As if the NCAA investigation and grand jury testimony weren't damaging enough, on Oct. 15 starting quarterback Kyle Morris, who had thrown for 1,098 yards and nine TDs in six games, and Shane Matthews were suspended for the year for betting on college football games. Athletic director Bill Arnsparger received an anonymous letter alleging that at least two football players were betting with bookies. "It wasn't real detailed, but it did have facts," said Arnsparger. "The writer knew what he was talking about. I called the university lawyers."
The accused players admitted to what they thought were minor indiscretions. They said they had bet small amounts—$25 to $100 per week—with an Athens, Ga., bookmaking operation. They said they had bet on perhaps two games per week between late August and Oct. 7, but had never bet on games involving the Gators or other SEC teams.
The NCAA mandates suspension for athletes who bet on college sports, though an athlete can apply during the off-season to have his eligibility restored. Morris and Matthews had their scholarships revoked and moved out of the athletic dorm. They allowed the university to disclose why they had been kicked off the team. No reason was given for the suspension of two walk-ons, quarterback G.A. Mangus and receiver Brady Ackerman. Said a source at the university, "Two kids thought it would be better to have the real reason out there, so people wouldn't think it was drugs or something worse. Two exercised their rights of confidentiality."
Thus began homecoming week, an annual blowout that purports to be the biggest, best, showiest, just-plain-fun-nest bacchanalia in all of collegeland. Professors go light on homework because the students need time to build the floats that will roll down University Avenue during Friday's parade. Numerous alumni take vacations during the week and head for Gainesville. Student thespians rehearse the raunchy skits they'll perform at the Gator Growl, a Friday night pep rally that fills Griffin Stadium with 70,000 ticket holders.
This year homecoming week was very different. As the alumni pulled into town, they found banners hanging from the eaves of the Delta Upsilon fraternity house ridiculing the homecoming theme of "65 Years of Excellence." Two banners depicted mock front pages of the school newspaper, one with the headline PELL FORCED TO RESIGN, the other with HALL FORCED TO RESIGN. Delta Upsilon's commentary was beneath the bold type: "After 65 years...finally a tradition." While the DU's were hanging their banners, the brothers at Lambda Chi Alpha were preparing a float with a sign that read: GATOR FOOTBALL—YOU CAN BET ON IT.
Each morning The Gainesville Sun provided detailed accounts of the betting ring with which Morris and Matthews were involved. There was even an exposé of a fantasy baseball league that included Arnsparger and other members of the athletic department. (According to Arnsparger, the winner makes a few hundred bucks, and the payoffs go mostly for pizza and beer. University administrators promised to investigate.)
The local TV evening news covered the football team's weekly media luncheon, which was tense, and the basketball team's annual preseason media day, which was even tenser. At the latter gathering, Sloan again denied any wrongdoing. He said his team would weather the NCAA's investigation. Then he let the reporters have it.
"This has been a zoo," he said. "You people have been out of control.... If anything, any kind of evidence at all, had shown up that could verify that we had broken a rule, our asses would already be fired. Don't you know that?" The room was silenced.
Sloan denied requests for further interviews, but Arnsparger agreed to answer questions. He denied rumors that Sloan was about to be fired. "Nothing's been proved against the basketball team," he said. Arnsparger acknowledged, however, that Maxwell's grand jury allegations hadn't been disproved. He said the university was respecting a judge's gag order on the grand jury testimony, even if the press was not. He said the university would address the allegations when the gag order was lifted. He noted that swift justice had been meted out to Hall and the gamblers and that the school, which must show that it is trying to put its house in order if it hopes to appease the NCAA, will address all allegations in due course. As of Sunday, Sloan and Towe were still running the basketball program.
But what about the St. Petersburg Times story claiming Arnsparger had ignored his own drug policy at the time—three positives, and a player is dismissed—by not suspending Maxwell after he had thrice tested positive? "I'm not going to answer a charge made by a newspaper," said Arnsparger.