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Dark Days at BC
Gerry Callahan
November 18, 1996
A betting scandal triggered by players who wagered against their own team brought new shame to Boston College
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November 18, 1996

Dark Days At Bc

A betting scandal triggered by players who wagered against their own team brought new shame to Boston College

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That night the captains called another players-only meeting, and the results were more disturbing. This time a few of the players who were suspected by the captains of having bet against the team left the room laughing, unaffected by the gravity of the accusation. They didn't laugh for long, though, because moments later they were among five players who were led into a nearby room where Reilly awaited. Boston College athletic director Chet Gladchuk had consulted Reilly a day earlier, and Reilly had made one thing clear: If he stepped in, it was an official investigation, and there was a good chance the press would step in right behind him. "[Boston College officials] knew it could get ugly, but they didn't care," says Reilly. "When was the last time a college called in professional law-enforcement people and tried to clean the mess up with no regard for public relations? To me, BC still has something to be proud of."

In addressing the five players, Reilly primarily dealt with the consequences of point shaving and/or betting against Boston College. The players denied having committed either of those acts. The next day, Sunday, Nov. 3, Reilly returned to the campus with a team of investigators. It was not the most difficult assignment. In almost no time they got some players to divulge the names of the student bookies. Then the student bookies quickly turned over their records, which implicated a number of BC players. According to Reilly, 10 of the 13 suspended players confessed to gambling on sporting events, and the others were easily implicated. "We had everyone cold," he says.

By Tuesday, Nov. 5, a horde of media had descended upon the Boston College campus. No story was complete without a reminder that Boston College was involved in a point-shaving scandal 17 years ago. Basketball player Rick Kuhn received a 10-year prison sentence for his part in that scandal.

On Wednesday a press conference was conducted with the cold efficiency of a court-martial, and one sheet of paper was handed out to the media. On it were the names of the 13 suspended players. None were being punished for taking part in a pool or playing a parlay card. "We're talking about bookie bets," said Reilly. He said that the wagers ranged from $25 to $1,000, but sources told SI that those estimates were low. One player, the sources say, lost $5,000 on the World Series. "One of the coaches asked me where those guys got that kind of money," says Cosenza. "I told him I have no idea."

According to Reilly, the two players who placed bets on Syracuse against Boston College wagered $250 and $200, respectively. BC officials said that because the two players had had little or no playing time, neither were in position to affect the outcome of the game.

Amid this upheaval, Boston College was supposed to be preparing for its biggest game of the season—the nationally televised home date with Notre Dame. The Eagles juggled their depth chart, turning backup quarterback Scott Murtyn, for example, into the long snapper on punts. The game began in a windblown rain before a sellout crowd of 44,500, and BC made a spirited comeback from a 21-10 halftime deficit. Walker's 15-yard scoring run and a two-point conversion made it 21-21 with 10:47 left in the third quarter, but the Fighting Irish ran off four unanswered touchdowns to win handily.

After the game, in the parking lot outside the Eagles' locker room, a small group of women students held up signs in support of Kiernan Speight, a sophomore cornerback who had been confronted by the BC captains about suspected gambling involvement but was later exonerated. Jovelle Johnson, a sophomore from Boston who painted the word INNOCENT on a sheet next to Speight's number 25, said, "Henning is just using this because he knows he's going to get fired and he's trying to save his job."

If she is right, Henning certainly chose an original route to job security: He invited the authorities into his locker room, told the world that his players were betting against themselves and got summarily thumped by Notre Dame. Now there's a man out to save his own skin. "What Coach Henning did was amazing," says Walker. "He easily could have tried to hide everything until the end of the season."

The truth is, Henning's name had appeared on the endangered list long before the scandal unfolded. The Eagles went 4-8 last season and have won just one Big East game this year. In two-plus seasons, his record at BC is 15-18-1. It would have been easier for him to keep the lid on the gambling rumors for three more weeks, finish out the season, let the school buy out the last two years of his contract and return to the comfort of an assistant coaching position in the NFL, where he has spent most of his career. Instead, Henning chose to be the point man for a program under siege. It was, oddly, his finest moment in an undistinguished tenure at the school.

"Before the game I told the players that we went through a tough week, but they did something—they stepped up to the plate and determined whether they wanted to be cleared or cleansed," Henning said after the Notre Dame game. "It wasn't easy; they knew some of their friends wouldn't be here with them. But when there's a murderer in your neighborhood, you've got to tell someone about it. They're young people, and I don't think they understood what they would have to go through this week. But the one thing they did understand was that they had to do what was right."

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