SI Vault
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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To that add the easy everybody-else-is-doing-it rationale, the insidious lure of the fat pro contract, the proliferation of fast-buck agents, the overeagerness of well-heeled boosters, the increasing competition for bodies and, perhaps most of all, the ever-present pressure to win, and you have Cases No. 428 through No. 1,000.

Long Beach State itself began as a charity case. Originally populated by retired folk from the Midwest, the city was a lot less interested in higher education than in lower curbs to accommodate wheelchair traffic. Through the 1940s Long Beach was also a sailor's town; when the Pacific Fleet finally weighed anchor, it left behind a sprawling shipyard to the west and a string of tattoo parlors and a tawdry carnival midway called "the Pike" hard by the sea.

Affluence of a sort came with the development of oil rights, and for years the city's favored sons, leaving behind oil pumps that still incessantly nod away in backyards and between supermarkets, went off to seek knowledge at USC and UCLA. The less endowed enrolled in something called Los Angeles-Orange County State College, which consisted of a faculty of 13 teaching 160 students in the living rooms, bedrooms and even bathrooms of a converted apartment house. The nickname 49ers was adopted not as a reflection of the area's rich and colorful past—no gold miner's pick ever broke ground in Long Beach—but because the school happened to be founded in 1949.

With the donation of 320 hilly acres that once were bean fields, LA-OCSC replanted and reclassified itself as Long Beach State College. In no time at all, through sundry cross-pollinations—California State College at Long Beach; California State College, Long Beach; California State University, Long Beach—it sprouted into an instant megaversity. Now, with an enrollment of 31,674, Long Beach State is larger than either of its far more celebrated neighbors, UCLA and USC.

For all its rapid, protean growth, Long Beach State was long known as "The Mausoleum on the Hill." Through the eras of panty raids and student demonstrations, about the only excitement on the hill was the daily traffic snarls in parking lots that are larger than some college campuses. Commuter-based (only 865 students live on campus), older (average age: 24), more self-supporting (40% are employed) and other-directed (40% are married), the Long Beach State student body is not inclined to get misty-eyed at the first strains of the College Hymn, much less turn out in howling masses to see the Brown and Gold knock heads on the playing fields.

For its part, Long Beach is trying to assert its rights as a city that is larger than Miami but less renowned than, say, Youngstown. Promoters are busily striving to sell the city's very salable sun-sea-and-sailboat image, plus such attractions as the nouveau-quaint Seaport Village and the doughty old Queen Mary, the $63 million tourist gamble that is afloat—but just barely—right out there among towering offshore oil rigs that are dressed up like Disneyland rides.

Vestiges of early bean fields remain, if only in the mind. Striving to disassociate itself from the urban sprawl that is Greater Los Angeles, city and college suffer from what President Horn calls an " Avis complex." Athletically, basketball in Long Beach still means the Los Angeles Lakers and UCLA, football the Los Angeles Rams and USC. Laments one native, "Even the earthquake that virtually shattered Long Beach in 1933 is known as the Los Angeles earthquake."

A man named Fred Miller, a seismic force in his own right, tried to change all that. An assistant football coach at Long Beach State looking to make better use of his Ph. D., he took over as athletic director in 1967. Young, aggressive and possessed of a vision of the 49ers competing before cheering throngs in a 40,000-seat domed stadium, he began by searching for new coaching talent and forth-rightly confronting the Big Question: Will Long Beach support a winner?

There was no easy answer, especially considering that 49er basketball games were held in a dinky—and half vacant—gymnasium while the football team had to travel six miles to play its home games at Veterans Memorial Stadium, a one-sided structure with 17,500 seats—12,000 or more of them usually empty when the 49ers took the field.

But Miller hustled. Oh, how he hustled. An ex-tackle for the Washington Redskins, he led power plays to help found the Pacific Coast Athletic Association and such seemingly big-league appurtenances as the Pasadena Bowl. "Fred didn't go over people's heads to get things done," recalls a friend, "he went through them."

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