and playground leaders in the inner cities of Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, New York and points between began to send Tarkanian players for placement in junior colleges throughout the West. He obliged, in effect developing a vast and highly effective farm system that served him abundantly as he moved into the four-year college ranks.
Known as Tark the Shark to rival coaches, he came to Long Beach State as a kind of Father Flanagan of the hardwood whose teams were havens for the wayward. Of course, only supershooters need apply.
If Tarkanian was Spencer Tracy, then Ivan Duncan was his Mickey Rooney, a brash, wisecracking type who joined his old junior college coach at Long Beach State as a graduate assistant after nine years of "jocking it up" for the Air Force in the Far East. An honors graduate in English literature, Duncan communicated with players in a stream of hip street talk that not only got through but seemed to come out in iambic pentameter.
Duncan, who did not go on the payroll until September, and then received just $480 a year for teaching two volleyball classes, hit the recruiting trail with Tarkanian in May 1968. "Our recruiting budget was only $600," exclaims Tarkanian. "We were allotted 42 pairs of basketball shoes, so I knocked off 14 pairs and put the extra $150 into recruiting. While other coaches were fishing or playing golf, Ivan and I worked and worked and worked, 14 hours a day, seven days a week. I don't ever remember sitting down to eat with my family. One of the reasons I left Pasadena was to get out of the smog and onto the beach. I don't think I even saw the ocean that first year."
Tarkanian and Duncan did see every spring and summer league basketball game within a 60-mile radius and haunted the playgrounds and recreation centers. They went to prospects' graduations, to their parties, to their sisters' weddings. When Duncan heard that the father of one coveted player was a tippler, he took a fifth of vodka to the home and made his pitch as they got drunk together. "It didn't work, though," says Tarkanian. "Another school in the area bought his parents off with a house and job for the father at Columbia Pictures."
Once, after 19 consecutive days on the road, Tarkanian was stopped by a state trooper late at night for weaving in and out of his lane. After giving him a sobriety test, the cop correctly diagnosed that Tarkanian was suffering from galloping fatigue and escorted him to the nearest motel. Says Tarkanian, "Ivan always said, 'If you see a coach with a camper or a fishing pole or a golf club, fire him. He's a loser.' And he's right."
Tarkanian, once described as having worry beads for eyes, had no need to fret. When the time came to enlist his recruits, he merely tugged on his long line of contacts and reeled in five of the best JC players in the state. Led by the redoubtable Sam Robinson and billed as "The Fastest Growing Power in the West," Long Beach State waltzed through a 23-3 season and won the school its first conference championship.
Times remained tough, however. While Tarkanian was out trying to drum up support at frat houses and Rotary luncheons, Duncan held forth on the telephone. "I'd call people in Long Beach trying to find summer jobs for the players and they didn't know where the school was," he remembers. "I'd say, 'You know, the place by the VA hospital,' and they'd say, 'Oh, that place.' We were nobodies, nonentities. No tradition, no famous grads. It was like being in high school."
When, heady with the success of their first season, Tarkanian and Duncan blew $22 on a lunch with two prospects, the school bounced their expense account, explaining that Long Beach State never had spent that kind of money on a recruiting lunch. "Right away," says Tarkanian, "Ivan wrote a note back saying, 'That's because this school never has recruited any top-quality players before.' "
Tarkanian began believing the top-quality line himself when his grapevine informed him that Ed Ratleff, one of the most hustled-after prospects in the country, was wavering on his commitment to Florida State. Quickly borrowing $350 from a friend, Tarkanian flew to Columbus, Ohio and moved in with Ratleff's high school principal. In short order Ratleff moved out for Long Beach and Tarkanian had his first bona fide, out-of-state "super." "We sold Eddie on the idea that he could come to Long Beach and put it on the map," says Duncan, "and he found that very romantic."
With Ratleff averaging 40 points and 25 rebounds a game for the freshman team, Tarkanian made do with Robinson, George Trapp ("George didn't even know what a scholarship was," says Tarkanian, "he just went where I went") and a makeshift road show. The mighty 49ers traveled to away games in private cars. When Sam Robinson's clunker snapped a fan belt, the school refused to reimburse him. "Unreal," says Tarkanian, still cringing at the memory.
The team always stayed in Motel 6s—$6 a night, rooms with linoleum floors and, for those who had it, 25¢ for the coin-operated TV. "We couldn't afford a pregame steak, much less a training table," says Tarkanian. "I told the players that sirloin curled up in their stomachs and was bad for them and that ground beef—I never called it hamburger—made them play better. And whenever we went into a restaurant, Ivan the Terrible would go in the kitchen and put the arm on the cook to knock down the prices. I'll bet there's never been another team that made it into the Top Ten on hamburgers."
Lean and hungry, the Motel 6 gypsies posted a 23-3 season and won the Pacific Coast conference title before bowing to UCLA 88-65 in the 1970 NCAA Western Regionals in Seattle.
Tarkanian's third season was more of the same except that there were, so to speak, seconds on the hamburger; aid for the needy was beginning to trickle in. Some players, taking advantage of a booster's cut-rate rental offer, were living in an oceanfront apartment house called the Pacific Holiday Towers. A $50-a-plate dinner on the Queen Mary raised $7,500 for the Jerry Tarkanian Fund. And a group of 20 supporters founded the Hoopster Club and rallied round, impressed as much as anything with Tarkanian's obsession with basketball. At Hoopster luncheons he was introduced as "a guy who does not know there is a war in Vietnam, but he does know where the best forward in the country is."
They weren't kidding. Once when UCLA fans, in a timely reflection of the headlines, held up a sign saying JERRY TARKANIAN, WORLD'S GREATEST COACH, BY CLIFFORD IRVING, the World's Greatest turned to a reporter and said, "Who's Clifford Irving?"
In 1971, as Tarkanian's team crept into the national rankings for the first time, people began asking, "Who's Long Beach State?" With sophomore Ratleff flashing his Ail-American form, the 49ers were 22-4 when they qualified for the Western Regionals in Salt Lake City. When Tarkanian found to his horror that UCLA was booked on the same flight, he quickly switched planes lest his players see that the Bruins were flying first class while they were going tourist. Nonetheless, UCLA got in its intimidating licks. Recalls Lois Tarkanian: "When Curtis Rowe walked through the airport, he was wearing a cashmere coat, alligator shoes and a hat that must have cost $100. And there was Eddie Ratleff, an All-America, in his Long Beach windbreaker, jeans and basketball shoes. I was so ashamed."
On the court, however, the 49ers dressed down the Bruins long enough to give them one of their biggest tournament scares in years. While Mrs. Trapp was buried in her Bible and Lois, eyes tightly shut, was fingering her rosary beads, Long Beach State surged to an 11-point lead in the second half. But Ratleff fouled out for the only time in his college career and UCLA escaped with a 57-55 win.
"That was the moment," says Tarkanian, when everybody stood up and took notice of Long Beach State—including the NCAA."
Football Coach Jim Stangeland first gained notice in the Long Beach area as a standout high school end. Skipper of a B-24 bomber crew during World War II, he won three successive Border Conference pole-vaulting titles while at Arizona State. The "Colonel" was well connected in the community, having spent eight years at Long Beach City College compiling a 60-14-2 record and three national JC titles. Then it was on to USC where for four years he was John McKay's offensive line coach and, or so he has said, chief West Coast recruiter.
When the Colonel assumed command at Long Beach State he found, like Tarkanian before him, that operating capital was meager. His teams, too, had to endure debilitating inconveniences. Once, unable to stay overnight after an away game because of the added expense, the players had to check out of their rooms at noon on the day of a night game and loll around the gym for five or six hours before getting into uniform.
Given a $12,000 budget that might be mistaken for John McKay's cigar money, Stangeland set out to "get some dough into the program" by founding a Touchdown Club: "Provide a scholarship for a hard-nosed youngster who is dedicated to build and not tear down."
In its first year, with Stangeland giving it the old go-team-go from the sidelines, the club raised a munificent $30,000. "In basketball all you need is one or two supers and you're on your way," says Stangeland. "In football you need a lot more. That's why I was spending 70% of my time recruiting boosters."
He did a good job, fielding a team of businessmen who enjoyed having their pictures taken with the players and wearing their yellow coach's jackets and caps on the sidelines. There were, for instance, "Coach" Russell Guiver, president of Signal Mortgage Co., "Coach" John Read, a wealthy Long Beach realtor, and City Councilman Don Phillips, proprietor of Phillips' Original Chicken Pie restaurants. "Coach Chicken Pie," the players called him.
The soliciting of more menacing types was left to Bill Miller, a former high school assistant coach who presided over Stangeland's offensive line. A loyalist, Miller's oft-repeated credo was, "I'd do anything for The Man." The best thing he did for Stangeland the first season was corral Leon Burns, a 230-pound running back from Oakland. "I sold Leon one bill of goods," says Miller, "that we would 'be using the I formation at Long Beach and he would be the big shot. He bought it."
A weight lifter, Burns gained a degree of notoriety when he grabbed a handy fullback and effortlessly cleaned and jerked him for the benefit of photographers. He earned more lasting fame in 1969, Stangeland's first season, when he led the NCAA college division in rushing with 1,659 yards and in touchdowns with 27 to pace Long Beach to an 8-3 record.
With Burns playing hurt the following year, a 9.4 sprinter from Des Moines named Jim Kirby took up the slack by scoring seven touchdowns from 25 or more yards out. His longest gainer was a flashing 82-yard run that helped Long Beach State break San Diego State's 31-game unbeaten streak and clinch the PCAA title for the 49ers.
So Athletic Director Fred Miller got his winners—seven conference champions in 11 sports in 1971, to be exact. But fan support was so minimal that he occasionally took to padding attendance figures. Looking to upgrade the basketball schedule without depleting the budget, Miller tried to intercept class teams traveling to the Los Angeles area. If UCLA, for instance, guaranteed a team $5,000, he would offer $1,500, "since you're going to be in the neighborhood anyway."
Miller says that, as a recruiting tool, "Stangeland wanted to schedule some blue-chip opponents to impress blue-chip prospects. So we signed a no-option contract for an away game at Ole Miss. We agreed to $25,000 and no percentage of the gate, and Ole Miss gladly kept the rest, about $175,000." If the deal was profitable for Ole Miss, it was prestigious for the 49ers, even though they lost 29-13. "That's called new math," says Miller.
To get coverage of 49er games on a local country-music station, Miller had to sell advertising time himself. A chef who had some experience slaving over a hot mike was hired to do the play-by-play for $50 a game. To shave costs further, Miller sat in as color man on the program. Chef-Commentator: "What's your analysis of that last scoring play, Fred?" Fred: "Yahoo!"
At Miller's urging, local merchants helped out. Place mats at Phillips' Original Chicken Pie restaurants carried 49er schedules; game tickets, according to the plug on the back, were printed compliments of the Dilday Family Funeral Home. But lots of little things seemed to go wrong. To hype the gate for the big intrasquad game one spring, Jumping Joe Gerlach agreed to do his "death-defying leap from a hot-air balloon into a sponge." After the game, when Jumping Joe dropped 40 feet onto a portable bed, he flopped in more ways than one. There were only 400 spectators in the stands. When arrangements were made to have the football team burst through a paper hoop and come charging onto the field, the 49er captain got through the hoop all right, but then crashed into a bench someone had forgotten to remove.
Most distressing was the fact that the pep rallies looked like they were catered by the Dilday Family. "We'd sit out there in the quadrangle," says Miller, "band, players, coaches, cheerleaders, and we came very close to outnumbering the students. We finally stopped holding rallies because it got too embarrassing."
Seasonal gate receipts were no more encouraging. In 1971 average attendance for home football games was 5,400, for basketball 3,600. Also, by then Stephen Horn, at best only a casual sports fan, was in his second year as president. Assistant to the Secretary of Labor during the Eisenhower Administration, former dean of graduate studies at American University in Washington, D.C., vice-chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a crack administrator and a man said to have political ambitions, Horn was not interested in building any cockamamy domed stadium. He wanted to score a big gain for social awareness by erecting a day-care center.
Still convinced that "if we were going to build a winning program at Long Beach State we needed something unique like a domed stadium," Miller recalls, "the time came to again ask myself: Will Long Beach support a winner? The answer was no—at least not right away." Miller left for Arizona State in April 1971.
He was replaced as athletic director by Lew Comer, a God-fearing Texan who lived by the Good Book—the NCAA manual. Aware that the protectors of the NCAA commandments might one day be hearing confessions, he distributed manuals like a Gideons society disciple to all the Long Beach State coaches. "If you were sitting in my chair," says Comer, "a hundred things, illegal kinds of things, could be happening and you would never know it. If you snooped around with helicopters and binoculars, you'd see lots of stuff."
What Basketball Coach Tarkanian saw in his fourth and fifth seasons at Long Beach State were glimmerings of the big time. His nationally ranked 49ers were in the process of making a permanent shift to the 9,600-seat Long Beach Arena and, though only a hard-core 4,000 or so fans continued to show up, they at least had more elbow room. Tarkanian, doing some elbowing of his own, was given tenure, a private office and, compliments of the boosters, a nine-day vacation in Hawaii, which he found nerve-racking. "I sat on the beach drawing plays in the sand with a stick. I kept thinking I was losing somebody."
Not with Ivan the Terrible manning the battlements. Beginning with their fourth season on the recruiting circuit, Tarkanian and Duncan's backyard operation spread—thanks in part to the $61,000 share of tournament money the team got for appearing in two straight NCAA playoffs—to the neighborhood. Any neighborhood. Suddenly, there was Tarkanian, the man who had trouble making fan-belt ends meet, in the distant wilds of East Rutherford, N.J., laying claim to Les Cason, a 6'11" schoolboy he had never seen play.
Suddenly, too, there was George Gervin, a sharpshooting forward out of Detroit, and Ernie Douse, the 1971 New York City Player of the Year, and Leonard Gray, a highly touted transfer from Kansas, checking in at Long Beach State. And all along the Father Flanagan hot line was tied up with calls for help like the one from Creighton Coach Eddie Sutton: "Tark, we've got this 7-footer named Nate Stevens who's not working out here. Take him off our hands, will you?" Tark took him.
Jerry and the Vagabonds, as chiding opponents were wont to say, had gone national. But nowhere was there a worse example of the grubby infighting that was going on in college recruiting than right up the freeway in Fresno, Calif. at the four-room house of Roscoe and Clifton Pondexter.
Roscoe, the highest-scoring schoolboy in California history, recalls the day "a TV star drove into the ghetto in a big white Caddy. He took me across town and showed me a five-bedroom house. Then he showed me a brand-new blue sunroof. That was hard to turn down." When the mayor of Fresno tried to cajole him into remaining on the home front, Roscoe shot back, "Why should I go to Fresno State when you won't even pave the road in front of my house?"
At the time, says Roscoe, "I'd never even heard of the NCAA. I thought it was like the pros, where you just sat back and waited for the best offer. But I didn't like the idea of somebody trying to buy me. You know, they figure we're from a poor background so just lay out the green and we'll jump at it. Well, my mom said that if I let them buy me they'd own me forever. Tark said that, too. That's one reason why I went to Long Beach State."
While Roscoe was wooed, there was lusting for Clifton, too. Soon the Pondexters had a front man to keep the suitors off the back porch. Says Ken Delpit, the Pondexter boys' former assistant high school coach, "The recruiters started coming around in Clifton's sophomore year and there got to be so many of them that he wouldn't come out of his room. He had over 300 offers and 80% of them were illegal.
"Washington State offered Clifton an Eldorado and sent him $100 to pay for phone calls to his girl friend. Fresno State offered me an assistant coach's job if I delivered him. When the West Coast Relays came to Fresno at least 10 schools offered Clifton free hotel rooms where he could throw a party and charge anything to room service.
"A Pac-8 school put $10,000 on the dining-room table next to the letter of intent. Mrs. Pondexter was so insulted she got up and walked out of the room. Clifton took me into the kitchen and said, 'What is going on?' What if Clifton had been an undercover agent for the NCAA? Wow!"
When the real NCAA agents infiltrated Long Beach, they operated on the likelihood that the better the player the worse the hanky-panky. That led them to the talented likes of Running Back Terry Metcalf a JC transfer who took up where Leon Burns and Jim Kirby left off by powering for a conference record 1,673 yards and 29 touchdowns to ensure another PCAA title for the 49ers in Coach Stangeland's third season.
The NCAA investigators also sought out other heavily recruited players like Tight End John Turner and Linebacker Charles Lewis, whose laments are variations on the Pondexter theme. Turner, for example, says, "I first became disillusioned when I was in junior college and two coaches from Tulsa and two from Long Beach cornered me in a campus parking lot and started a tug of war. They kept screaming insults at each other until I thought they were going to come to blows. I felt like a piece of beef."
President Horn undoubtedly felt like chopped liver when on April 5. 1973 the NCAA sent him a long, incriminating list of allegations in question form and charged the school with the responsibility of gathering replies from all parties concerned. Ordered, in effect, to have the university assist in tying the noose for its own public hanging, Horn reluctantly went along.
Athletic Director Comer, armed with a tape recorder and his trusty NCAA manual, was sent out like a roving reporter to ask the NCAA's prickly questions, a thankless and demeaning chore that took him five months and 300 man-hours to complete. The allegations not only implicated Tarkanian, Ivan Duncan and the products of their more prosperous years—Ratleff, Douse, Gervin, Gray and Roscoe Pondexter—as well as Stangeland, Bill Miller and their prime recruits—Burns, Kirby, Metcalf, Turner and Lewis—but myriad other interested bystanders whose revelations, the NCAA hoped, might sharpen the focus.
Playing the NCAA version of 20 Questions became so burdensome in the spring and summer of 1973 that Don Gill, vice-president of the Long Beach State Foundation, and John Shainline, dean of students, had to help out. One of their more awkward confrontations was the trial-by-telephone of Vic Weiss, a Los Angeles auto dealer and longtime friend of Tarkanian who serves as agent for George Trapp and other 49er basketball players in their dealings with the pros. Excerpts:
Gill: O.K., the first question says, quote, "It is alleged, that during the early spring of 1972 then student-athlete Ernie Douse entered into an agreement with a representative of the university's athletic interest, Victor Weiss, for the marketing of his athletic ability. Specifically, this agreement provided for Weiss to give financial assistance to Douse during the period of his attendance at the university as well as other benefits in return for the right for Weiss to represent him in future professional basketball negotiations. Please indicate whether this information is substantially correct and submit evidence to support your response."
Weiss: I never had any agreement with Ernie at all....
Gill: O.K., the next one is on page 224, question 2, quote:' "It is alleged that prior to the 1973 Easter vacation then student-athlete Ernie Douse was given cash to spend during a return trip to his home by a representative of the university's athletic interest, Victor Weiss."
Weiss: I didn't give Ernie any cash for any vacation.... In the previous discussion with the NCAA it was supposedly a check, not cash, and I already made my account available to them but they never came back to look at it....
Gill: They did not look at it? I think that's important that they didn't take the time to see it when it was available. Then they go back and write up these allegations and make us do all of it....
Weiss: Off the record, if Ernie Douse can remember all these dates, somebody must have fed him a lot of brain food since I talked to him last....
Shainline: Why, couldn't he remember how to add and subtract in his classes?
Gill: Never mind that. He couldn't remember our game plan. You know, the 3-2 zone. He couldn't remember that.
Shainline: Did you, Victor Weiss, let Ernie Douse have money to go home in June 1973?
Weiss: Yes.... He said that he had been dropped from school and that he had no way to get home and he needed money for a plane ticket.... So I gave Ernie the $150 and that was the last I ever saw him.
Gill: Our problem here, Vic, is that we think the NCAA in some ways has overstepped its bounds and we've just about had enough of it, but I'm not sure we're going to do anything about it.
The results of the interrogations were sent to the NCAA last August. In the ensuing weeks President Horn and his assistants jetted between cities, challenging charges and pleading for clemency before various NCAA tribunals.
Somebody listened, for when the NCAA Council opened its convention in San Francisco on Jan. 6 it softened the proposed punishment somewhat, most notably by dropping a penalty that prohibited the coaches from leaving the campus to recruit. The NCAA also inserted into the announcement of penalties a line that noted "a mitigating circumstance," namely that the "vast majority of violations were considered to be the responsibility of the previous executive and athletic administration."
But nothing mitigated the shock waves that struck Long Beach. Among the hardest hit was Lute Olson, the coach named as Tarkanian's successor partly because, some say, of his contrasting saintly mien. Given the distasteful duty of having to break the bad news to his team, he called the players into an empty classroom after practice and began in a halting voice, "I have something very difficult to tell you." Clifton Pondexter, 6'8", 230 pounds and the nation's top freshman, wept.
Upon returning to the gym, Olson noticed for the first time a banner urging ALL THE WAY TO THE NCAA. His team's record was 10 and 1; an NCAA championship had not been an impossible dream. He ordered the banner removed. Late that night, while alone in his bedroom, he read aloud the framed copy of the Optimist Creed he keeps on his dresser: "Promise yourself to be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind...."
Clifton Pondexter was not even given time to find peace of mind. Just a few days later, crashing the funeral as it were, recruiters from several schools, including UCLA, tracked him down and tried to talk him into transferring.
The headlines—Long Beach State "Slammed," "Gunned Down," "Socked"—elicited angry countercharges of "kangaroo-court farce," "Gestapo tactics" and "secret squealers." Said Colonel Stangeland: "The NCAA coming into Long Beach on its witch hunt is like the United Nations marching on Poland for not fighting fair against Germany in World War II."
Tarkanian, who has vowed never again to set foot in Long Beach, flew to Los Angeles for a press conference. "It makes me sick," he said, "that anyone can punish athletes and rip a coach to pieces without giving them a chance to defend themselves. And how can they say the violations are the responsibility of the former administrations? Horn has been at Long Beach for four years and Comer three."
In San Francisco, meanwhile, the beset Horn was waging another futile war of words. Shunted from one NCAA committee to another, he tried to appeal the ineligibility ruling against Roscoe Pondexter and Glenn McDonald, arguing that "it violates every precept of Anglo-Saxon law. First you send a guy to the chair and then you try to get a writ of habeas corpus to see if you can revive the body." But the more Horn struggled the deeper he sank into the quagmire of NCAA rules and went under without a ripple.
The bereft 49ers proved more buoyant. Before the tip-off of a game against the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Olson told Clifton, "You'll have to play for both Pondexters tonight." Underdogs because of the absence of the two starters, Long Beach State hit 65', of its shots and Clifton scored 17 points and raked in 14 rebounds as the 49ers won 72-53, dealing Pacific its worst home-court loss in 13 years.
The next day Harry Simon, a self-styled "people lawyer," performed a legal fast break that proved just as successful. He won for Pondexter and McDonald a federal court temporary restraining order that reinstated the two players. Pondexter and McDonald celebrated by teaching their lawyer how to lay on five.
Tarkanian's lot was not as jubilant. That night, during a game between his Las Vegas Rebels and St. Mary's College in Moraga, Calif., rival fans pointed at Tarkanian and chanted, "Crook! Crook! Crook!" Lois Tarkanian burst into tears, and the Rebels lost 69-66.
Long Beach fans were not much more heartwarming. On Jan. 17 Don Dyer, president of the 49er Athletic Foundation, sent a letter to all boosters announcing that the city council had declared Jan. 26 Long Beach State Loyalty Day. The key passage read: "The most important contribution that any of us can make that day is to fill the Arena for the basketball game that evening against Northern Illinois. This will be our first home game since the NCAA sanctions have been announced and will give us an opportunity to show the University and the basketball team that we are not going to desert them in this their most difficult hour." On Loyalty Day night Long Beach State defeated Northern Illinois 106-71; there were 3,500 empty seats in the Arena.
Perhaps it was President Horn who put Case No. 427 into the sharpest human perspective when he said: "We got to the top so fast that none of our people had a rigorous education into what things are accepted and which are no-nos."
Figures (Coach Jerry Tarkanian, left; Roscoe Pondexter, right) and fragments in puzzle.
The 74 charges made by the NCAA against Long Beach State are revealed in detail along with contradictory—and sometimes chilling—testimony by the principals.