Among other steps, Slaughter appointed a task force on campus drug use, which has helped put Bias's drug involvement in perspective. The group found that 40.6% of Maryland's undergraduates surveyed said they had used marijuana at least once in the last year and 20.1% said they had used cocaine during that time. It also learned that the university spends only $17,000 a year of its $221 million budget on drug education.
A task force on academics formed by Slaughter returned last month with sweeping criticisms of the athletic department and 60 recommendations for reforming it. These include tougher admission and eligibility standards for Maryland athletes and an improved academic counseling system removed from athletic department control. Slaughter says that all of the recommendations, in some form or other, will be in place by next fall. Already in effect at Maryland are new, stricter drug-testing procedures designed to prevent the switching and altering of samples said to have gone on last year, when the testing of athletes was introduced. Testing at Maryland now extends to anabolic steroids, amphetamines, and other drugs, including cocaine and marijuana.
In specific response to the basketball team's academic problems, Slaughter pushed back the start of the season from Nov. 28 to Dec. 27 and the opening of practice from Oct. 15 to last Saturday. New coach Bob Wade, named last Thursday, will have to limit practice time to 18 hours a week instead of the customary 25. He will be lucky if his team goes much above .500 this season.
Clearly, Slaughter has dedicated himself to a course of relatively moderate reforms rather than more sweeping and dramatic steps. He and the academic task force both considered, briefly, the Tulane option: shutting the basketball program down completely. But they considered such a step too severe. Slaughter says that if basketball revenues vanished, so would several of the university's 16 nonrevenue sports programs. He does not accept that trade-off. He also says he considers top-rate Division I-A teams crucial in bringing together on campus the university's 38,639 students, nearly 80% of whom are commuters.
Slaughter has his own personal perspective on several aspects of college sports. He empathizes with athletes who are blamed for failing to graduate in four years, having taken 5� years himself to earn an undergraduate degree from Kansas State. Slaughter took so long because he had to catch up from the slow, vocational track he had been assigned to in high school. "In those days no one had ever heard of a black engineer," he says. "Advisors didn't tell me I needed to take things like physics and chemistry, a lot of mathematics.... Instead I spent two years learning how to repair radios and television sets." As a result, Slaughter is sensitive to the charges that some Maryland athletes have been steered into easy courses to remain eligible.
On the other hand, as one of the most highly regarded black academicians in the country. Slaughter is reluctant to advocate overly rigid entrance standards—or rule out special tutoring and developmental programs—that might limit the access many minority students have to a college education. It is worth noting that Maryland bends its admissions requirements for about 200 students each year. but fewer than 50 of them are athletes.
It might be of consolation to Slaughter to know that Maryland has been down this twisting, bumpy road before. Until the mid-1950s, Maryland had the reputation of being a jock school. Football coach—turned—university president Curley Byrd built so powerful an athletic program in the 1940s and early '50s that university historian George Callcott says, "I think you can say this: It was football more than anything else that put the University of Maryland on the map and made it feel like it was a big-time institution."
In 1954, however, a scathing review of the school by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools threatened Maryland's accreditation. The report pictured Byrd as a dictator and said athletics at the school were out of control. It said—does this sound familiar?—Maryland was passing athletes who were not attending classes, awarding scholarships to people who were unqualified for admission and looking the other way when accusations were brought. "It was so very much like the situation here now," says Callcott. "Far from enhancing the reputation of the institution, the athletic department became a threat to it." The university survived by enacting major academic reforms.
Which is what it must push forward with now. "Where our reputation has been hurt is with those people who don't know anything about the University of Maryland except as a result of what they've read or heard about the Len Bias case," says Dull. "We have a great, great task ahead of us to restore confidence in the institution among those people. The road back, I'm afraid, is not a short one."
Slaughter certainly knows that. He considered himself a good friend of Len Bias's, and suffered as much as anyone over the young man's death. He saw the nation go into an antidrug frenzy as a consequence of the tragedy, and knows that the burden on his university remains extremely heavy.