MAKING COST-OF-LIVING AND OTHER ALLOWANCES FOR CHEATING AT USC
Ethical standards often come into conflict. They did for Coach Goux. By beginning to sell players' tickets, he chose compassion and a chance to meet the severe financial needs of certain students...
—James H. Zumberge
With those words of self-justification, the president of mighty USC angrily threatened last week to bring suit against the NCAA. Zumberge was reacting to the NCAA's imposition of a three-year probation on the Trojan football team, which has won eight national championships and 19 bowl games. Less happily, USC has also been tainted by scandal. In 1980 it was barred for one season from bowl games by the Pac-10 for academic abuses involving athletes. That year the school also released the findings of an in-house probe that over the previous decade the USC athletic department had skirted normal admissions standards to get 330 "academically marginal" athletes into school. Then, two weeks ago, the NCAA found USC guilty of generating cash payments to football players through an elaborate ticket-scalping scheme that had been in operation from 1971 to '79.
According to the NCAA, USC players turned their complimentary game tickets over to an assistant coach, Marv Goux, who sold them for the athletes' benefit to boosters for considerably more than face value. As many as 33 players profited in a single season, pocketing as much as $2,000 apiece. Indications are that the amount received over the years by all players exceeded $200,000. In punishment for what it called a "flagrant example of willful circumvention of NCAA legislation," the NCAA banned the Trojans from bowl games following the 1982 and 1983 seasons and from TV appearances in 1983 and 1984. It also froze the salary of Goux, a 25-year veteran of the coaching staff, for two years and ordered the athletic department to sever all ties with 16 of the outsiders who bought scalped tickets.
Although Zumberge insisted that he wasn't making light of the infractions, he said that the school was considering legal action on grounds that the NCAA penalties were discriminatory and unduly harsh. In suggesting that Goux had acted out of "compassion," Zumberge argued that a campus housing shortage had obliged Trojan athletes to live off campus, where the amount of scholarship money permitted under NCAA rules proved "unrealistic" in the face of L.A.'s high rents. When a reporter asked about the NCAA's contention that the scalping operation had given the Trojans a competitive edge by generating cash that recruits might find alluring, Zumberge replied, "Against whom would we get a competitive edge?" His implication: USC had only been doing what everybody else was doing.
The NCAA sanctions could hurt USC recruiting and cost the school $1 million in lost TV revenue. Still, Zumberge was off base in invoking what he called mitigating circumstances. For example, he argued that the NCAA punishment was too severe coming on top of the earlier Pac-10 penalties, which may be the first time a defendant has ever cited repeated offenses to justify a lesser sentence. Zumberge also made a point of saying there was no evidence that Athletic Director Richard Perry or Football Coach John Robinson, both of whom took over when John McKay left those jobs in 1975, had been aware of the ticket scalping. But it's hard to believe that Perry and Robinson were in the dark; the ticket-selling scheme was an open secret on campus, and Goux reportedly discussed ticket sales at team meetings, on at least one occasion writing ticket prices on a blackboard. In a 1979 Miami News story that first reported Goux's scalping operation, former Trojan Tight End Joe Shipp recalled that Robinson had instructed players not to discuss the ticket deal with outsiders.
Zumberge was being disingenuous in other ways. Although ticket scalping has long been common at other schools, there's no proof that it has ever been as extensive or as well organized as at USC. And as Delaware Athletic Director Dave Nelson notes, "There's a lot of difference between a kid who's doing it on his own and when a coach is involved."
Then there's Zumberge's contention that Goux acted out of compassion for disadvantaged athletes. That claim might be more persuasive had tickets been sold on the basis of need. In fact, ticket proceeds were divvied up according to what amounted to a salary scale, with All-Americas commanding higher prices than bench warmers. As Shipp told the Miami News, "If you became a star, they took care of you a little more." As for USC's supposed housing crunch, interviews with former Trojan athletes and sources in the school's housing office suggest that football players who wanted campus lodging usually could obtain it, that most of those who lived off campus did so by choice and that off-campus rents were comparable to those charged in the dorms. Dick Hannula, captain of the 1978-79 USC swimming team, says that he lived his first two years in a dormitory and his last two in nearby apartments. "If you lived near campus the cost wasn't any greater than in the dorms," he says. "I was able to pay my rent entirely with my scholarship money. It's ridiculous to say the kids needed more money and had to live off campus. That's not the point. They cheated." And so did their school.
HE ISN'T THURSDAY'S CHILD
An Olympic gold medal isn't the only prize that Renaldo Nehemiah passed up when he signed with the San Francisco 49ers two weeks ago. Nehemiah also was tantalizingly close to joining Edwin Moses and Pietro Mennea as the only male track-and-field athletes to qualify as seven-day wonders on the unique listings that Jed Brickner, a Los Angeles lawyer and track buff, maintains of top performances according to the days of the week on which those performances occurred (SI, March 17, 1980 et seq.). Moses has the "records" in his specialty, the 400-meter intermediate hurdles, for all seven days. The now-retired Mennea has the fastest clockings ever in the 200 meters on a Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, is tied for the fastest on Saturday (with Clancy Edwards) and has the fastest times at sea-level on each of the other two days.
Nehemiah has the fastest time in his event, the 110-meter high hurdles, on six days of the week. His world record of 12.93 came on a Wednesday—in Zurich, last Aug. 19—and he also has the fastest times on a Sunday (13.00), Monday (13.33), Tuesday (13.26), Friday (13.07) and Saturday (13.16). Too bad that before he signed with the 49ers, a move that made him ineligible for international competition (although he conceivably could compete in domestic meets), Nehemiah didn't get one last stab at Rod Milburn's Thursday record of 13.24. Milburn set that one in Munich on Sept. 7, 1972 while winning (sigh!) an Olympic gold medal.
NO MORE PUPPY CHOW
The college football season is still four months off, but Joe Terranova's work is already done. Terranova, a marketing manager with Ford Motor Co. in Detroit, gets his kicks from watching high school football films—he took in more than 500 of them over the winter—and publishes an annual ranking of the colleges that fared best in the recruiting of leading high school prospects. His rundown of the class of '86:
1) Georgia. Vince Dooley's top signee is Defensive Tackle Gerald Browner (6'4", 300), kid brother of Ross, Jimmie, Willard, et al. "It's obvious the last of the Browner boys has been off Puppy Chow for some time," says Terranova. With Browner and fellow incoming linemen Victor Perry (6'5", 270), Jay Floyd (6'5", 285), Cedric Cornish (6'3", 250) and Keith Johnson (6'5", 240), "the training table budget could double."
2) Notre Dame. The linebacking phenoms came "straight from the meat packing houses in Chicago": Tony Furjanic (6'2", 225), John McCabe (6'3", 220) and Ron Weissenhofer (6'3", 220). Tight End Wally Klein (6'8", 240) is so big "he can eat peaches off a tree without using his hands." Allen Pinkett "is the finest tailback to enter Notre Dame since Vagas Ferguson." Terranova picked Coach Gerry Faust's inaugural recruiting class as No. 1 a year ago, so the Irish may be able to get that 5-6 record of last season out of their system in a hurry.
3) Texas. "These kids are a sure bet to receive their college degrees because most are so huge their college professors won't have to call roll to know if they're absent. In fact, there's more blue ribbon beef in the Longhorn Corral than the Ewings ever had at South Fork." Coach Fred Akers recruited an army of linemen—the smallest of whom is 6'3", 235—including Terry Steelhammer ("talk about a football name"). Running Back Anthony Byerly is still a question mark, though. "It will be sometime in early October before we know for sure if he's Billy Sims reincarnated."
4) Oklahoma. "Sonny Brown is a wishbone quarterback from Alice, Tex., whose press clippings can fit on the back of a postage stamp. Thing is, he's a player." Marcus Dupree, who broke Herschel .Walker's national high school career record for most touchdowns; Spencer Tillman, who ran for 4,000-plus yards in 27 games, and Tom Haley, another outstanding runner, help make this class "of the Campbell Soup variety...It's M'm good."
5) Nebraska. "The Dallas Cowboys of the muppet set concentrated heavily on linemen and succeeded in signing the premier line prospect in Nebraska (Stan Parker), the top two in Kansas (Chris Spachman and Rob Maggard) and the best of Minnesota's crop (Kevin Blackmer and Lawrence Hart)." Tailback Thurman Hoskins was the top' schoolboy scorer in Missouri, "but comes from such a small town that the phone directory only has one yellow page."
Rounding out the Top 10 are North Carolina, Auburn, Florida ("Charley Pell recruited himself a seven course meal"), Penn State and Illinois.
Collecting data for an insurance form, a secretary in the Atlanta Hawks' front office recently had the following exchange with Forward John Drew:
"What's your birth date, John?"
BATTLE OF THE COMPUTERS
As though life weren't confusing enough already, soon there will "be two rival computer rankings of the world's best male tennis players. Until now, the Association of Tennis Professionals, the men's players' union, has had the rankings business to itself, feeding into its computer results from Grand Prix tournaments held throughout the year. But this summer, World Championship Tennis, which has broken away from the Grand Prix circuit, is coming out with its own rankings, prompting Jim McManus, ATP's director of player and tournament services, to say, "The competition doesn't bother me. It's the fans I worry about. With two lists, it'll be hard for the public to understand what's going on."
The WCT claims that it was forced to start its own rankings because of the ATP's refusal to include WCT events in its rankings. "When they elected not to use our tournaments, the computer was a matter of survival for us," says WCT Chief Operating Officer Rod Humphries. "We needed an incentive to keep players on our tour. They could have been losing their rankings if they played a lot of WCT tennis. Vijay Amritraj [currently number 34 on the ATP list] is going to play only WCT events this year, so he'll eventually drop off the ATP computer. In six months Vijay might not be able to get into a tournament. He certainly wouldn't be seeded if we had to rely on the ATP rankings."
Accounts differ as to why the ATP chose not to include WCT events. The ATP says it "left the door open"—whatever that means—for the WCT to meet the ATP's criteria, while the WCT darkly alludes, with equal vagueness, to a "political situation." In any case, the ATP has cause to worry about the WCT's new ranking system. It will use a more all-encompassing approach, one that takes into account Grand Prix tournaments plus the results of WCT events, playoffs on both circuits and international team competitions like the Davis Cup, all of which, except, of course, Grand Prix results, the ATP computer ignores.
The WCT rankings will also be programmed to include a "diminishing return" factor by which points received are devalued each week, thereby allowing hot players to rise more quickly to the top of the listings. Under the ATP system a player retains full credit for points won at a tournament until the following year. "Borg is still at Number Six on their computer," Humphries says. "He shouldn't be there. He hasn't been playing tennis. Arthur Ashe was Number Eight in the world seven months after he retired."
McManus defends the ATP's rankings as being "based on simplicity" and adds, "It's a lot like a baseball average: At year's end, you don't know if a guy hit the homers in April or August. But I'm sure we'll look into any innovations. If the players like the diminishing return, they could always vote it in for our computer." McManus' conciliatory tone sounds suspiciously like an admission that the ATP may have erred in leaving the computer court wide open. The WCT's volley looks like a winner.
THEY SAID IT
•Rich Kelley, Phoenix Suns center, complaining that opponents had lately been employing unusually rough tactics against him: "Either I'm playing with my face more or they're playing with their elbows more."
•Doc Medich, Texas Ranger pitcher, on the time-consuming ritual of twitches and stance adjustments that the Indians' Mike Hargrove goes through each time he steps into the batter's box: "He's a one-man four-corner offense."
•Frank Layden, coach of the hapless Utah Jazz, to a fan who had just called a referee a fool during a meaningless late-season game with the almost-as-hapless Kansas City Kings: "Who are you calling a fool? You paid to watch this."
•George Plimpton, author and SI special contributor, advancing a pet theory that there's an inverse correlation between the size of a ball and the quality of writing about the sport in which the ball is used: "There are superb books about golf, very good books about baseball, not many good books about football and very few good books about basketball. There are no books about beachballs."