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427: A CASE IN POINT
Ray Kennedy
June 10, 1974
Violations of athletic policies and proprieties proved the ruin of sport at Long Beach State. A study of men and motives that raises uneasy questions about the games colleges play today
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June 10, 1974

427: A Case In Point

Violations of athletic policies and proprieties proved the ruin of sport at Long Beach State. A study of men and motives that raises uneasy questions about the games colleges play today

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But in Long Beach and elsewhere the deep wound inflicted by the NCAA is still very much open and festering; questions are still being asked. Was Long Beach State the victim of an NCAA vendetta? Is Jerry Tarkanian a criminal? Was there some unique evil force at work? Did Jim Stangeland escape unscathed? Is everyone telling the truth?

The answer to all of the above is no. The two big questions, however, remain: What really happened? Is what happened indicative of a degeneration of order and morality throughout college sport? A few things are certain at Long Beach: before, during and after the NCAA issued its communiques, intercollegiate athletics at Long Beach State was, as elsewhere, a complex mix of men and motives, a source of pride and achievement and, alas, cause for great bitterness and suspicion.

Any understanding of Case No. 427 must begin with an appreciation of what is and what is not happening these days behind the scenes in intercollegiate sport. To be blunt, cheating as defined by the NCAA is widespread. Allowing for exaggeration, for unfounded rumors, for accusations made as excuses for defeat, there are too many complaints from too many quarters to conclude otherwise.

There are, for example, the declarations of such coaches as Pepperdine's Gary Colson: "I don't think you can win big without cheating." Or Ed Murphy, who recently resigned from New Mexico State where he was an assistant basketball coach and chief recruiter: "This is the worst year I've ever seen for cheating." Or Penn State's Joe Paterno: "There were probably more illegal offers made in recruiting last year than ever before." Or Texas' Darrell Royal: "You're out there trying to sell yourself and your school and the prospect ain't hearing a word you're saying. All he's wondering is when you're going to start talking money." Or Indiana's Bobby Knight: "When they get to the bottom of Watergate, they'll find a football coach." Or Notre Dame's Digger Phelps: "I think we've created a monster."

The NCAA's reaction, attacking the effect rather than the cause, is to crack down harder. But with a grand total of four full-time investigators, 669 member institutions and a 253-page manual jam-packed with a bewildering array of regulations, NCAA enforcement is still at best a hit-and-mostly-miss proposition.

"If cheating is so universal," says one NCAA investigator, "then why isn't my phone jumping off the hook?" The answer: because the NCAA's dependence on tips from informers repels most of those who are supposed to be doing the informing. "I've never blown the whistle on anyone yet," says Joe Paterno, "and I never will." A cynic would add that if the NCAA is wanting for proof of wickedness, it is only because, after so many years of practice, the amateurs have become pros at covering up.

The majority of coaches take the attitude of South Carolina's Frank McGuire: "Most of the time I don't want to know what goes on. When a prize recruit comes in here, he's shown around by Mr. So-and-So, a prominent businessman. Whatever happens, happens on that end."

Drastic changes are needed, but by its very structure the NCAA is too bureaucratic to implement, much less expedite, the kind of extreme solution proposed by Pan American University's Abe Lemons: "The only answer is to give every coach a lie-detector test, beginning with those guys whose teams make the playoffs. They could never publish the results, though. Lordy, it would blow the lid off."

The NCAA investigative team, concerned only with the breaking and not the making of the rules, keeps the lid on one sensitive issue simply by ignoring it. It is, nonetheless, a fact that as more and more black athletes leave the ghetto to go to college, more and more (95% of the athletes cited in the Long Beach State case) run afoul of the NCAA.

Questions of exploitation aside, ghettos mean economic and cultural deprivation, which in turn means that the most common and flagrant abuses of NCAA rules occur in the areas of transportation and grade qualification. How, in short, does an impoverished black athlete get to the far-flung college of his choice? And once there how does he measure up to white, middle-class entrance-exam standards that are, most educators agree, discriminatory and no true measure of intelligence? More often than not, the answer is—with a little help from his friends.

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