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John Underwood
December 08, 1975
College football is vulnerable to rumor. At Kentucky an off-campus murder catalyzed the suspicions
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December 08, 1975

The Setting Was Ripe For Scandal

College football is vulnerable to rumor. At Kentucky an off-campus murder catalyzed the suspicions

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Nearly 25 years ago a great University of Kentucky basketball team made headlines when it was discovered that it had manipulated the scores of its games for profit. The news of the team's infidelity rocked Kentucky and a nation's sports fans, and the term point shaving, if not coined by the scandal, was at least given wider understanding because of it. This fall the chill breath of a possible second scandal, this time involving a not-great Kentucky football team, blew over the campus in Lexington. That it was not immediately dispelled is the subject of considerable conjecture and no small amount of indignation. Now, at season's end, the Kentucky case merits examination in detail, not so much for its own unusual particulars, but because it reveals from what sources and sequences of events can spring allegations that a team or player is throwing games or shaving points. Stripped bare of the mitigating, if bizarre, circumstances, this is the anatomy of the Kentucky case:

On Saturday, Oct. 11, Kentucky, a four-point favorite, lost a football game to Auburn 15-9. Trailing 9-0 with 6:28 to play, Auburn, which had not won a game, scored on a desperate 72-yard pass when Kentucky Safety Tony Gray was 20 yards out of position. Then Auburn quickly scored again after a fumble on the kickoff by Sonny Collins, Kentucky's best back.

At 11:30 that night a Lexington man with a long police record was kidnapped outside his apartment. Three of the men subsequently arrested for the crime visited Collins in his dormitory room almost two hours later, "Around 1 a.m.," Collins said. One of the three was Kentucky's 1974 All-America tight end, Elmore Stephens, a first draft choice of Kansas City, who was cut in August after being traded to the Giants. Another was John Bishop, a former Kentucky assistant team manager, fired by Coach Fran Curci. Authorities said that the kidnapping may have been a reprisal for a holdup and drug theft that afternoon involving a quantity of cocaine with a street value of $60,000.

On Monday, Oct. 13, the arrests were made.

The same day Tony Gray quit the Kentucky team. He objected to being "singled out" in the loss to Auburn. Like Bishop and Stephens, Gray was a graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School in Louisville. He grew up down the street from Stephens, a year behind him in school.

On Oct. 18 Kentucky, favored by three points, lost to LSU 17-14. Curci cited "poor tackling."

On Oct. 21 the body of the kidnap victim, Luron Eugene Taylor, 24, floated to the surface of the Ohio River near Jeffersonville, Ind. and was spotted by a tugboat operator. Two days later Stephens and Bishop, who had been arrested for allegedly kidnapping Taylor, were also charged with murder.

On Oct. 25 Kentucky lost to Georgia 21-13 ( Georgia was favored by eight points). Collins was held to 89 yards.

On his 5:35 p.m. broadcast of Monday, Oct. 27, Sports Director Phil Foster of Lexington radio station WLAP reported "rumors" of an investigation of Kentucky football by the NCAA for "alleged point shaving." Foster said, "The NCAA will neither confirm nor deny" that an investigation was taking place.

News of the "news" of the rumors spread rapidly. Television reports made teasing references to the story, and wire services moved it around the country. Collins, already questioned twice by police, once "after midnight" on Oct. 13 and once "about 4 a.m." on Oct 17, was questioned by the FBI, this time about point shaving, he said. Under the headline "Investigations, rumors cloud UK football scene," the Louisville Courier-Journal quoted Gray as saying, "There's a whole lot of mess going on here." Gray said questioning him would be a dead end because he wasn't the one with the "fine threads" and the "new car."

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