On the hilly, green campus of Indiana University stands a half-completed $4.5 million football stadium. With its naked beams and bare backside, it looks like the Colosseum at Rome, and, like the Colosseum, it is involved in a decline and fall. Indiana has been thrown—or possibly has jumped—to the lions.
For four years, the National Collegiate Athletic Association has just decreed, the university may not take part in NCAA championship and bowl games or in NCAA-controlled television programs. This last will deprive Indiana of about $75,000 a year, no small amount for a school that financed its new stadium on a buy-now-pay-later basis.
The NCAA edict angered but did not dismay Indiana's jovial president, Herman Wells (left). Indiana boosters were less philosophical. "A pretty rough potshot!" cried one. "A raw deal!" said another. "A stab in the back!" The mildest word anyone used was "Inconceivable!"
Actually, the NCAA's position—inconceivable or not in Indiana—is clear: Indiana and its head football coach, Phil Dickens, practiced too much togetherness with potential footballers; money and expense-paid vacation trips home were promised, and athletes were nursed and coddled on campus. Ergo, Indiana is on probation, and that's that. There is no appeal.
It will surprise no realistic student of 20th century college football that beyond-the-rules recruiting goes on steadily and merrily, and not only in the Big Ten. The Southeastern Conference, for example, has been known on occasion to offer small county seats and castles in Bavaria to promising high school players. But within the Big Ten—most insiders agree—Indiana has played the fastest, the loosest and the bravest. The Hoosiers' bravery (some call it gall) may be seen in the fact that five of the six NCAA counts against the school go back to 1958, when Coach Dickens was already on probation for similar offenses against the commonweal.
Now that the NCAA has unleashed its thunderbolt, the reaction of Big Ten coaches and recruiters is most interesting for what it reveals by omission. Unspoken but clearly understood is the feeling that just about everybody is breaking the rules, but Indiana broke the rules badly, i.e., Indiana got caught.
Most of the people close to this situation are eager to talk, but few are willing to be quoted on the record. Explains a Chicago sportswriter and student of the Big Ten: "Whenever a new coach comes into the Big Ten, all other schools brace themselves for the jolt of his recruiting techniques. The reason is he has four years in which to produce a good team. His success depends largely on how well he recruits in his first year or so; those recruits will be the boys who will make or break his team four years later. Early in the 1950s Indiana hired Bernie Crimmins away from Notre Dame because he had been in charge of Notre Dame recruiting. But Crimmins recruited strictly according to the rules. His teams were unsuccessful and Dickens was brought in.
"Within a very short time there was talk among recruiters in Chicago of the jolting aggressiveness of Indiana's recruiting. This happened at a bad time. The Big Ten had just imposed its grant-in-aid rules, which demand that a parent pay as much of a boy's education as he could afford. The conference was under pressure to prove that the new system would work. That meant it had to crack down on violations to show it meant business. So it cracked down on Dickens in the summer of 1957 and ordered him suspended."
A recruiter from another Big Ten school says: "Let's face it. We all do a little bit for the kids on the side. You almost have to these days if the kid is any good at all. But it's the way that Indiana did it that hurts recruiters everywhere. There was no finesse; the recruiter would just approach the kid, tell him how much he was worth, whip out the bankroll and peel off the green. When I'd show up to see a prospect, the Indiana recruiter would be standing in the corner. 'Come over and see me after you finish talking,' he'd tell the kid. And the boy would smile and say to me, 'Well, I guess I'm lucky you came today. My price ought to go up a few bucks.' '
High-pressure recruiting has always been the norm in the Big Ten; it was Forest Evashevski's talent to build Iowa into a football power with an extensive recruiting program which never (well, hardly ever) crossed the bounds of propriety. Star football players are kept happy at other Big Ten schools in a myriad of extralegal ways. One angel meets the players in the locker room after a game, shakes hands all around and deposits bills ranging from $10 to $50 in eager, sweaty palms. At another school, football players receive unsigned envelopes in the Monday morning mail with their weekly honorarium enclosed. Many Big Ten football players are carried on the payrolls of industry at $40 or $50 weekly; sometimes they show up for "work," and sometimes they stay in bed.