Remember Tito Horford? He's the highly touted 7'1", 245-pound center from the Dominican Republic who was improperly recruited by the University of Houston, as reported in SI's July 22 issue. Houston's misdeed occurred last summer, during one of the NCAA's noncontact periods, when Cougar assistant coach Donnie Schverak visited Horford's home in La Romana. After SI's story appeared, Houston declared Horford ineligible, as required by the NCAA when violations of that sort are uncovered. Houston took the added steps of dropping two scholarships from its basketball program and banning Schverak from off-campus recruiting for one year. Those last two measures were apparently meant to appease the NCAA, because the school almost immediately asked the NCAA to restore Horford's eligibility.
Last week Houston officials argued before the NCAA's eligibility committee that Schverak's visit hadn't given them an unfair recruiting edge. Horford, they claimed, had decided to attend the college even before Schverak arrived in July. However, Horford told SI's Bill Brubaker that he hadn't settled on Houston until November, which is why he visited the campuses of LSU, Kentucky and UCLA after his meeting with Schverak.
The committee, which in the past has given athletes the benefit of the doubt in such cases, flatly denied Houston's appeal. As one NCAA official explained, "There was the feeling that the coach's visit gave Houston a significant advantage because the only opportunity a coach would have to sit down with both Tito and his mother was during that summer noncontact period."
An NCAA subcommittee on eligibility appeals will soon hear Houston's second and final appeal. If it's denied, Horford will be free to play for another school. There has even been a report out of Milan that an Italian league team is interested in him.
AN OFF DAY
Despite the fact that his team lost all 11 games in 1984, Tennessee Tech football coach Gary Darnell has a positive outlook. "Our kicker had only one bad day last year," he says. "Saturday."
THE SAX EXCHANGE
Was Los Angeles Rams linebacker Mel Owens merely being tongue-in-sheik when he failed to show for the first three days of training camp and threatened to retire to Saudi Arabia? The unsigned free agent claimed he was ready to go into business with two Arab friends.
The Rams weren't about to take any chances. They gave Owens a new contract. But others were skeptical. So Owens asked his two pals to drop by practice. One even wore a white Middle Eastern tunic. "I was serious about going and earning tax-free money there," Owens says. "I also figured I'd have a lot of free time there to learn how to play the saxophone."
Exercising the sports prognosticator's inalienable right to be dead wrong, New York Daily News columnist Phil Pepe has lately pulled a couple of beauts. In April, Pepe scooped the sporting press by reporting that Yankees owner George Steinbrenner wouldn't dare fire popular manager Yogi Berra this season. The "backlash would be too much for Steinbrenner to handle," Pepe asserted. Berra was axed that afternoon. Earlier this month, in a piece headlined FAREWELL TO BASEBALL SEASON, Pepe said, "I have no inside information, merely a gut feeling that we might have seen the end of baseball for 1985." Sure enough, the strike was settled that very day.