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 naiveté, 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.