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Mike Fish Straight Shooting

A scandalous top 10

These ethical failures rank as worst in NCAA's past two decades

Posted: Wednesday September 29, 2004 1:23PM; Updated: Wednesday September 29, 2004 2:24PM

  Dave Bliss
The tragically scandalous events that happened under Dave Bliss at Baylor rank No. 2 on this list.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

The cash handshake. The phony grades. Cover-ups and the athletic folks looking the other way.

This is the dirty stuff about college sports that won't be found in one of those public service announcements created by the good folks at NCAA headquarters. Don't expect to see anything about the legend of Hart Lee Dykes, the hotshot wide receiver of the mid-1980s who ratted out four cheating programs -- Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Illinois. Nor anything about Jackie Sherrill, the only coach nailed in three separate NCAA investigations -- at Texas A&M and Mississippi State (twice).

But let's be real here: Scandals are ingrained in the culture of big-time college sports. So which ethical failures rank as the worst over the past couple of decades? With the help of some insight from past and current NCAA enforcement folks, here is a top-10 list. Let the debate begin.

1. Southwest Conference (mid-1980s)

Talk about a cesspool. Things were so crooked at Southern Methodist that its football program got slapped with the "death penalty," an NCAA first. The payoff scandal that started at SMU broadened to bring varying levels of sanctions against TCU, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Houston. And the corruption went all the way up to the desk of then-Texas Gov. William Clements, chairman of the SMU board of governors, who was publicly disgraced when it was learned that he had ordered the school to continue paying players from a slush fund after the existence of that fund had been revealed.

2. Baylor (2003)

Forget the cash payments and tawdry shenanigans that occurred under the blind eye of head basketball coach Dave Bliss. Just ponder the thought of a player accused of killing a former teammate. As an old NCAA gumshoe said, "Murder takes it to another level.''

3. St. Bonaventure (2003)

Dr. Robert Wickenheiser, the school's president, lost his job after deciding that a junior-college transfer with only a welding certificate was eligible to play for the Bonnies. The basketball coach, Jan van Breda Kolff, also would be fired along with the athletic director. Sadly, William Swan, chairman of the school's board of trustees, committed suicide three months later, leaving a note that said, in part, that he had let down his alma mater by failing to prevent the scandal.

4. College Gambling (1990s)

There's no bigger sin in collegiate athletics than gambling, yet in the last decade we've seen:

• A Northwestern scandal involving the school's athletic teams led to the convictions of 11 people, including 1994 star tailback Dennis Lundy, who admitted to intentionally fumbling the ball at the goal line against Iowa so he could win a bet. Two Northwestern basketball players were convicted of trying to fix three games in exchange for bribes from gamblers. Four former Northwestern football players were convicted of perjury for lying to grand juries that were investigating betting at the school.

• Two basketball players from Arizona State, most notably All-America point guard Stevin ("Hedake") Smith, jailed for point shaving.

• Thirteen Boston College football players suspended for gambling on football games, two of them against their own team.

• And, oh yeah, the head of NCAA anti-gambling efforts having owned stock in the largest manufacturer of slot machines -- which can be found in the Las Vegas casinos that house sports books.

5. Michigan (early 1990s)

It required a decade to solve the mystery, but the NCAA eventually got to the bottom of hundreds of thousands of dollars the late Ed Martin, a gambler and Michigan booster, paid to Chris Webber, who led the Wolverines to the NCAA championship game in 1992 and 1993.

6. Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God (early 1990s)

If you needed to get a player whose academic status was in jeopardy some fast, easy credit hours, this Lakeland, Fla., school offered just the right correspondence courses. Coaches at several institutions took correspondence courses on behalf of athletes through SCAG, prompting an NCAA investigation of at least 40 athletic departments. Among those hit with sanctions were: Auburn, Baylor, Georgia Southern, New Mexico State, Texas Tech, Cal-Fullerton and Texas-El Paso.

7. Auburn-Alabama (1991-93)


Call this ugly in-state fracas the "Tape Recording Wars." Former Auburn player Eric Ramsey, to the glee if not urging of Alabama supporters, kicked it off by producing tapes of then-head coach Pat Dye talking with him about cash payments, gifts and how to go about getting an unsecured loan. To no great surprise, it wasn't long after that influential Auburn folks helped arrange for former Alabama captain Gene Jelks to come forward with his own set of incriminating tapes that would bring NCAA heat on the Crimson Tide program.

8. Kentucky (1988)

NCAA gumshoes came knocking after $1,000 in cash allegedly sent by Wildcats assistant Dwane Casey to the father of basketball recruit Chris Mills was found in an opened Emery air-express package. The scandal cost head coach Eddie Sutton and athletic director Cliff Hagan their jobs. Mills was barred from playing for Kentucky and Eric Manuel, who was accused of cheating on a college-entrance exam, was banned from further NCAA competition.

9. Minnesota (late 1990s)

In this case, academic fraud surfaced as the bedrock for keeping Gophers eligible. Investigators accused academic adviser Alonzo Newby of going office-to-office and intimidating instructors to make sure certain basketball players received passing grades. The NCAA also found that basketball office manager and team tutor Jan Gangelhoff did schoolwork for the players with head coach Clem Haskins' knowledge.

10. Memphis State (mid-'80s)

It was bad enough that his basketball program kept NCAA investigators busy, but coach Dana Kirk ended up serving four months in a federal prison after being convicted of tax evasion, filing false tax returns and obstruction of justice in 1988. Not a glowing endorsement for the coaching profession.

Mike Fish is a senior writer for

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