THE VIGILANTE BOOSTER
Until three years ago Fred Sutton, a wealthy Palm Bay, Fla., businessman, was a big-time Florida football booster. He was one of a dozen influential Gator fans who enticed blue-chippers to come to Gainesville. He now freely admits that he spent thousands of dollars breaking the rules, that he set up summer jobs paying players "exorbitant" wages and that he paid "a couple of thousand dollars" to players for four season tickets. Sutton was far from alone in such wrongdoing: In 1984 an NCAA investigation of Florida misdeeds resulted in coach Charley Pell's being fired and his program's being put on three years' probation.
In the aftermath Sutton and other boosters, at the behest of Florida's president, Marshall Criser, signed pledges to play fair in the future. But Sutton, upset by the sanctimonious attitude taken by Florida's rivals—Florida cheating jokes were heard throughout the Southeast—soon became involved in a wholly different way. In late 1985 he hired an Orlando private investigating firm, Interpose International, Inc., to look into possible cheating on other campuses. Sutton said that he spent "tens of thousands of dollars" on the subsequent investigation of the football programs at Auburn, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State and that dozens of athletes were interviewed by Interpose. Sutton said he instructed the investigators to contact the NCAA before beginning their work and that "they welcomed the help." David Berst, the NCAA's director of enforcement, confirmed that the NCAA talked to Interpose. "We're always soliciting information from people. We don't mind getting this type of information." But Berst said that any Interpose findings would be regarded only as "raw charges."
Sutton's probe stirred up a fuss among University of Florida officials as well as those on other campuses. In April, Florida athletic director Bill Carr visited Sutton and told him that Florida had heard from officials of other schools. "They were very upset," Sutton says. "Carr asked if I was conducting an investigation. I told him I was. He asked if I would quit. I said no."
On April 23, in a letter to Sutton, Criser insisted that he "immediately terminate" his probe. Criser told Sutton his activities were "detrimental to relationships with other institutions" and were not "in the best interests of intercollegiate athletics." Last week Criser said, "I don't know what his motivations are [but] this vigilante approach is not a solution.... The system is the NCAA. If it needs more investigators, it should employ more investigators."
Sutton has pressed on in the face of such opposition, and he says that Inter-pose's investigation was recently completed. "Would you like to see the evidence?" he asked SI writer-reporter Armen Keteyian in his Palm Bay office last week. Sutton produced a foot-tall stack of bulging folders. He said the 14 folders contained details of abuses—scalping of tickets to alumni, special deals on cars, new wardrobes, cash payments to players. Keteyian wasn't allowed to examine the documents.
"I was afraid the school would turn on me, and that's what it did," Sutton said. "But this was something I needed to do. Bankers, attorneys, wealthy landowners don't need to be running around after 17-year-old kids. It's wrong and it's not healthy." He said he would soon turn over his evidence to State University system chancellor Charles Reed, who, significantly, oversees Gator archrival Florida State as well as Florida. "My goal," said Fred Sutton, "is to get boosters like Fred Sutton out of the system."
GOLF'S TOPSY-TURVY TOURNAMENT
On Sunday Ken Green shot the highest score and won this week's PGA Tour event in Castle Rock, Colo. Yes, the highest. Welcome to the upside-down world of The International golf tournament, which in its inaugural outing took great pains to prove, well, not a whole lot.
The International was intended to be a showcase for feats of derring-do, sort of like the NBA All-Star Game. Showboating was to be encouraged by a radical scoring system that rewarded risk-taking. A golfer got 2 points for a birdie, 5 for an eagle, 10 for a double eagle; a bogey cost him a point, a double bogey or worse cost 3. Par was par—worth no points—and as you see, the highest score is indeed the best. The starting field of 162 was cut at least in half each round, and since there was no carryover of scores from one day to the next, it was no bigger deal to have the best score than to just sneak by. On Sunday the 12 finalists shot it out for a $703,500 pot, $180,000 of which went to Green, who beat Bernhard Langer by three strokes...ah, points.