"Waiting for the other shoe to drop."
The University of Kentucky didn't invent this particular way to mark time. But then the Kentucky basketball program didn't invent cheating, either; the Wildcats merely perfected it. Last Friday morning at 10 o'clock the waiting was finally over. Proud, elegant Kentucky stood threadbare, stripped of its medals and conceits, dispossessed of image and reputation, exposed as a common NCAA felon.
Other shoe? This was a humongous clodhopper that not only thumped the dishonorable heads of the Wildcats but also booted Kentucky off television, out of the NCAA tournament and just about completely through the seamy cracks of a game the school had helped turn into a statewide religion. The magnitude of Wildcat basketball in the commonwealth was perhaps never so evident as at the moment of its latest humiliation, when the state all but closed down to watch and listen as the NCAA announced it had slapped a Kentucky program that once seemed untouchable with three years of probation. The sanctions will
1) prohibit the school from postseason play for the next two years;
2) bar its games from live TV during the 1989-90 season;
3) restrict the program to one more scholarship for next season—two have already been committed, to beings who obviously have been living on Mars—and three more for 1990-91 (Kentucky normally would have been allowed to grant six basketball scholarships for next season);
4) order the school to return its share of receipts from the 1988 NCAA tournament, among other severe financial penalties (see box on page 31), and strike its two victories in the tournament from the record for deliberately using an ineligible player, forward Eric Manuel of Macon, Ga., who was then a freshman.
Of Kentucky's many sins, the two gravest were academic fraud and sending money, in effect, to a recruit. But the seriousness of the violations and the scope of Kentucky's blatant disregard of the rules do not show up so much in what the NCAA did to Kentucky as in what it didn't do, as cited in paragraph 15 of the report on infractions.
"Because of the nature of the violations," reads the report, "...the committee seriously considered whether the regular-season schedule for the men's basketball program should be curtailed in whole or in part for one or two seasons of competition. In the judgment of the committee...the violations found would justify such a penalty."
Translation: curtains. Or: the so-called death penalty, which SMU football has just finished serving. As Kentucky's new athletic director, CM. Newton, said last week, "We could have been shut down.... The way you get shut down is where you can't recruit.... We are not shut down."
The reason they aren't has a lot to do with Kentucky president David Roselle's accepting the resignation of Cliff Hagan as athletic director and his hiring of Newton, the former Alabama and Vanderbilt coach and one of the game's cleanest of Mr. Cleans. Even as Roselle was spending $356,675 in legal fees, according to university records, to defend his program—and predicting last week that Kentucky basketball was "going down the plumbing"—he was sipping from the cup of kindness, not to mention chugalugging from the keg of cooperation, with the NCAA.
"I don't think I've ever seen a higher level of cooperation," said NCAA associate executive director Steve Morgan, who announced the sanctions at an SRO press conference in Lexington. Other "mitigating factors" that helped stay Kentucky's execution were Roselle's extensive internal investigation; his quick implementation of institutional controls over the basketball program; the switching of Wildcat Lodge, the chalet of a players' dorm, from the aegis of the athletic department to the direct control of the university housing office; the disassociation from the basketball program of a "representative of its athletics interests" (read: booster) who was involved in several violations; and probably most significant, the removal of coach Eddie Sutton and his staff.
Asked how close Kentucky had come to the death penalty, Roselle said "about four feet" and spread his hands in demonstration as if he were bragging about the one that got away. But Roselle also said, "The integrity of our great university stands higher than ever before." The prez might have been well advised to throw that one back in the water.
In effect Kentucky basketball has been on the lam for four years, or since the Lexington Herald-Leader won a Pulitzer Prize for a 1985 investigation that exposed widespread corruption in the program, ranging from boosters' "$100 handshakes" with Wildcat stars to free meals for players and other unseemly perks. At that time the NCAA's crack investigative force, presumably made up of Geraldo Rivera, Inspector Clouseau and Roger Rabbit, failed to develop enough evidence to prosecute—although Kentucky-was cited by the NCAA for a lack of cooperation. This time the violations were brain-bogglingly loud and sorrowfully clear.
For starters, former Kentucky assistant coach Dwane Casey, Manuel and sophomore forward Chris Mills all took heavy shots from the NCAA. Casey was found to have sent $1,000 to Mills's father, Claud, in an Emery Worldwide package in March 1988. This bizarre incident instigated the new investigation of Kentucky only five weeks after Clouseau & Co. had wound up the old one. Moreover Casey, who continues to profess his innocence, was found to have lied to university and NCAA investigators about his role in the case.
The NCAA placed Casey on conditional probation for five years, meaning that if he seeks employment at another NCAA member school during that period, he and representatives of that school will be requested to appear before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions and "show cause" why he should be hired. "I know I didn't do it [put 20 $50 bills in the Emery envelope] and will proclaim my innocence until the day I die," said Casey. He said he would continue his $6.9 million defamation and invasion of privacy lawsuit against Emery.
Mills was declared ineligible to play for Kentucky, but he can transfer, sit out a season and have three years of eligibility remaining. Look for him to wind up at Arizona or, more likely, hometown UCLA. "It [the probation] may have been bad news for Kentucky, but it isn't bad news for Chris," Claud Mills told the Los Angeles Times.
Right. Business as usual.
A fairer penalty for Mills would have been to require him to play next fall—at Kentucky. But that still wouldn't approach Manuel's sanction—banishment from NCAA basketball. The NCAA found that Manuel, a high-school All-America, committed academic fraud by cheating on his college entrance exam, reportedly by copying answers from the test of another student in the Lexington school where the test was administered. That strikes at the heart of a university's integrity and, according to Morgan, warrants a stiffer penalty than being sent a silly thousand bucks by a recruiter.
Sutton was only grazed by the NCAA, which might explain why he expressed surprise at the penalties' severity. "I was the only one to defend the players," said Sutton in an emotional farewell. "I am satisfied by my vindication.... My reputation was impeccable before a year ago."
Meanwhile, Kentucky fans don't know what to think of Roselle. They can't figure whether he has sold the farm down the river of academia or what, but surely he and Newton would get a warm response if they could lure New York Knicks coach Rick Pitino to Lexington. Pitino's team was eliminated from the NBA playoffs on Friday by the surging Chicago Bulls, just days after Newton ignited a tabloid storm across the New York metropolitan area by claiming publicly that Pitino was his first choice for the vacancy. Newton said he agreed with Virginia's Terry Holland, 47, who has been mentioned as a candidate for the Wildcats' vacancy, that the longer the probation at Kentucky, the stronger the need for a young coach. Pitino is 36. Newton said he would ask that the trustees approve a five-year contract for the new coach. "We are going to get this thing back on track...by educating our people so that no one inadvertently violates a rule," said Newton. "Then if somebody [does], it's not an inadvertent violation. It's a wanton violation. Then we disassociate the guy from the program."
The reaction by other college coaches to the Kentucky situation was predictable. Most publicly expressed grave concern over the severity of the penalties. But privately they were incensed that Kentucky did not get hit harder.
"If Kentucky is guilty of putting $1,000 in the mail, that's bad stuff, real bad stuff," said Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins. "If that's true, it's hard to feel sorry for Kentucky. It's a great example of winning at all costs. The expectations of the Kentucky basketball fans have created a monster. Basketball is just too big at Kentucky, too big and too important. I would hope this will get it back in perspective. The sentence is definitely harsh enough."
"As far as I'm concerned, Kentucky did get the death penalty," said Syracuse's Jim Boeheim. "The length of time it took the NCAA to come down with the penalties will have the most severe impact of all. Kentucky's program has been at a standstill. In effect, that ruined recruiting for the next year or two."
Jim Harrick of UCLA said the sanctions were "as strong a penalty as anyone has ever received, except the death penalty. The severity of the acts is indicated by the penalties."
Notre Dame's Digger Phelps, however, points out a loophole that might hasten the Wildcats' healing process. "[Kentucky] can redshirt the incoming freshmen and it won't be affected as much," says Phelps. "And next year's recruits can be told they'll be redshirted and then still play in four NCAA tournaments. The TV sanctions also penalize schools like us. When we're the home team against Kentucky, we also have to lose a TV appearance."
What about the Wildcat fans? "They won't change," says Phelps. "They'll just be mad at the NCAA. Some of them are part of the problem. I don't think that money [in the Emery envelope] came out of Eddies [Sutton's] pocket."
Joey Meyer, the coach at DePaul, addressed the larger ramifications. "For a school of Kentucky's magnitude to be investigated and then get sanctioned shows that nobody is too big for the NCAA anymore," said Meyer. "That's a good message."
And one that's not lost on the NCAA's harshest critic, UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian. "There were years when [NCAA officials] would never touch a Kentucky," said Tark. "But I think any coach will tell you they've been more consistent in their rulings, and they're coming down hard on just about everybody. Since Dick Shultz took office [as executive director in Oct. 1987], they've come down hard and hit big people. They hit Texas A & M and Houston hard. They hit Oklahoma hard. They hit everybody hard [see box on page 34]."
Now the NCAA is hitting basketball extra hard. With this case, no longer can it be said—as Tarkanian once did—that "the NCAA is so mad at Kentucky, it will probably slap another two years' probation on Cleveland State."
Cheating is nothing new to the pages of Kentucky's basketball scrapbook. Adolph Rupp's 1952-53 team was nailed with what amounted to the NCAA's first death penalty—the Wildcats had to sit out the winter playing intrasquad exhibitions—because of payments to players, which came to light during an investigation into a point-shaving scandal involving several Wildcat players. The next year Kentucky came back with a vengeance, going 25-0 en route to a No. 1 ranking at the end of the regular season. But the Wildcats again didn't get to play in the NCAAs because of a rule—since revoked—that made the team's stars (Frank Ramsey, Lou Tsioropoulos and Hagan) ineligible for postseason play because they were graduate students. Steaming, Rupp swore that someday the NCAA would hand him another championship trophy, which it did after his Fiddlin' Five won the 1958 title in Louisville.
Rupp's problems weren't as much with the NCAA as with the changing times. He dragged his heels on using black players until near the end of his career, and that created grave difficulties for his successor, Joe B. Hall, who got the Kentucky job only after Rupp was taken kicking and screaming from office in 1972. But with the help of Leonard Hamilton, a black recruiter whom Hall hired in 1974, Kentucky extended its talent-pool base from the white, parochial Ohio Valley that Rupp had worked to the nation at large.
Hall's detractors say he was insecure in Rupp's shoes, and afraid of failure, and by 1976 he had other concerns as well. That year, the NCAA announced that the Wildcats' scholarships would be limited for two seasons because of recruiting violations. Still, Hall gave the fat Cat boosters among the horsemen and coal-mine operators in the commonwealth access to practices and the locker room, even at halftimes of games. That stopped in 1985, when Hall retired and Sutton, practically begging for the job—who can forget his declaration that he would "crawl to Lexington" from Arkansas to coach at the University of Kentucky?—replaced him. When Hamilton left to coach Oklahoma State in '86, the word was that Kentucky retained a toehold on big-city recruiting by replacing him with Casey, who had played for Hall between 1976 and '79.
If anyone can bring the Kentucky program under control, the soft-spoken Roselle, a Duke Ph.D. who rooted for Blue Devils Art Heyman and Jeff Mullins in the mid-1960s, can. Last week the NCAA went out of its way to praise him for conducting what amounted to a textbook investigation. Indeed, Roselle has emerged as a leader of the new breed of university presidents who are trying to keep big-time sports from compromising their schools' academic standings.
Roselle's predecessor at Lexington was Otis Singletary, who so loved Kentucky's sports teams that he was known by some faculty members as Doctor Jock. When Roselle, who had been the president of Virginia Tech, got the job in 1987, he said all he wanted from the athletic department was honesty and competence and that it be run in full compliance with NCAA and university regulations. Pointedly he said he wasn't too concerned about football coach Jerry Claiborne's losing record, as long as Claiborne's players maintained their excellent academic records. The football team recently won the College Football Association's annual academic achievement award for having the highest graduation rate among CFA schools.
Sutton claimed that he and Roselle were on the same page, but even as he spoke, he was recruiting classroom liabilities like Shawn Kemp of Elkhart, Ind., and Sean Woods of Indianapolis. Both were academically ineligible when they entered Kentucky last fall, and Kemp would leave school shortly thereafter, after having been found with gold jewelry that had been stolen from Sutton's son, Sean, who also played on the team. These developments came after Roselle had already expressed displeasure with Sutton's wooing of John Pittman, an academically marginal player from Rosenberg, Texas. Roselle made it clear after the Emery fiasco that he would let the chips fall where they might. The chips ultimately chased Sutton out of the job.
To many Wildcat fans, Roselle's attitude has been nothing short of treason. He has been accused of selling out Kentucky basketball to make a name for himself to land a prestigious job in the Ivy League. But Roselle has been politically astute enough to out-maneuver everybody.
His first step was to replace the popular Hagan, a fabled Wildcat basketball hero who, as athletic director, practiced benign neglect as well as he used to shoot his lovely hook. Pressuring Hagan to resign showed the NCAA good faith and, as Roselle told a reporter, "turned up the heat" on the coaches, who publicly were denying everything. By December, Roselle was certain Manuel had cheated on the entrance exam. Because Roselle considered that transgression to be so serious, he thought his own choices had been drastically reduced. Apparently, Sutton had to go. The only questions were when and how.
At the same time, Roselle virtually handpicked Newton to replace Hagan. After initially expressing no interest in the job, Newton, who was in his eighth season as Vandy's coach, listened to friends like Bob Knight, who convinced him that he had a unique opportunity to accomplish something important at his alma mater (he played for Rupp's 1951 championship team). Newton was impressed that Roselle had extended Claiborne's contract, despite the fact that the football team was coming off a third straight mediocre season.
Roselle didn't waver in his decision to replace Sutton, either, even when Sutton and his attorney, Terry McBrayer, resorted to a late-season attempt to rally support for Sutton. In the week before he resigned, Sutton sat in Roselle's living room and told him he would fight to the end. Two days after that meeting Roselle telephoned Sutton to tell him he had called an athletics board meeting to discuss Sutton's future. "And Eddie," Roselle said, "I've got the votes." After that call, on March 19, Sutton resigned on national television.
Since coming aboard last month, Newton has spent more time searching for Sutton's successor than dealing with the NCAA allegations, and little wonder. The Wildcats are hurting more for solid players than at any time since the Rupp regime began. Recruiting has been a disaster for a year. Further, not only are Mills and Manuel gone, but on Monday, junior LeRon Ellis, a 6'11" center, also decided to leave, probably for Syracuse or UNLV.
At the top of Newton's first list of coaching candidates were Pat Riley of the Los Angeles Lakers, Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, Lute Olson of Arizona, P.J. Carlesimo of Seton Hall and Pitino. The first two were pies in the sky. Olson was courted by Newton, but their relationship was nipped when Olson signed a fat new contract, after which cynics began referring to him as Loot Olson. Carlesimo was shown some nice numbers—$650,000 per season for four years—on a visit to Lexington, but in the end, the fit wasn't quite right—that brown beard perhaps clashing with the bluegrass? At week's end, only Pitino remained from Newton's original list.
"This state is so down and depressed about everything, if Pitino would sign next week he'd be bigger than Colonel Sanders," says a Lexington businessman. "He could name his price, get anything he wanted, anything."
Which is precisely the kind of atmosphere Newton doesn't need. During the Knicks-Bulls playoff series, the deal seemed done. Pitino loves horse racing and is no stranger to the track. However, last weekend he was vacillating, mainly because his wife, Joanne, had doubts about making the move. The ultimate question is: Would a restless, ambitious fellow with a big-city background—New York, Boston, Providence, Honolulu—have the patience to cope with the country atmosphere of Lexington while his team is dead in the water for two seasons? At this writing, many basketball insiders thought yes.
Newton believes the new coach should be a "name" figure who can galvanize support, rally morale and hold the program together through the lean times ahead. If Pitino turns down the job—after meeting with Knick officials on Saturday, he and Joanne were scheduled to get the full celebrity treatment on Monday and Tuesday in Lexington—Newton could call on his longtime friend and former player at Transylvania in Lexington, Lee Rose, who's now an assistant with the New Jersey Nets. Another alternative would be for Newton to take the job himself, polish the program's image and renew the search for a hotshot in two years. Roselle, who's eager to get his coaches "out of the business of being entrepreneurs," says he will insist that all outside income, including that from hefty shoe endorsements and television and radio shows, be funneled through the university.
Bad as the situation in Lexington may be, it could have been worse. Still, the call-in shows are humming with vilifications of Roselle for giving in, rather than with hosannas for having saved basketball from imminent demise. In January, Roselle said privately that he was taking the biggest gamble any Kentucky president could imagine by cooperating with the NCAA. "If I fail," he said, "no future president will have a chance to do things right."
Instead, thanks to Roselle, the Wildcats have another chance to do things right. One final chance.
Smiles and handshakes marked Sutton's visit to Manuel and his mom in '86, but the joy faded.