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Deception In The Heart Of Texas
Douglas S. Looney
September 30, 1985
As though the SWC didn't have enough troubles, six TCU football players admitted to improprieties
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September 30, 1985

Deception In The Heart Of Texas

As though the SWC didn't have enough troubles, six TCU football players admitted to improprieties

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Dry, the TCU coach from 1977 until 1982 and now an assistant at Baylor, called Bailey's charge a "fabrication." As for the case of the six suspended players, he said, "I don't know enough about it.... I haven't been at TCU in three years." He also said, "I welcome an investigation. I'm eagerly looking forward to cooperating in every way."

By week's end, the storied Southwest Conference—the conference that has brought us Sammy Baugh, Doak Walker, Bobby Layne, John David Crow, Don Meredith, Lance Alworth, Earl Campbell—had plenty to clean up. Conference members reportedly couldn't phone fast enough to lodge complaints about the alleged recruiting transgressions of their brethren. This is a football conference in which everyone genuinely dislikes everyone else, or so it seems. Even conference commissioner Fred Jacoby glumly conceded, "I can see how some people might call us an outlaw conference."

Boosters were involved in most of the allegations being tossed back and forth across Texas. At A & M, athletic director and coach Jackie Sherrill isn't conceding anything yet on the Kevin Murray case. The sophomore quarterback, who three years ago received a $35,000 bonus from the Milwaukee Brewers, was said by WFAA to have received a leased Datsun 300ZX and several $300 illicit payments from a Dallas alum, Rod Dockery. Dockery could not be reached for comment. For now, Murray will do his talking on the field. He has denied any wrongdoing and will not discuss the situation further, pending a school investigation. "It's like a soap opera," says Sherrill.

While the A & M and TCU developments were unraveling, the Big Daddy of Texas scandals continued to be SMU. That school's president, L. Donald Shields, says he has sent letters to nine wayward boosters outlining penalties ranging from prohibitions against their recruiting for the school for three years to decrees that they have nothing to do with SMU athletics ever again. Shields thinks such action is justified: "Frankly, I'm not sure a lecture by me on ethics and morality would have a great impact on a few of these individuals."

All of which, of course, raises serious questions about boosters. At SMU, where the football team had struggled for years, boosters became more conspicuous when Ron Meyer was head coach between 1976 and 1981 because he enjoyed them and their flash-and-dash ways. By the time Meyer left for the New England Patriots before the '82 season, the alums were entrenched in the recruiting process, and they apparently remained so with the arrival of new coach Bobby Collins. So is this a program that has been hijacked from SMU by its boosters? Collins, who has an extraordinary 32-4-1 record in his three-plus years on the job, says: "The problem is so many people love this university and their competitive spirit just got out of hand." To try to keep the alums at bay, SMU now prohibits any of them from being at practice, being in the locker room after games or going on team trips.

Walt Coughlin, this year's top fund-raiser for SMU's Mustang Club (he raised $250,300), says: "I can't imagine why grown men want to recruit. Why mess around with a spoiled 17-year-old in the first place?"

But, obviously, some grown men do. One of the banned alums, John Appleton, a 35-year-old Dallas investor who says he has given around $200,000 to SMU football over the last three years, says his motivation for his involvement is easy: "I enjoy being around coaches and the game. Giving money gave me an entrée. Look, Bob Hitch [SMU's athletic director] gave me Eric Dickerson's helmet."

For whatever reason, boosters appear to be particularly avid in Texas. Perhaps it's because eight of the nine conference schools are in the state and everyone tends to recruit the same players. Familiarity breeds you know what. Another of the SMU boosters banned for life for his free-spending ways is high-rolling Dallas real estate developer Sherwood Blount. A former SMU linebacker who is also in the sports agent business with former Mustang coach Meyer, Blount, according to sources familiar with the SMU program, has willed 2.5% of his net worth to the school. That could mean millions. However, the school gets that money only if Shields and Hitch are gone when Blount goes. Blount, 36, who in recent years has contributed some $200,000 to athletic and academic areas of SMU, will make no public comment.

The sad truth, says Collins, is that "you can do nothing" to control boosters for sure.

Including past probations, the NCAA has now found SMU guilty of infractions in 11 of the last 14 years. The school, which was cited for 36 violations in the probation ruling handed down by the NCAA last month, gripes about "selective enforcement." One of the enforcers, David Berst of the NCAA, doesn't see it that way and calls the most recent case "very serious." He says, "If there's a distinction [with other schools], it may run to the attitudes of outside boosters, people whose common practice it is to violate the rules."

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