By now the sports world has become so inured to news about cheating in college athletics that it hardly notices when yet another school gets placed on NCAA probation. After all, 18 intercollegiate programs—ranging from SMU football to Eastern Washington basketball—are on probation at the moment. But Kansas basketball? The NCAA champions? Obviously it was no ordinary bust last week when the NCAA hit the Jayhawks with a three-year probation. Because of that action, for the first time ever, a reigning national collegiate basketball champion will be formally denied, even before the season begins, any chance of defending its title.
The recruiting violations that resulted in the probation occurred under former Kansas coach Larry Brown, who wasn't alone in expressing surprise that the penalties were so harsh. But what surprised some was that a program as prominent as Kansas's had been nailed. Arizona coach Lute Olson called the Kansas case "a warning signal: Either abide by the rules or get nailed."
The most serious violations cited by the NCAA occurred during a 10-day period in the summer of 1986, when a Memphis State player, Vincent Askew, was visiting Kansas with an eye toward transferring there. Askew never did .transfer from Memphis State, but during those 10 days, the NCAA determined, Brown—now the coach of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs—and others spent at least $1,244 on Askew in violation of NCAA rules.
There was money to buy plane tickets and clothes, money to pay an electric bill for Askew's grandmother and money for work Askew never did. The money came from Brown and from three other men whom the NCAA considered Kansas boosters.
Brown and the others involved offered explanations for each payment. They spoke of having acted, at least in a couple of instances, for humanitarian reasons. We don't cheat, they said. The kid needed help. Of course, the NCAA has heard that before, in other cases. So two years after opening its Kansas investigation, as a result of a tip from a "confidential informant," it ruled there would be no postseason play for the Jayhawks this season. Kansas also may not pay for recruits to visit its campus for one year and must forfeit one scholarship in 1989-90. The NCAA also ruled that the three boosters must dissociate themselves from Kansas's program. They have been identified by Brown as Mike Marshall, a former Jayhawk player who sometimes stayed at Brown's house; Jerry Collins, a former KU television producer who now works for the Spurs; and Ralph Light, the owner of a Kansas City construction company.
Still, the penalties could have been worse. According to the NCAA, the Jayhawks nearly got the so-called death penalty, meaning their basketball program would have been shut down. The NCAA can impose such a punishment if it finds two cases of major violations at a school within five years. Kansas almost became the second school—after SMU, whose football team was barred from competition for the 1987 season—to receive the death penalty, because it had been found guilty of serious violations in football in 1983.
Although the NCAA issued a 10-page statement about its case against the Jayhawk basketball program, SI has been able to add to that account:
?Brown told SI that in the summer of 1986 he had a telephone conversation with then Memphis State coach Dana Kirk in which Brown admitted having paid for a plane ticket for Askew, a violation of the NCAA's rules. Brown says that Kirk had told him he had been taping the call, and Brown concludes that Kirk is the informant referred to by the NCAA.
? Marshall, 26, spoke to NCAA investigators on at least four occasions, twice in the presence of an SI reporter. Marshall told investigators of his having given money to Askew and told them of involvement by Kansas coaches in some other—minor—infractions. Marshall was more forthcoming to his NCAA interrogators after they cut a deal with him. Marshall wants to be a coach, and he was worried that his chances of becoming one would be hurt if he were labeled a cheater. The NCAA promised to keep Marshall's identity and his involvement in the case secret from NCAA schools and from the public.
? Marshall has told SI that partly out of friendship for Danny Manning, who led the Jayhawks to last season's NCAA title and was the first player chosen in the 1988 NBA draft, he did not tell NCAA investigators about small loans he made to Manning. Marshall says he also lent money to other Kansas players. The loans, he says, usually ranged from $20 to $100. Under NCAA rules, such loans could have made Manning ineligible his last year at Kansas.