DILEMMA IN THE NCAA: NOT ENOUGH COPS
The NCAA's enforcement division is straining these days under the largest caseload in its 34-year history. It is hard-pressed to prosecute all rules violations effectively. It is seemingly understaffed and underbudgeted. Enforcement officers suffer from low pay and job burnout and generally leave within two years. David Berst, head of NCAA enforcement, nevertheless insists that his staff is "in the thick of things" in investigating wrongdoing. At the same time, he concedes that his people can't do all the work themselves. In a striking admission of weakness, he says the NCAA increasingly leaves preliminary sleuthing to the press, whose revelations about abuses are "a catalyst" for NCAA investigations.
It is hard to know whether the backlog of cases reflects an actual increase in cheating, although it would seem so. What is certain is that zealous newspaper investigations of college sports have brought more cheating—or allegations of it—to light. Recent newspaper reports have told of alleged improper payments to football players at Texas and Houston. These are just the latest charges to embroil the Southwest Conference; seven of nine SWC schools have either been investigated by the NCAA or have operated under a cloud of suspicion during the past two years. There have also been allegations of abuses at Memphis State (payments to basketball players, recruiting), Kentucky (improper payments), LSU (recruiting), Minnesota (boosters funding the defense of a basketball player on trial for rape) and other schools.
In trying to keep on top of the situation, the NCAA has beefed up its enforcement arm from three full-time staffers a decade ago to 12 full-time and 25 part-time (mostly ex-FBI agents in major cities) people today. Yet as Charles Alan Wright, Texas law professor and chairman of the NCAA Committee on Infractions from 1978 to '83, says, "The enforcement arm was always overworked. My guess is, it's still undermanned."
Former NCAA enforcement agent Ron Watson goes further. Watson, 36, who left the NCAA last May after 18 months and is now an assistant athletic director at Tulane, told SI that the strains on NCAA investigators are enormous. Most of the agents are in their late 20s or early 30s, hold advanced degrees and are former athletes or coaches. "They can't keep up with all the major cases and do the smaller ones, too," Watson says. Watson tells of the emotional drain of being "treated like the plague" by the subjects of investigations and being constantly lied to. "It got to me," he says. So did the low pay: College grads start at about $22,000, those with law degrees at around $26,000. Watson says he and others who left enforcement "stepped up $8,000 to $10,000 just by leaving." Worst of all was spending six months a year on the road. Watson's marriage ended in divorce. "It wasn't all due to [the job], but it did have an impact," he says. "You come home and say, 'Who is this person I'm living with on weekends?' " Because of the work conditions, says Watson, "they've lost a lot of good people."
Berst's claim that the NCAA is in the thick of things isn't fully supported by the evidence. For one thing, reliance on newspaper revelations doesn't spare the NCAA its own legwork. Take its Kentucky investigation, which was prompted by articles in the Lexington Herald-Leader and is causing the NCAA difficulty. "A large number of players quoted in the articles said they received money [from boosters]," says Berst. "The same people aren't saying that to us. When such matters become public, we have considerable difficulty in getting people to repeat their remarks."
The NCAA complains that its hands are tied because of its lack of subpoena power. But Duke law professor John C. Weistart, a frequent commentator on the state of sports, argues that the NCAA could make its enforcement efforts more effective by creating incentives for member schools to get their boosters and former players to cooperate with investigators. Such incentives would provide a sort of de facto subpoena power.
The NCAA seems reluctant to take action to strengthen its enforcement division. Why not hire more personnel? Why not increase the enforcement division's $1.89 million annual budget and raise salaries? "A relatively modest, rather ineffectual enforcement mechanism may be the product of a series of small choices made by the NCAA," says Weistart. "I'm coming more and more to the view that large numbers of people in Division I sports really are prepared to tolerate a high level of violations."
Berst and others in the NCAA deny this. And yet they have been more and more inclined to take a tough stand against trivial, easy-to-prove violations—suspending Indiana basketball player Steve Afford for posing for a sorority charity calendar, for instance—while cases involving serious allegations of wrongdoing at Memphis State, LSU and other schools drag on. "And if an investigation goes three or four years, it loses its potency," says Watson. "The kids have left—there's no immediate impact on the people involved. The manpower just isn't there to cover the whole country and all the conferences in a fair manner."
THE WIDEST WORLD OF SPORTS
In Thai culture, elephants perform many valuable roles: as loyal pets, as workers hauling wood from the teak forests, as vehicles of passenger transportation, even as sports stars.
Yes, sports stars. Each year at the Elephant Festival in Surin, 150 of Thailand's most talented elephants perform in a three-day rodeo. There are contests of strength, speed and agility. The elephants play soccer, roll logs and run sprints. A highlight is the tug-of-war, in which a single five-ton elephant takes on 100 Thai soldiers—7½ tons of military muscle.
Want to know who wins? You can find out later this month. Producer and director Skip Blumberg traveled to Thailand and filmed a half-hour show on the Elephant Festival, to air on most PBS stations April 28. In treating the subject of elephants, the program does not overlook a sad fact: Fifty years ago there were several hundred thousand of them in Thailand. Today, due to lost habitat, there are perhaps fewer than 5,000.
The South Korean government has been accused of various forms of political repression, including a new one: rescheduling a baseball game to lure people away from an opposition rally. According to opposition leaders, the Seoul government two weeks ago changed the time and date of a professional game between the Haitai Tigers and the OB Bears in Kwangju to conflict with a rally in that city called to marshal support for proposed constitutional reforms; fans at the game were allegedly admitted free and were treated to prizes and a concert.
Government officials denied the allegations, insisting that fans did pay for their seats, that the game had long been scheduled for the afternoon in question and that door prizes at ball games are not unusual. However, the addition of a concert is unusual, and the government clearly did try to limit attendance at the rally by ordering its employees in Kwangju to work that day and by warning students not to attend.
All this raises questions about the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. If the South Korean government is harboring hopes that the Games will shift attention from the country's internal unrest, it might keep these numbers in mind: Upward of 50,000 people attended the rally in Kwangju, while just 7,500 showed up in 15,000-seat Mudung Stadium to watch the Tigers defeat the Bears 8-3.
THE GOING GETS TOUGHER
When last we visited Will Steger and his fellow explorers, they were lunching comfortably on Manhattan's Upper East Side, schmoozing with the corporate sponsors of a planned 800-mile man-and-dog trek from Canada's Frobisher Bay to the North Pole (SCORECARD, March 3). Last week we checked in with Steger again, this time via a Call of the Wild telephone number in Manhattan (212-967-7036) set up by a sponsor to provide updates on the expedition.
The adventurers are decidedly less cozy these days, lunching in 50-below weather. As of Sunday they had moved to within some 300 miles of the Pole. Last week seven of their 46 dogs, including lead-dog Zap, who had a split foot, were airlifted out to lighten the load. Sixteen more were to be taken out this week, after which Steger would mush on with the remaining 23. One of Steger's seven fellow explorers, Bob McKerrow, also left the expedition: He suffered broken ribs when a sled laden with 1,000 pounds of equipment went out of control and slammed into him. As for Steger and the others, "They have been going through hell every step of the way," reported Jim Gasperini, who flew a Twin Otter to retrieve the dogs. "They're marked with blackened skin from frostbite on their faces, hands and feet."
Still, the expedition had moved past the largest ice ridges onto smoother Arctic Sea ice. It was now averaging 20 miles a day, up from its early three-mile-a-day pace. Steger, resolute, still hoped to reach the Pole by late April.
EVEN LOSERS ARE WELCOME
It took six months and 840 games, but the NHL finally found the punch line to its annual joke: It determined which five of its 21 teams are bad enough to sit out the playoffs. When the regular season ended on Sunday, Detroit, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Buffalo and Pittsburgh were out of the money, but the Toronto Maple Leafs were in—despite a .342 winning percentage, the second-worst in league history for a playoff team. Toronto's 48 regular-season losses set an NHL record for playoff teams.
In the NBA, meanwhile, Chicago and Cleveland are fighting for a playoff spot despite 28-50 records. But at least the New York Knicks have dropped out of the picture. The laughingstock of the league this year, with a .278 winning percentage as of Sunday (they trailed Boston by 42½ games), the New Yorkers weren't officially eliminated from contention until last Tuesday, with all of six games left in the season.
The reason the pro leagues allow so many teams into the playoffs is, of course, to gain extra revenue. That's also the reason they keep increasing the length of playoff series—from best-of-three to best-of-five in NHL first-round play, from best-of-five to best-of-seven in baseball's league championships, and so on. Now get this: The Quebec Junior League, which includes several financially strapped teams, has abandoned its best-of-seven format for the three rounds of league playoffs that began March 23. The new format is best-of-nine.
Berst's enforcers are facing an uphill job.
SAM Q. WEISSMAN
THEY SAID IT
•Sparky Anderson, Tigers manager, on shortstop Alan Trammell's chronically tender shoulder: "Pain don't hurt you."
•Charles Owens, 56, twice a winner this season on the Senior PGA Tour, on the pleasure he gets bringing his 3-month-old baby girl to the golf course: "When you see anyone else carrying a baby out here, he's the grandfather."