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Ron Reid
October 29, 1979
The heat was on at Arizona State when Coach Frank Kush was canned, baring big-time college football's seamy side
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October 29, 1979

There's The Devil To Pay

The heat was on at Arizona State when Coach Frank Kush was canned, baring big-time college football's seamy side

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But it was Miller who probably received the most hate mail, obscene calls and public abuse. He was assailed by a man who could severely damage the Sun Devil athletic program if he carries out his stated intentions. The man: Harry Rosenzweig, a Phoenix jeweler and former Republican state chairman. His role: longtime president of the Sun Angel Foundation. In yet another press conference, Rosenzweig called for the firing of Miller and the reinstatement of Kush, and announced that the flow of Sun Angel money would be shut off until those demands were met.

"The executive board of the Sun Angels, people interested in sports and community leaders, cannot stand by and let this occur without violent protest to the absence of due process in this whole matter," Rosenzweig said. "We cannot anticipate the effect the removal of Frank Kush as head football coach will have on fan participation, recruitment of athletes and our financial ability to aid the university. Therefore, we are suspending plans to build the ASU golf course, and we cannot consider completion of the south end zone of the ASU Stadium, which would have brought it to 86,000 seats. Our ability to complete payment for the latest stadium improvement has been jeopardized." Rosenzweig, who put a $1.8 million price tag on the two suspended projects, added that Miller and Arizona State President John Schwada had a "duty," which they had ignored, to "consult with the powers that be, including the Sun Angel Foundation, before creating this fiasco."

Arizona politicians also threatened to hit the university in its pocketbook. One state legislator, Peter Corpstein, said he told Schwada that Miller's salary and funds for the athletic department would be cut from the next state budget unless Miller got the ax. Another, Tony West, a member of the Arizona House Appropriations Committee, threatened that school officials would encounter an obstacle when they seek money next year, because, "they won't have anyone carrying their banner around here."

The Arizona State student body was notably less agitated by Kush's ouster. While the students certainly like it when the Sun Devils win, they are often less vociferous about the victories than the team's adult boosters. And the seats allocated to undergraduates, most of which are in the north end zone, indicate that Arizona State's program is more closely geared to fulfilling the wishes of the Sun Angels and other Phoenix-area businessmen, who, among them, lay claim to most of the good seats. This may explain why a pep rally the night before last Saturday's Washington State game, the first such event at Tempe in many years, was attended by no more than 100 of the school's 37,122 students. A TV newsman covering the rally asked students their opinions of the Kush case and was told by one them, "This school has an athletic reputation, but there are a lot of people here who take pride in their academics, too—students and professors alike. And I think what they say is true: you wouldn't get the same kind of publicity if a professor was let go. And I don't think that is too cool."

Further confusing matters for everyone was the emergence of a somewhat shadowy figure named Rick Lynch, a drag-strip operator whom Kush has accused of being a disruptive influence on his team. Lynch admitted to the Associated Press that he made loans to several Arizona State players, whose acceptance of such money would constitute a violation of NCAA rules, and he also said he had employed scores of Sun Devil players in recent years. For his part, Kush accused Lynch of marshaling the five players' allegations of a cover-up that helped Miller make up his mind to suspend the coach. Kush also claimed that Lynch, not Rutledge, was the person he was referring to when he made the statements to his assistant coaches about "closing the circle," but that they had misconstrued his meaning.

On Saturday night, playing their first game under Owens—and their first since 1957 under any coach other than Kush—the Sun Devils beat Washington State 28-7. The fans, many of whom displayed signs expressing allegiance to Kush and excoriating Miller and Lynch, went home happier than they had arrived.

But it may take more than victory on the football field to end the upheaval at Arizona State. Rutledge's case is pending, and Kush said last week, "Believe me, in my heart and in my mind, I did not punch Kevin Rutledge." But whatever the court decides on Rutledge's charges, there remains the inescapable conclusion that, as has happened at other schools, the people responsible for the administration of athletes at Arizona State became so carried away with their ambitions for a big-time football program that they have tarnished their school's reputation. This is boldly reflected in the fact that state legislators would even think to withhold funds from an institution of higher education over the firing of a football coach. But while such action may be deplorable, at least the legislators unquestionably have the authority to cut budgets as they see fit—and, in their wisdom, even to shut down the history and chemistry departments if they should desire to do so.

The influence wielded by the Sun Angel Foundation is another matter. A booster club is an independent organization, and it exercises only the clout that its school allows it to. Under NCAA regulations, a university is responsible for the activities of its boosters. While many of those activities—attending road games, throwing appreciation dinners and the like—are innocuous enough, it has long been clear that when booster clubs become deeply involved in recruiting or make a practice of contributing money with strings attached, rules violations and other problems can—and too often do—arise.

Examples of such violations abound. The old Pacific Coast Conference, forerunner of the Pac-10, collapsed in the 1950s when slush funds financed by booster clubs were uncovered at UCLA, Washington and Southern Cal, among other schools. A similar fund at Illinois led the Big Ten to take steps to expel that school, an effort that was halted only when Football Coach Pete Elliott and two basketball coaches resigned. Art Bergstrom, who directed the NCAA's enforcement team during that period, says, "When you encountered successful, well-organized booster clubs, it wasn't long until their members seemed to think they were running the show."

Sadly, that kind of thinking is still in vogue at schools such as Colorado, whose booster organization, the Flatirons Club, more or less took it upon itself to hire Coach Chuck Fairbanks away from the NFL Patriots, and then shelled out $200,000 to settle a suit that New England had brought against the university. And the thinking is reflected in Harry Rosenzweig's statement that the Sun Angel club is one of the "powers that be" that Arizona State officials should have consulted before firing Kush.

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