The fix is on for tonight's game." That chilling phrase went from the mouth of a Tulane basketball player to the ears of some friends on the afternoon of the Feb. 20 Green Wave-Memphis State game. Those words ultimately led to an investigation that erupted in New Orleans last week and sent tremors to Lexington, Ky., where the Final Four were staging what should have been college basketball's most festive week.
Point shaving was back in the news for the first time since the Boston College debacle became public in 1981. Four of the Tulane starters on a mediocre (15-13) team allegedly went in the tank for two games. Incredibly, they included 6'10" senior center John (Hot Rod) Williams—the team's leading scorer (17.8 points per game), leading rebounder (7.8 per game) and leading shot blocker (64 for the season), as well as the Metro Conference's Player of the Year for 1984—who was considered a near certainty to be a first-round NBA pick. That would most likely have meant a three-year contract worth about $1 million, to be followed by serious money if he developed as everyone expected he would.
Williams reportedly received $900 for helping make sure Tulane failed to cover the 10�-point spread it was favored by over Southern Mississippi on Feb. 2 ( Tulane won 64-63) and $4,500 for helping ensure that the team lose the Feb. 20 game to Memphis State by more than the seven-point spread. Tulane lost 60-49. Said Williams after he was arrested, "I didn't do anything." Today, though, a career for Williams in the NBA is in doubt because the office of the Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick has a subsequent videotape on which Williams, according to Assistant D.A. Eric Dubelier, has made a confession.
Williams was booked for sports bribery, and among other things he has to say on the tape, according to a source in the district attorney's office, is that when he was recruited out of St. Amant (La.) High School, where he was named Most Popular Boy, Most Likely to Succeed and Most Talented, he received a shoebox containing thousands of dollars in return for deciding to play basketball for Tulane. Hindman Wall, the school's athletic director, said, "I've never heard anything like that before. I know nothing about that."
Altogether, the four Tulane starters—senior forwards Jon Johnson of Columbus, Ga. and Clyde Eads of Tampa; sophomore point guard David Dominique of New Iberia, La.; and Williams—as well as senior reserve guard Bobby Thompson of New Orleans, reportedly sold out for a total of some $23,000 for the two games. Thompson and Dominique also were arrested last week and booked for sports bribery, a felony punishable by one-to-five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. In exchange for testimony against their teammates to an Orleans Parish grand jury now sitting, Eads and Johnson were granted immunity from state prosecution.
Three nonathletes also were arrested in the case: Gary B. Kranz, 21, of New Rochelle, N.Y., for sports bribery and possession and distribution of cocaine; Mark Olensky, 21, of Fair Lawn, N.J., on two bribery charges and two conspiracy counts; and David Rothenberg, 22, of Wilton, Conn., on a conspiracy charge. These three were a tight-knit little group from the East Coast, bound by their enjoyment of sports and by their onetime membership in Tulane's Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity.
Evidently cocaine became part of the equation. At Kranz's apartment, cocaine was allegedly given to players as a goodwill gesture, a favor that may have won friendship and confidence. "All five players involved were doing coke," says Dubelier. In that atmosphere, the point-shaving idea apparently became that much easier to broach.
And last Friday a New Orleans bookie, Roland Ruiz, 48, was arrested on five counts of sports bribery and one of conspiracy to bribe. A source in the district attorney's office says Ruiz invested money to ensure that points would be shaved in the Memphis State game, which had already been rigged. Indictments are expected within a few weeks.
How could such a scandal occur at one of the country's most respected universities? The following is the alleged scenario of the case as pieced together by SI from interviews with prosecutors, defense attorneys, players and other sources. As of Monday, most of those under arrest had refused comment or could not be reached for comment. Olensky's attorney said his client would plead innocent.
About four months ago, Kranz started to become friendly with Eads, who wanted to buy cocaine. Later, Kranz wanted some Tulane basketball gear. He asked Eads if he could get it, in exchange for half a gram of cocaine. Eads said Johnson would be in a better position to get the equipment. Soon Kranz had eight pairs of shorts, two sweat shirts, one pair of sweat pants, one Tulane team jersey, one warmup suit and a pair of sneakers.