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Williams's academic record as a physical education major at Tulane has been no less embarrassing than his SAT scores. His grade-point average is, according to SI's sources, only slightly below 2.0—a C—in a 4.0-point system. That is deceptive. (Williams said he didn't know what was meant by such terms as a 4.0 grade-point average, 3.0, and so forth). His college record is littered not only with failures (he has flunked the same psychology course three times) but with such decidedly non-academic course offerings as volleyball, weight training, soccer, beginning gymnastics, archery, first aid and CPR, beginning racquetball and driver education. Last fall he failed beginning golf. Says Green, "Rod Williams was put on this earth for one reason: to play basketball."
But at Tulane? As the school grappled with the scandal, there was more trouble. Athletic director Hindman Wall resigned last Friday, explaining that he was tired. He has been under constant pressure for everything from his choice of football coaches (first the aging Vince Gibson, then the hot-tempered Wally English) to a projected 1984-85 athletic department budget deficit of $983,000. "My problem," said Wall, "is I have to police the actions of people I can't control."
Amid all the turmoil came Kelly's announcement that the school would drop basketball. Tip-Off Club president Hart, for one, was miffed, saying: "I think it's terrible. I think Kelly overreacted." However, Kelly was coping with an incensed faculty, some members of which want to eliminate all sports. The day before his decision to can basketball, Kelly met with key faculty members of the University Senate. A source familiar with the meeting says, "They [the faculty people] told him they had a very strong vote to get rid of all sports on campus. So to head off that little rampage, Kelly axed the basketball program." Booster McWilliams, who made his fortune in oil and gas exploration, thereupon told Kelly that in about three years, "I'm coming back to ask for reinstatement of basketball." But last Friday Kelly insisted, "Permanent means permanent." One factor that may bear on how permanent is permanent: Last year alone McWilliams gave $1.7 million to Tulane athletics; in 1980 he gave $600,000 to the geology department.
The scandal has exacerbated the schism between Tulane's academic and athletic interests. Kelly insists "there's no rift," but William Gwyn, a political science professor who has been at the school since 1963, says, "The university got itself into a nightmare with intercollegiate athletics."
The bad dreams seem likely to continue. Two of the players, Clyde Eads and Jon Johnson, have been given immunity from state prosecution for their involvement in the point-shaving and will testify for the D.A.; Bobby Thompson, a little-used senior guard, pleaded guilty last week to one count of conspiracy to commit sports bribery; David Rothenberg, 22, a non-basketball-playing student, pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy and, in an unrelated case, one count of cocaine possession. Sentencing was set for July 9. On Monday player David Dominique pleaded not guilty to charges relating to point-shaving ("I just know somebody be lying on me," he had said earlier). Another student, Gary Kranz, 21, had entered not guilty pleas to 13 counts of sports bribery and conspiracy and nine counts involving distribution and possession of cocaine. Two non-students also facing criminal charges in the case pleaded not guilty Monday.
Yet, the focal point of the scandal continues to be Hot Rod Williams. He was, by far, the best player on the team and was treated with the deference due a pro-in-waiting. And he now has become a classic symbol; Tulane defenders insist there are hundreds of John Williamses playing basketball around the nation. Few dispute the claim.
While a student at St. Amant High School in Sorrento, a school that sends no more than 20% of its students to college, Williams had no plans to further his education. For that reason he failed to take the SATs in either his junior or senior year. He struggled for C's and graduated 182nd in a class of 261. But eventually basketball recruiters came knocking—LSU and SMU were the other finalists for Williams's services—and he took the SATs just before enrolling at Tulane. Hot Rod was ill-equipped for either the recruiting hustle or college. Henry L. Mason, a political science professor at Tulane since 1952, says, "We get these athletes from incredibly poor high schools, and it's getting worse."
The woman Hot Rod (he got his name when he was a baby because he had a habit of scooting backward on the floor making enginelike sounds) calls Mom is Barbara Colar, who raised him from the time he was nine months old. And, to her credit, she did encourage him to use basketball to get a college education. Through the years, she held down two jobs trying to keep things together and would often go for days without seeing Williams.
Life has always been a struggle for Colar. Last June the trailer she lived in was destroyed by fire. Many of Hot Rod's trophies were destroyed or broken; almost everything else was ruined. She was left with $1,600 in insurance money. Colar, a custodian at St. Amant Elementary School, had to buy another trailer for about $30,000 and pay for it with a mortgage that costs $290 a month. Her take-home pay, according to a source close to the family, is $400 a month.
The trailer has three bedrooms (the only item of note belonging to Williams is a rusty .22-caliber rifle), and there's a small house nearby with two bedrooms; 13 people share the two structures. Trash and decay abound. "Compared to people at Tulane, I'm way poor," Williams says. The other day, Colar had a slight stroke and was hospitalized. Nobody has any idea how the bills will be paid. Says Williams, "If I make any money, I'll pay off my mother's doctor's bills, put the rest in the bank and then work from there."