Last Thursday evening, Jim Wacker, the football coach at Texas Christian University, called a team meeting. One of the subjects he intended to touch on was ethics in college football.
All over the Southwest Conference rumors of shady goings-on were flying. SMU already had been slapped with its sixth NCAA probation for recruiting violations involving improper booster payoffs to players. At Texas A & M, officials found themselves trying to determine whether quarterback Kevin Murray had been given illegal payments and use of a car by a booster, as reported by Dallas TV station WFAA. In Austin, the University of Texas was getting heat over apartments rented at bargain rates to 37 players during the summer.
In 1984 TCU, long one of the lowliest of college teams, finished with an 8-4 record and earned a trip to the Bluebonnet Bowl, its first bowl invitation in 19 years. That was Wacker's second season, and naturally he was happy with the success and with the fact that he thought it had been achieved honestly. Things were looking even brighter for 1985. TCU had won its Sept. 14 opener over Tulane 30-13, and running back Kenneth Davis appeared to have a good chance to win the Heisman Trophy.
So on Thursday, in the face of all the talk about transgressions around the conference, Wacker complimented his players. He told them they were improving "without breaking the rules.... We did it aboveboard." Reflecting later on his talk, Wacker said, "I was pumped up and we had a great meeting."
So great that linebacker Gearld Taylor and free safety Egypt Allen apparently became conscience stricken. Taylor told SI that "Egypt and I came back and ate and we talked about it. Then we went back to the coaches. We felt kind of guilty, thinking about the team."
Taylor and Allen weren't the only ones who wound up talking to the coaches. So did Davis, defensive end Gary Spann, defensive tackle Darron Turner and defensive back Marvin Foster. And what they had to say was shocking: All of them had received money in violation of NCAA rules. Taylor later told SI that he received approximately $200 every two weeks after he came to TCU in 1982, "not a big lump sum or anything."
Wacker says he was stunned. "I absolutely couldn't believe it. I called the booster and he confirmed it. Obviously, once I had that information I didn't have any choice. I called my coaches back together. We were unanimous...that we had to call our conference and the NCAA."
Wacker suspended the six players before TCU's 24-22 win over Kansas State on Saturday, and is awaiting the results of an NCAA investigation. "The toughest thing I've ever had to do in all my life," Wacker says. "We had said from day one that we were going to do it right, that we were going to have a program with integrity and honesty. We had said if we ever discovered something going awry as far as our boosters were concerned...that we will personally turn it in."
Richard Lowe, a TCU booster from Fort Worth, admits he was one of the moneymen who paid TCU players. "What we did was a stupid mistake," says Lowe, the president of American Quasar Petroleum, an oil exploration firm. "We shouldn't have done it, but we did. We did it because it was obvious that everyone else was doing it and we were getting our butts kicked. That doesn't matter. We were wrong."
So, is he ashamed of himself?