Events of recent weeks have brought to the public's attention a series of problems involving college basketball. As president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, I have been working with our board of directors on programs to rectify many wrongs in our game. Until now we have not publicized our efforts, but because of the widespread reaction to outbreaks such as the violent Ohio State-Minnesota game two weeks ago (SI, Feb. 7) I feel it is important to speak out on behalf of the organization whose membership stands ready to begin house-cleaning of the sport.
It was not only the game in Minneapolis that aroused coaches across the country. Encroachments by the American Basketball Association, and what its approach—namely, greed for the quick buck—stands for are viewed as every bit as destructive of college basketball. And there are other ills: the threat of gambling scandals, crowd-provoking bench behavior by coaches, a lack of real concern for the education of the athletes and the rupture of ties between honest educational and athletic programs. But most serious of all is the matter of cheating in recruiting. Cheating is the end result of a vicious cycle that begins with a win-at-all-costs philosophy. Cheating is a fire fanned by college alumni and administrations and the general public. Cheating primarily—but all the other problems, too—have prompted our association to take action to change the course of the college game.
I want first to stress that I am not blowing the whistle on anyone. I am not a do-gooder and I believe that it is only a matter of chance that I, rather than some other coach, am speaking for our prestigious board of directors. But the time has come when we must speak out. Cheating occurs most often in the recruiting of players, and in the past years many rumors and allegations of illegal recruiting have crossed my desk. Often it has been impossible to prove that the rumors were any more than that, but there have been sufficient numbers of checked cases that convince us that matters are bad enough to demand action.
A flagrant instance brought to my attention involved a major-college coach who is reported to have awarded the usual NCAA scholarship plus $250 a month and a new Camaro automobile to a star player. An option was added that if the player's parents moved to the city where the school was located they would be housed in a free, furnished apartment. However, this coach may have proffered himself into a bind. He offered another star the NCAA "ride" plus $150 a month and a less expensive compact car. I still wonder what happened when the two players parked next to each other in the gym parking lot.
Another typical violation that came to our attention involved the high school player who was invited to visit two campuses located within 30 miles of each other. He received round-trip air tickets from both institutions but did not go home between visits to the schools. Instead, he cashed the extra ticket and pocketed the money. Neither school seemed guilty since their officials were not aware of what the other did.
I personally do not run into many violations among the small schools our MacMurray teams play. But I did observe, if only circumstantially, the sort of thing that is going on now when I worked as manager of the U.S. team in the World University Games of 1970 and in 1971 at the U.S. Olympic Development Camp at Colorado Springs. In both instances I dealt with many of the game's superstars. I and other coaches were aware that some players had money and valuable items that seemed far out of line with their personal backgrounds. Three of the players who shortly were to qualify as hardship cases for the pro drafts had apparent access to large amounts of money and the things it buys. Proving their guilt was next to impossible; it seemed certain, though, that they had been in close contact with player agents, who are becoming objects of major concern for coaches and administrators alike. Evidence produced lately indicates that agents are now aligning themselves with players even before they graduate from high school, often signing personal service contracts with them.
There are many factors involved. Too many kids are in college today who have no interest in or any desire for an education. They use college basketball programs only in the most narrow sense to further their professional careers. There is a widespread lack of loyalty on the part of the players to the schools they represent. Based both on cases reported to the NABC and on my discussions with coaches and concerned officials, I would say that 80% of the cases of violation involve black players, 80% of these come from junior colleges and 98% of the coaches involved are white. The black player is not always at fault. The coach or recruiter who exploits him is. Many cases involve talented young players from lower-income urban backgrounds. They are fine young men but they do not know the rules and often they get in over their heads when they deal with irresponsible college recruiters. They start innocently and then find themselves involved in a spiderweb of problems that sometimes results in the loss of their scholarships.
Athletic directors and even head coaches often are not aware of violations by their own staffs. Because there are so many new arenas in the country with large seating capacities, there is great pressure involved, particularly for aggressive assistants who are anxious to win a plume and build toward their own head coaching job. Many of these assistants are on the road for weeks at a time with no more contact with the athletic department than an occasional phone call. It is easy to see how they can break the rules without the knowledge of their supervisors.
It is easy, too, to see how a certain type of agent operates, although it is nearly impossible to prove him guilty. He is not an assistant coach, but he represents a college—sometimes officially, sometimes unofficially—and his job is to float around with a big bankroll from undetermined sources. He provides for players financially, makes them beholden to him and then directs them to the college of his—not their—choice.
What can be done about all this? It is the intent of our board of directors to conduct a massive cleanup effort directed toward eliminating the problem areas in college basketball before they become forces which will destroy the game. In July we adopted a new program designed to encourage coaches to report others who are cheating on recruiting regulations. We asked coaches to stop complaining about cheating and to do something to stop it.