Until he left Nike a year ago, rumpled shoe salesman Sonny Vaccaro wielded power through friendships—both with rising high school stars and with such coaches as Thompson, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, Seton Hall's P.J. Carlesimo and Georgia Tech's Bobby Cremins. Vaccaro has gone out on his own now, but his clout is only slightly diminished as he embarks on a more variegated career—as a marketing consultant, game promoter and director of the new Academic Betterment and Career Development (ABCD) Camp, which attracted enough high school stars in its first season to suggest that Vaccaro will soon be a player-procurement player again.
Being employed at a traditional power gives Kentucky athletic director C.M. Newton a platform; being a former coach gives him credibility; being a panjandrum with USA Basketball—he was just named president but has had a hand in picking U.S. national teams for 12 years—gives him clout; and being a reformer fits him with a halo so he can act without being second-guessed. Hank Nichols has taken over Steitz's role as editor of the rules and sits on a permanent worldwide commission looking into ways to standardize the pro, college and international games. But his most immediate power is as NCAA supervisor of officials, the man who assigns referees for the tournament. The nation's refs spend months whistling for his attention.
If Dick Vitale and Billy Packer were mere TV commentators, they might not merit mention. They count because they're the only analysts who regularly engage the issues. Love him or hate him, Vitale reaches more people more volubly than anyone else in the game, and his access to players is unparalleled. Packer has similar clout with coaches, and he uses it to CBS's advantage in the scheduling of interconference games (although his network's contractual ties to the Big East and Big Ten mean he can't do as much game-making as he used to).
Newcomer Mike Slive is neither the best-connected nor the most-respected collegiate commissioner, but his Great Midwest Conference debuted in splashy fashion last season—Cincinnati went to the Final Four and Memphis State to the final eight—and it could become the Big East of the Flyover if it can lure into its membership Notre Dame or a couple of schools (West Virginia? George Washington? Temple?) from the Atlantic 10. Slive's former law partner in Chicago, Mike Glazier, is influential in a different way. He used to work as the director of the NCAA's enforcement office, and he now conducts in-house probes for schools in trouble with his former employer. Illinois, Missouri, Texas A&M and Syracuse all used Glazier and Slive when they were under investigation by the NCAA, and some schools still pay Glazier large sums to keep them out of hot water. The infractions folks (David Berst, the most powerful vestige of the Byers era, remains the NCAA's chief cop) have tended to show more mercy for Glazier's clients than for saps like Kansas and Maryland, which decided to go it alone.
Among the younger generation of coaches, Mike Krzyzewski, the NABC president, has singular credibility for doing what none of his peers has done: winning back-to-back titles with serious students. Drake's Rudy Washington is the founder of the Black Coaches Association and continues to prod the consciences of administrators who otherwise might not take seriously the issue of minority hiring. USC coach and world-class networker George Raveling has suddenly emerged as a leader in the effort to reform the summer recruiting scene—pretty good for a guy who just two seasons ago looked as if he would be fired. And Tom Penders of Texas has used his position as one of the few shining lights of the Southwest Conference to good advantage. He threatened to leave Texas a few years ago if the conference didn't upgrade its officiating and even interviewed for various coaching vacancies. The stir he created probably still translates into an edge on the floor.
Every one of the aforementioned 20 movers and shakers is a player in the Tim Robbins sense, but none is a player in the more orthodox sense, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why real players don't shine in this galaxy. Forget about not being paid; players are worse off than that. They have no power. Their scholarships can be summarily canceled after any season. Their coaches can light out for another campus at any time, yet they must sit out an entire season if they want to leave. That's why, search as you might, you'll find no undergraduates on these pages.
THE HAND OF...
...Dave Gavitt. The Big East founder is now the Boston Celtics' senior executive V.P., but his fingerprints are still visible all over the universe.
Kansas City attorney Mike Glazier wields big influence—and makes big bucks—as a hired gun who conducts investigations for schools in NCAA trouble.
As reformist AD at Kentucky and USA Basketball's majordomo, C.M. Newton has laurels—not falling apples—on his head.
JEDI KNIGHTS & STARSHIP CAPTAINS