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Hannon's tip-off brought a clutch of FBI agents to the campus, interviewing tongue-tied athletes and indignant coaches, and on July 19, 1972 the grand jury indictment appeared. The trial itself did not commence until March 19 of this year—after eight months of agony for the accused and ecstasy for their detractors. With the aid of donations from Grizzly boosters, Swarthout hired Montana's top defense attorney, Charles F. (Timer) Moses, of Billings. Moses, 48, is a tall, white-haired former Montana basketball star whose renown in murder cases hovers over the Mountain West like the ubiquitous golden eagle.
During the four weeks of testimony—which alternated between torpor and high dudgeon, leavened only by the dry wit of U.S. District Judge Ray McNichols—Timer Moses got the indictment counts reduced from 32 to 18, which left the basic conspiracy charge and 17 counts of questionable work-study pay periods. If convicted on every one of the original counts, his clients conceivably could have spent the next 160 football seasons in the slammer. Swarthout, 53, a serious and somewhat unimaginative man with the traditional coach's flattop haircut and a massive capacity for self-righteousness, could not quite believe it was happening.
"When the FBI agents first showed up I thought it was all a big mistake," he said. "Athletics have so much value, not only to the university and the community but to the U.S. itself. Football particularly. It hones the competitive instincts, it promotes discipline and cooperation. And here were these guys—G-men—treating me like I was some criminal. Still, I wanted to be honest with them; I've always been honest. Sure, we may have made some mistakes in our work-study accounting, but there was no intent to defraud Uncle Sam. I called my boys together, my players, and told them to be perfectly open with the FBI agents, to tell them everything the way it happened. A couple of them, maybe, were vindictive, but they're just boys, and I want to help them."
The unkindest cut of all, in Swarthout's opinion, came from a former Grizzly quarterback, Jay William Baumberger, who claimed he had been paid for virtually no work at all. Baumberger, a passing quarterback, found himself frustrated with Swarthout's Wishbone offense. After the 1971 season, Swarthout had helped Baumberger to get a transfer to North Dakota State, and when Baumberger showed up at the trial as a key prosecution witness, Swarthout felt hurt but still mustered a sincere semblance of understanding. "You gotta help the kid," he said during one lunch break last week. "He felt he should play more. He said some things during the trial that weren't true but, heck, I might have done the same thing at his age and in his position."
"You're too kind," said co-defendant Betcher, a husky swinger who is not afraid to contradict his boss. "Baumberger is a selfish, inconsiderate kid. I recruited him myself, and he's basically my mistake. But what he said about us—you shouldn't be that gentle on him."
There was little doubt in the minds of observers that Jack Swarthout was suffering during all of this—suffering the sweats of the man who has always felt he was doing what his peers considered to be the right thing, but who suddenly awakens to find himself accused of being out of step.
It is said around Missoula that by Old West tradition, a Montana jury assumes the defendant to be innocent, period—unless he is an Indian. After near a month of palaver, the jury retired to deliberate and emerged last Saturday afternoon with a hearty "not guilty." Swarthout and Betcher brightened with relief. "Golly," said Swarthout. "I'm glad that's over. Now I can start thinking about spring practice." But in the wake of the verdict other coaches across the land would doubtless be thinking about more than just Z's and O's. Indeed, Swarthout's method of athletic finance may ultimately become even more famous than his mentor Royal's Wishbone T—unless, of course, the Federal Government decides that it does not wish to continue as an unconscious contributor to football success and rewrites the work-study program accordingly.
Even before the outcome was decided, however, UM President Pantzer voiced strong doubts about the basic issue: Can small-time football survive in a climate increasingly dominated by escalating costs and student apathy? "Perhaps the sport of two-platoon football ought to be ended in schools of this size," he said. "The kids who don't feel like mountain climbing can always watch the NCAA Game of the Week instead. Football is far too costly for us. Our conference is dreary, little known, small, not very exciting. If we could play all of our schedule within the conference and fix the costs of recruiting and scholarships at a reasonable level, we could continue. Alternatively, the state legislature must fund us or else we get out. Football is really the most frustrating problem of all on the campus."