As the largest university affiliated with the Baptist Church, Baylor prides itself, as one of its vice presidents says, "on holding ourselves to a higher standard and going about our business in a different way." It appears, however, that over the past three years Baylor's basketball program, under a charismatic and popular coach, Darrel Johnson, conducted its business in a way that is distressingly similar to that of big-time athletic cheaters. And because Johnson and his minions allegedly used telephones and fax machines to do their dirty work, they have put themselves not only in the crosshairs of the NCAA but also within reach of federal prosecutors.
On Nov. 17 a federal grand jury sitting in Waco, Texas—where Baylor is located—indicted Johnson and three of his former assistants, plus two junior college coaches and two juco administrators, on charges of violating federal mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy statutes. Johnson faces as many as 35 years in prison and as much as $1.75 million in fines if he is convicted on all charges.
The day before the indictments were handed down, in the culmination of a yearlong joint investigation by the school and the Southwest Conference, Johnson was fired. The whistle-blower whose tip provided the impetus for that investigation is former Baylor women's basketball coach Pam Bowers, who has a $4 million suit pending against the university for, among other things, wrongful termination and sex discrimination.
The indictments came about almost by chance. In May, Jim Fossum, a special agent in the FBI's Waco office, saw a newspaper article about the investigation into Johnson's program. Fossum's interest was piqued when he read that a term paper, allegedly written for a basketball player whom Baylor was recruiting, had been faxed from Baylor to the player's school, Westark Community College in Fort Smith, Ark. It appeared that a document had been transmitted across state lines by telephone lines to perpetrate a fraud against Westark, which assumed the player had done his own work; the agent concluded, "That's wire fraud."
The intervention of the U.S. government into an apparent case of college sports corruption introduces a new dimension to an old story. Federal prosecutors have subpoena power and other legal mechanisms not available to the NCAA, and punishment, should it be assessed, would be far more severe than anything meted out by the NCAA.
At the heart of the story, however, is the age-old staple of big-time college sports scandal: There is pressure on the coach to win, and in order to win, the coach needs good players, and to get good players he sometimes bends the rules to make the players eligible for admission. But another part of this seedy saga involves the blind ambition of coaches. It was not only Johnson's assistants at Baylor who allegedly participated in the scheme in an effort to be associated with a winning program but also several junior college coaches seeking to elevate themselves. And even two administrators at a junior college in Alabama, acting out of some sort of twisted loyalty or naivetè, were apparently drawn into the scandal.
According to information contained in the indictment and obtained by SI, here are four examples of how Baylor's coaching staff helped potential players to qualify academically in violation of both NCAA rules and federal laws.
•After a 16-11 record in 1992-93, his first season at Baylor, Johnson pursued a highly regarded recruit named Jerome Lambert, a versatile forward at Westark. On April 5, 1993, Baylor assistant Gary Thomas allegedly faxed a term paper to Troy Drummond, an assistant coach at Westark. The paper was mostly a rewrite of an article that had appeared in a women's magazine. Drummond then allegedly gave the paper to Lambert, who was to submit the paper as his own work for an English composition course at Westark. By the end of the summer Baylor had a big-time rebounder in Lambert—he would lead the nation in that department in the 1993-94 season—and also a new assistant coach by the name of Drummond.
•Another Baylor recruit, Jason Ervin, a guard from State Fair Community College in Sedalia, Mo., was allegedly instructed by Thomas to take a correspondence course on the Old Testament from Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God, a four-year school in Lakeland, Fla., because the Baylor coaches had a copy of a final exam from this course and others. According to the indictment, Thomas asked Dan Pratt, an assistant at another Kansas City juco, to proctor Ervin's exam from Southeastern. Ervin told the Houston Chronicle that he took the test home with him. As it turned out, Thomas had allegedly read Ervin the multiple-choice answers to his Old Testament exam over the phone but in the wrong order. Ervin flunked the test but later made up the credits by taking an exam for which Thomas and Drummond, by then a Baylor assistant, allegedly supplied the answers.
•Shannon Brantley, a forward from McLennan Community College in Waco, needed lots of help to get into Baylor. According to the indictment, he got it from Humphrey Lee, the dean of students at Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Jeanetta Hargrow, Shelton State's admissions and records officer. Lee and Hargrow allegedly sent to Baylor a transcript for Brantley that included fraudulently earned credits for correspondence courses from both Shelton State and Southeastern. They allegedly did the same thing for point guard Ralph Malone. Why Lee and Hargrow would participate in this scheme was unclear as of last week—neither would comment on the indictment. However, from 1984 to '92, Kevin Gray, another indicted former Baylor assistant, was a recruiter at Alabama, many of whose students take courses at Shelton State.
•Another Baylor recruit from State Fair, forward Tyrone Davis, allegedly received help from Vinson Metcalf, the men's assistant and the women's head coach at Hill College in Hillsboro, Texas, 30 miles north of the Baylor campus. Metcalf had played under Johnson at Oklahoma Baptist. According to the indictment, Metcalf faxed to Southeastern the answer sheet for an exam in American history, which supposedly was Davis's work. According to the indictment, Metcalf was asked by Johnson to proctor the exam, which was taken at Baylor's Ferrell Center.
The Davis test would reveal the first cracks in the scam. Baylor routinely requests the work of students whose credits are being transferred to it from junior colleges. When it appeared that Davis had correctly answered 104 out of 105 questions on the test, skeptical Baylor officials asked him to retake the exam. When he was done, he wrote, "This is not the test I took [when Metcalf was the proctor]." Davis flunked the second exam.
While the Davis episode raised some eyebrows among Baylor administrators, the scandal might not have become public were it not for Bowers. In the summer of 1993 she told then athletic director Grant Teaff and then deputy athletic director Dick Ellis (Teaff has since left Baylor, and Ellis is now in charge of the athletic program) about the alleged traffic in bogus exams and term papers and about other alleged improprieties in Johnson's program. Bowers told SI that both men instructed her to put the information in a memo but to be "vague" about it. The subsequent memo was so vague, said Bowers, that Baylor's compliance officer, Clyde Hart, asked her to elaborate. Bowers said that she then told Hart what she knew in detail, and he instructed her to put that in a memo. Johnson admits that he tipped the Waco Tribune-Herald to the existence of the memo, perhaps to brand Bowers as a quisling who was attempting to ruin Baylor basketball. Lambert's testimony to Southwest Conference investigators hit the papers, corroborating Bowers's account. Fossum read the story, and the federal investigation began.
There is clearly bad blood between Bowers and Baylor. In January 1990 she received a memo from then assistant athletic director T.C. (Skip) Cox calling attention to complaints he said that he had received about her attire. Her sartorial indiscretions are listed in a memo that would be laughable had Cox not been entirely serious (photo, above). Bowers was fired in May 1993 because, said Baylor, she was not operating her program properly, then rehired three months later. After amassing a 13-14 record in '93-94, she was fired again, this time, said the school, for not winning. Whatever Bowers's motives in going public, the information in the indictments backs up her story.
The players involved in the scandal have scattered. Lambert, who told investigators that he was given a term paper by Drummond to submit as his own at Westark, is redshirting at Oklahoma State. Marcus Thompson, who admitted that he had copied a paper, reportedly supplied by Drummond, to obtain a passing grade in a Westark English composition course, is at Murray State. He is the only player to directly connect Johnson with the scandal, having told the Houston Chronicle that Johnson entered a room when Brantley was copying test answers. When contacted by SI, Thompson would only say that on instructions from Drummond he took two correspondence courses from Southeastern.
Davis transferred to Kansas State, where he is eligible to play this year. The NCAA believed him when he told its investigators that he had no knowledge that the exam submitted for him was not his work. Ervin is at Central Oklahoma, and Malone is at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss; neither could be reached for comment. SI could not locate Brantley.
Johnson's three assistants have all left Waco. Gary Thomas (who is charged with six counts of wire fraud, one count of mail fraud and one count of conspiracy) is the coach at Central High in Salina, Kans. Gray (two counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy) is the acting coach at Eastern High in his hometown of Louisville, but his future at the school is now uncertain. Drummond (four counts of wire fraud, three counts of mail fraud and one count of conspiracy) returned to his home in Mountainburg, Ark., and is not coaching. The Shelton State administrators, Lee and Hargrow (both two counts of wire fraud), are still in their positions. And Pratt (one count of wire fraud) is the coach at Kansas City Kansas Community College. Only Pratt has commented publicly, denying all of the allegations contained in the indictment.
No one has suggested that anyone at Southeastern was involved in the alleged scam. Indeed, it appears that someone—exactly who remains unclear—simply recognized that the Bible school represented a gold mine of academic credits. The majority of students who enroll in Southeastern correspondence courses in such disciplines as Biblical languages, Christian education, and historical theology, are pastors and church staff members. When school officials realized that an increasing number of junior college students were enrolling in the courses (one source says that college athletes at as many as 40 schools have used Southeastern credits), they were gratified, not suspicious. "Dr. [Thomas] Wilson [the school's director of continuing education] said repeatedly that he was excited that junior college students were interested in studying the Bible," says Margaret Hennesy, director of alumni and college relations at Southeastern. "We thought of this as a way to reach people with the word of God."
In the wake of the indictments Southeastern has tightened its guidelines with respect to those permitted to proctor its exams. Before the scandal an assistant coach at a junior college could qualify as "a college instructor or administrator"; now Southeastern will allow only officials of a university testing center, an academic dean's office or a registrar's office to supervise and submit its exams.
Last Saturday morning, as he cleaned out his Baylor office, the 39-year-old Johnson said, "I made some errors in judgment, but at no time have I participated in any kind of academic impropriety or irregularity."
If the information in the indictments is true, Johnson is a liar.
"When Darrel came in," said Bowers, "the big saying was, Let's take Baylor to the next level. Well, they've taken Baylor to the next level. The only problem was, they didn't realize you could go down."
ROD AYDELOTTE/WACO TRIBUNE-HERALD
Johnson denied that he had violated any rules but admitted making "errors in judgment."
ROD AYDELOTTE/WACO TRIBUNE-HERALD
Recruitment of Lambert (shooting) and (from left to right) Davis, Brantley, Thompson and Ervin led to indictment of Thomas (far right) and seven others.
ROD AYDELOTTE/WACO TRIBUNE-HERALD
Bowers's flamboyant on-court style obviously rubbed Baylor administrators the wrong way.