It was almost certainly the most historic meeting ever convened in the shadow of Knuckles, the sports bar in Chicago's Hyatt Regency O'Hare. But it remains to be seen if last week's college basketball coaches' summit—at which more than 300 men's Division I head coaches agreed to draft a professional code of ethics—really was, as NCAA president Myles Brand called it, "a dramatically important day." For the moment, at least, the pacts signed in Geneva, Potsdam and Yalta will remain uneclipsed by this, the 2003 Knuckles Accord.
Still, the coaches were right to be concerned about their collective reputation after a year of extraordinary headlines—about academic fraud, a murder investigation and a coed party. "It ain't long before college coaches become extinct, if we don't do something" said former Georgetown coach John Thompson, standing in the hotel lobby. Alas, as he spoke, Thompson was not wearing, as one might have hoped, a Hyatt towel draped over one shoulder.
Even so, it was surreal to see so many famous and not-quite-famous faces in one place, like a wall at Sardi's sprung to life. Wayne Morgan, the new coach at Iowa State, still looked wind-whipped by the media sandstorm of last spring, when his predecessor, Larry Eustachy, was forced out after attending the aforementioned party. "For those first two months," Morgan said softly, "it was like standing behind a palm tree in a hurricane."
Indeed, the accumulated weight of such scandals necessitated this meeting, an exercise in expiating the sins of others. "The amount of negative publicity," sighed Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, "has had its effect." And so attendance at the one-day convention, called by the board of directors of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, was mandatory. An unexcused absence was punishable by the forfeiture of one's Final Four tickets. Naturally, having been summoned to the woodshed, most coaches were eager to exit it as quickly as possible—and to go unnoticed in doing so. They fled Ballroom A at the end of the day as if from a porno theater set afire, swishing past the press in nylon sweatsuits or knotted-up in neckties.
Still you had to admire the sheer cordiality of their brush-offs, from the self-deprecation of Cincinnati coach Bob Hug-gins ("They will have a press conference and explain things more eloquently than I can") to the Zen koan offered by North Carolina coach Roy Williams, who stared three kilometers past this reporter before stating preemptively, "Let's see if we can grab a cab, Bob!"
And with that, the coaches piled into other coaches: waiting buses whose destination placards in the windshields said neither O'HARE nor AIRPORT nor CHARTER but—and this was perfect in its cryptic congeniality—HAVE A NICE DAY.
For the meeting was among other things an exercise in public relations, designed to send the message that Texas coach Rick Barnes expressed on his way out the door: "As coaches, we've had some problems. But as a whole we want to do the right thing."
Those coaches who did not immediately bolt for the airport were rewarded. They got to savor the delicious irony of having sportswriters interrogate them on standards of professional conduct. "Maybe our code of ethics can be used in other professions, so that unnamed sources wouldn't be used as the basis for articles," suggested Krzyzewski. "Maybe we can have you join the party. The media shouldn't just be watching the game but be part of it."
"It's a small percentage of the public, and a small percentage of the media, who think that [all coaches are unethical]," added Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. "I mean, a writer for The New York Times made up his stories. And that's a pretty prestigious paper. Do I think, If it's happening there, it's happening at every paper in the country?"
Nevertheless, each coach did leave the meeting with a mandate: to tailor a formal code of ethics for his program. The NCAA, for its part, promised to examine a few of its more ridiculous rules. " Georgia Tech had a player pass away," Brand said in a spasm of self-flagellation, "and if you follow the rule closely and blindly, they can't replace that player. Now, c'mon, that doesn't make a lot of sense."