He was known among some students at the University of Minnesota as Robin Hood. But Luther Darville, Minnesota's former acting coordinator of the office of minority affairs, doesn't merely stand accused of stealing money from the school and giving it to athletes and other minority students. Indicted in May on three counts of theft by swindle, he's also accused of spending on himself part of the $200,000 he allegedly stole from the school. Last year, while earning a reported salary of $42,000, he bought two expensive cars. The controversy over Darville, whom authorities are trying to extradite from his native Bahamas, has had serious repercussions at Minnesota and beyond. Among many accusations made in the wake of his indictment have been charges of improper payments to Gopher athletes made at the behest of or with the possible knowledge of former Minnesota football coach Lou Holtz, who is now at Notre Dame. And last week, apparently concluding that athletics at Minnesota were out of control, interim university president Richard Sauer fired Paul Giel, the school's athletic director for the past 16 years.
Under Giel, a Gopher legend in football and baseball in the 1950s, Minnesota's sports had recently been plagued by scandal. In 1986 three basketball players were charged with sexually assaulting a woman after a game in Madison, Wis. The three were later acquitted, but the furor over the case led to the resignation of coach Jim Dutcher and the decimation of the team. A short time later it was revealed that Minnesota had the lowest athlete graduation rate of any Big Ten school. In addition, last March the NCAA, citing a lack of "administrative control," found the Gophers guilty of 40 rules violations and placed their basketball team on probation.
The Darville affair has kept the university on the front pages of Twin Cities newspapers for months. According to a report by the university's auditing department, Darville is alleged to have siphoned money from the minority affairs office from 1983 to '88 and to have doled some of it out to 17 students, including nine athletes, in need of cash. According to Valdez Baylor, a former tailback on the Gopher football team, "Go see Luther" was the catchphrase among minority athletes in need. Baylor says he has told authorities he received as much as $5,000 over six years from Darville.
"I needed money," Baylor told SI's Bruce Selcraig last week. "I needed to survive. At the time, it didn't matter where the money was coming from. I thought maybe they [the officials in the athletic department] were working out something with Luther to finance some of the players. It's hard to believe they didn't know what was going on. Luther Darville used to travel with the team. He used to be on the sidelines for some of our games. You tell me Paul Giel didn't know this?" Giel denied any knowledge of Darville's payments.
As if the Darville case weren't embarrassing enough, two weeks ago the St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch reported that LeRoy Gardner, a former Minnesota basketball player and academic adviser to the football team for three years, had told university officials that in 1985 Holtz handed $500 to Gardner and told him to give it to a player. Last week Minneapolis's Star Tribune quoted former Gopher running back Pudgy Abercrombie as saying that in '86 he had received clothes, rent payments and cash from assistant coach Jim Strong, now a Holtz assistant at Notre Dame. However, Abercrombie later recanted the account in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Holtz and Strong have denied making or knowing about any improper payments to Minnesota athletes.
In announcing Giel's firing, Sauer said he was acting out of the belief that "new leadership is necessary at this time." Some Minnesota loyalists protested that Giel had gotten a raw deal, and two members of the school's board of regents called for his reinstatement. But Sauer obviously felt that it was Giel's responsibility to keep the program clean and that he hadn't done so.
Shortly after making his allegations involving Holtz, Gardner, who holds a master's degree in educational psychology and has worked for the university for 16 years, quit as acting director of Minnesota's special counseling office. In a letter of resignation to Sauer, Gardner wrote: "In striving to gain status and to serve the 'god of athletic competition,' we lost sight of our major focus, which is to educate our students.... I no longer wish to work for the University of Minnesota because it has lost its heart."
Serving as a galley slave probably isn't your idea of a fun vacation, but it is for 170 oarsmen and oarswomen from the U.S., Great Britain, France and several other countries who will descend on the Greek island of Poros on July 18. There they will spend two weeks rowing a modern-day replica of a trireme, the long, centipedian boat used by the Greeks, Phoenicians and other naval powers of yore. The rowers, one to an oar, sit on three levels and stroke in unison.
The trireme has always been something of an archaeological mystery, since no remnants of it have been found and modern man's knowledge of it comes from ancient texts. Nevertheless, retired Cambridge University classics professor John Morrison and retired British naval architect John Coates last year designed and supervised construction of the first trireme in 1,500 years, with financing provided by the government of Greece. During maiden trials of Olympias, as the 118-foot-long craft is called, the biggest problem was cramped quarters. The average height of rowers on the ancient triremes was 5'7".
For this month's expedition, care was taken to assure that the oarsmen and oarswomen would fit into Olympias' confined space; although most are more than 5'7", a leg-length limit of 32" was imposed. Ford Weiskittel, a former classics professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., was charged with recruiting Americans for the crew, and he was deluged with applicants, ultimately selecting 53. All have rowing experience. For example, Paul Thompson of Cutler, Maine, a 48-year-old aquaculturist, has rowed for 30 years, including time spent manning lifeboats in the merchant marine. The 5'8½" Thompson found out about the trireme team by reading an article in Archaeology magazine. "I've never been one to turn down an adventure when it presented itself," said Thompson. "This is the ultimate test of physical and mental conditioning and teamwork."
REACHING FOR THE RING
The memory of Too Tall Jones laboring in boxing gloves has not, alas, fully faded, yet there was his Dallas Cowboy teammate Herschel Walker talking the other day about how he would like to fight heavyweight champion Mike Tyson. "I would almost bet I would last longer than 91 seconds," Walker said. "I know some people must think I have a lot of gall. So many guys are fighting for years, and for me to make a statement like that.... I'm not trying to petition for a fight. It's just something I would love to do."
The Atlanta Consitution columnist Dave Kindred, also recalling Walker's recent foray into ballet, was moved to comment, "Methinks Mr. Walker would be better off punching Baryshnikov and dancing with Tyson."
THEY'LL BE MISSED
Although they were not well known to the average fan, Bob Fishel, Lee Weyer and Ralph Salvon were three of the best men in baseball, and their recent deaths, taking place within days of one another, diminished the game.
Fishel, who was the executive vice-president of the American League when he died at the age of 74 on June 30, was a kind, erudite and whimsical man whose presence brightened any occasion. He began his baseball career in the late 1940s when the late Bill Veeck, then the owner of the Cleveland Indians, hired him away from an advertising agency. Veeck took Fishel along when he bought the St. Louis Browns in 1951, and together they dreamed up such classic stunts as the pinch-hitting appearance of midget Eddie Gaedel and Grandstand Managers' Day. In '54 Fishel was hired as the publicity director of the New York Yankees, for whom he worked for 20 years before joining the AL office. Each year baseball's p.r. directors honor one of their own with the Robert O. Fishel Award.
Weyer, a National League umpire for 26 years, died of a heart attack on July 4 at the age of 51. He was at third base when Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run and behind home plate when Pete Rose got his 4,192nd hit. He had the respect and admiration of most players, and he was a big enough man to admit a blown call in the seventh game of last year's World Series.
Salvon had been the trainer of the Baltimore Orioles for 22 years when he died of a heart attack on July 7 at the age of 60. Besides having one of the best names a trainer could possibly have, Salvon had one of the nicest dispositions. Says Oriole coach Terry Crowley, "If you were the star or the 25th guy on the team, he made you feel like somebody special."
DAVID BREWSTER/STAR TRIBUNE
Giel got the ax after 16 years as AD.
THEY SAID IT
•Tubby Raymond, University of Delaware football coach, on the the fact that his team doesn't have a booster club: "Why should I organize my own lynch mob?"