A few short months ago Cris Carter could do no wrong. On New Year's Day he caught four passes for 61 yards in the Cotton Bowl to finish his junior season at Ohio State with school records for receptions (69), yards (1,127) and touchdown catches (11). He was a consensus All-America, the first Buckeye receiver so honored in 42 years.
On July 15, Carter's college career ended. Ohio State athletic director Rick Bay declared him ineligible after learning that Carter had, in violation of NCAA rules, signed with agents Norby Walters and Lloyd Bloom in the spring of his sophomore year and accepted from them a $5,000 interest-free loan and $1,800 in monthly payments. "I must be [held] responsible for my actions," acknowledged Carter in a written statement handed out at the press conference.
Carter's is the story of a young man seduced by greed and torn between two brothers. Clarence (Butch) Carter, 29, the former NBA guard (L.A. Lakers, Indiana, New York and Philadelphia) and the oldest of seven Carter children, wanted Cris to follow the straight and narrow. George Carter, 27, a former Illinois State basketball player and convicted felon, had different ideas. It is with George Carter that the trouble apparently started.
In April 1986, according to Boston College law professor Robert Berry, one of Cris Carter's new legal advisers, George Carter was hanging around Cris's Columbus apartment when he noticed an unopened letter from World Sports & Entertainment, Walters's New York firm. George read the letter. Within a few days George—who had been released five months earlier from state prison in Jacksonville, Ill., where he had served 16 months for burglary and forgery—flew to New York at Walters's expense. Says Berry, "He called Cris and said, 'You can get an interest-free loan from these guys. They'll give you money."
On May 1, 1986, Bloom came to Columbus with a large amount of cash, a $5,000 promissory note and a contract. Bloom, Cris and George rode around town for several hours in Cris's car, discussing a possible deal, according to Berry. "The other two started working on Cris," says Berry. Bloom told Cris that he would postdate the contract to Jan. 2, 1988—the day after next season's Rose Bowl, the last possible game of Cris's senior year. Finally, Berry said, Cris stopped the car and signed. Bloom gave him $5,000 cash and promised him additional payments every month for the rest of his college career.
What Cris didn't know, according to Butch Carter, was that George was already working as a recruiter for Walters and Bloom. Bloom says that WSE has indeed employed George in that capacity, but he insists that the firm hired him the same day that Cris signed with the agents. Ohio Parole Commission records indicate that WSE hired George for $39,000 a year as a "special assistant"; Bloom says, however, that George's salary was unspecified. "George is such a snake," says Butch.
Butch Carter says that George's "sole purpose" in working for Walters was "to bring Cris into Norby's fold." He also says that George funneled $12,000 of Walters's money to Cris to buy a car. Butch says he persuaded Cris to return the car to George—and that George shortly thereafter totaled it in an accident. There is no record of the incident with the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
Butch, who works as a financial planner in Dayton and a high school basketball coach in the Carter hometown of Middletown, Ohio, says he sent Cris $75 every other week so he wouldn't need money. He also says he paid his brother's credit card bills.
The payments from WSE continued until March of this year when Cris was suddenly being linked to Walters in newspaper reports. When Butch confronted him about the reports, Cris broke down and admitted they were true. Butch wanted to turn his brother in immediately, but Berry told him to wait until they had explored ways to salvage Cris's eligibility.
Ohio State athletic officials pressed Carter about his alleged ties to Walters, but Cris repeatedly denied any involvement. "He just outright lied" says Ohio State coach Earle Bruce.
In May Cris was subpoenaed by the federal grand jury in Chicago looking into the activities of Walters and Bloom. On July 10, Berry told Bruce that Cris had signed with WSE.
Cris now faces possible criminal charges and may be sued by Walters for breach of contract Says Bruce, "I hope someday I'll be able to forgive him, but I won't forget what he has done."
Berry, meanwhile, has petitioned the NFL for a supplementary draft that would allow Cris to play in the pros this fall. NFL rules bar anyone from entering the league until either he or his class graduates from college, and some NFL owners have expressed fears that letting Carter compete this season would encourage large numbers of other underclassmen to sign with agents. However, the NFL has made numerous exceptions to the rule in the past, at least once after a player threatened a lawsuit. At week's end Berry was waiting for word from the NFL.
George Carter spoke to SI several times in June but he has not returned phone calls since then. He said he would need money to tell his story because "I have to be able to leave Middletown after I've talked. I know how powerful Norby and them is." He added: "I have tried to sever my ties [with them]. Every time I mention that, they threaten me." Walters and Bloom denied having threatened anyone.
George correctly predicted in a June conversation that his brother would be declared ineligible. He also asserted: "You can't find a player in the first round next year who hasn't already signed with an agent." Though perhaps an exaggeration, Carter's words ought to make college athletic officials nervous.
CRIS WAS CONSIDERED A PRIZE CATCH
DAVID SCHWEGMANN/THE MIDDLETOWN JOURNAL