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"AS BAD AS ANYTHING THAT'S EVER COME ALONG"
Since the University of New Mexico's athletic scandal erupted last December, school officials have forfeited one basketball and six football victories, declared nine athletes ineligible and fired their flamboyant basketball coach, Norm Ellenberger. Last week a federal grand jury in Albuquerque indicted Ellenberger and a former assistant, John Whisenant, on multiple counts of fraud relating to the alleged doctoring of academic transcripts and, in the case of Ellenberger, one count of racketeering arising out of an alleged bribery scheme. U.S. District Attorney R. E. Thompson said it was anticipated that another ex-Lobo assistant, Manny Goldstein, and an Albuquerque printer, William Blackstad, would plead guilty to unspecified felony charges.
The grand jury accused Ellenberger of plotting with Whisenant and Goldstein to use the telephone and the U.S. mails to provide phony transfer credits to two Lobo players with eligibility problems, Andre Logan and Craig Gilbert. The indictment said that the scheme involved counterfeiting transcripts from New Jersey's Mercer County Community College. Ellenberger also was accused of sending Goldstein to Los Angeles for the purpose of bribing "employees" of Oxnard College, which Gilbert had attended before transferring to New Mexico. All this, the indictment said, constituted an attempt to defraud the NCAA, the Western Athletic Conference and New Mexico's admissions office concerning the eligibility of the two players.
Significantly, most of the activities covered by the indictment also violate NCAA rules, but that organization's investigators lack the power to subpoena witnesses. It has therefore fallen largely to the FBI and local police to investigate evidence of academic improprieties as well as reports of slush funds, illegal kickbacks and links between New Mexico's athletic program and big-time gambling. As a result, one FBI agent working on the New Mexico case says, "We are doing what the NCAA is supposed to do."
Somebody had better do something. As the New Mexico situation suggests, the pressures on college coaches to win are so enormous that they are encouraged to recruit academically deficient athletes, then go to disturbing lengths to make them eligible. In addition to abuses involving transfer credits, extraordinary things are done with "independent study." For example, a former University of Oregon football player, Derrick Dale, earned instant eligibility in 1978 by "taking," as independent study, a jogging course at nearby Lane Community College; he was credited for running he had done in football practice. And the New Mexico case has brought to light—as has the scandal at Arizona State—improprieties involving extension courses that many small colleges offer as a means of producing sorely needed revenue.
The most alarming revelations to date involve extension courses offered in the Los Angeles area by Montana's Rocky Mountain College and Kansas' Ottawa University. So far 30 athletes who allegedly received bogus credits from either of those two schools have been declared ineligible at eight universities—Arizona State, New Mexico, Oregon, Oregon State, Utah, San Jose State, Purdue and California Polytechnic-Pomona. But credits from extension courses offered by other small colleges are also under suspicion. The wide-ranging nature of the scandal suggests the existence of a grapevine for the benefit of coaches and counselors who need to conjure up credits for academically sub-par athletes. An assistant football coach at a second-division Pac-10 school recently told SI's John Papanek, "I've got to get top kids. Eligibility? Hey, there's nothing to keeping a kid eligible, and there isn't a coach in America who doesn't know that."
As it happens, many college athletic administrators are active in the extension-course business. For example, Bob Owens, a former Arizona State assistant football coach who served as interim coach following the firing last fall of Frank Kush, has for several years been president of American Education Enterprises, Inc. of California, which operates extension courses at a number of locations. For these purposes he invokes his real name and his doctorate and is known as Dr. Royce Owens. When several Arizona State football players experienced eligibility difficulties last year, however, it was another assistant coach who dealt with the problem. He phoned John Hardy, an academic counselor at Pasadena ( Calif.) City College, who suggested a course at Rocky Mountain College—for which the Arizona State players wound up receiving credit without attending class. When Rocky Mountain officials later checked registration forms, they found that the home address given for some of the Arizona State athletes was Hardy's address in Altadena, Calif.
Hardy denies any wrongdoing. Dr. Fred Miller, who was fired last month as Arizona State's athletic director, prefers to blame transcript irregularities on the intercollegiate athletic "system." This, he says, "does not invite cheating, it demands it." As though to bear him out, there were signs last week that the academic-credit scandal might be touching yet another Pac-10 campus. UCLA officials confirmed that they were investigating the possibility that former Bruin football players had received transfer credit on bogus transcripts from Los Angeles Valley College.
As such incidents proliferate, little if anything is being done about the factors—including ever bigger arenas and stadiums, and ever more zealous boosters—that encourage excess. The result is a widening collegiate sports scandal that Michigan Athletic Director Don Canham says is probably already "as bad as anything that has ever come along." Canham is not overstating the issue. The epidemic of transcript abuses is threatening not only intercollegiate athletics but also the academic integrity of a growing number of American universities.
NINE IS FINE