SI Vault
Edited by Jerry Kirshenbaum
August 25, 1980
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August 25, 1980


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It happened at the end of the Lake Placid Games when members of the U.S. Olympic team were gathering for a flight to Washington, where they were to be honored by President Carter. The athletes were besieged by fans, one of whom, a 6-year-old boy, had an unusual request. As luger Ty Danco relates in the Middlebury (Vt.) College News Letter, the lad wanted them to print their autographs.


In one of the most dramatic developments yet in college sport's pervasive bogus credit scandal, the presidents and chancellors of Pac-10 universities last week punished five conference schools for transcript and curriculum abuses involving athletes. Meeting in Denver, they declared Southern Cal, UCLA, Arizona State, Oregon and Oregon State ineligible for this season's Pac-10 football championship, the 1981 Rose Bowl and all other postseason play. They also ordered Oregon, Oregon State and UCLA to forfeit a total of 21 football victories over the past three years and took away three of Oregon's football grants-in-aid for 1981. In addition, penalties were imposed on USC in track and Oregon in swimming. Describing the crackdown as "pretty jolting," Glenn Terrell, president of Washington State and chairman of the presidents and chancellors, said it would "certainly act as a deterrent" against future improprieties.

Inevitably, the penalties were assailed as too weak by some, too severe by others. The latter included Southern Cal boosters, who expected their team, as usual, to vie this season for the Pac-10 title and a Rose Bowl berth. The perennially powerful Trojans have played in 10 of the last 14 Rose Bowls and, including appearances in the Liberty and Bluebonnet Bowls, have been tapped for bowl games for eight straight years, winning seven of them. For Trojan players, coaches, alumni and fans, next New Year's Day will seem unusually empty.

Also unhappy with the Pac-10 action was a former UCLA football coach, Dick Vermeil, who seemed to take the view that if the presidents and chancellors really wanted to get to the root of the bogus credit problem, they might look first at themselves. Vermeil, who now coaches the Eagles, told the Philadelphia Bulletin that the penalties were "a bunch of baloney" and laid the blame for academic cheating squarely on administrators who "hire and fire football coaches on the basis of wins and losses. They don't give tenure like with a chemistry teacher. If the chemistry teacher was evaluated on 12 weekends on the basis of wins and losses, he'd probably find a way to make sure the students got a little better grade, too."

Pressure to win isn't an acceptable excuse for cheating, yet there is little doubt that such pressure does encourage wrongdoing. And as Vermeil suggests, university presidents are often front and center in demanding the victories. Significantly, several of the Pac-10 presidents who imposed last week's penalties have either fired losing football coaches or pressured them into resigning. Coaches at two conference schools—Arizona State's Frank Kush and Arizona's Tony Mason—have lost their jobs over the past year for alleged wrongdoing rather than for failing to win, but Darryl Rogers, who holds Kush's old job with the Sun Devils, is probably still right when, invoking what he calls an old coaching axiom, he says, "They'll fire you for losing before they'll fire you for cheating."

Last week's penalties may or may not have been a first step toward reversing those priorities. But they certainly are a reminder that the underlying assumption of big-time college football—that bona fide college students can be found who are capable of winning football games and filling stadiums—may need some revision. As one of the Pac-10 presidents, Oregon State's Robert MacVicar, conceded, "Some students extremely talented in athletic ability simply do not belong in a four-year, research-oriented type of university. It simply isn't reasonable that they can survive in that environment unless you do things that are improper or irregular. If we can't have athletes who are successful students, intercollegiate athletics is a fraud and we ought not be a party to it."


The news last week that Merrill Lynch was considering buying the Chicago White Sox from Bill Veeck and his partners set the Chicago Tribune off on a flight of fancy. If the deal went through, the paper editorialized, Merrill Lynch "could run the Dow-Jones ticker across the scoreboard on game days, install phones in the dugouts so players could call their brokers when they're not at bat, and send brokers into the stands to hawk stocks like hot dogs during the game. And even if the White Sox lose, fans could still be bullish about America."

There is, indeed, an air of unreality about Merrill Lynch's interest in a club that nobody would mistake for blue chips like the Yankees and Dodgers or a glamour issue like the Royals. At week's end the White Sox had a 48-65 record and seemed assured of finishing below .500 for the 10th time in 13 seasons. They also have suffered declining attendance for the past three years. Nevertheless, Eli Okman, a Merrill Lynch vice-president, said the brokerage house was contemplating buying the team and offering investors limited partnerships, an approach that has worked with real-estate ventures and oil and gas leases. Okman explained that owning the White Sox would provide substantial tax benefits, including player-depreciation allowances. He also intimated that, despite their recent difficulties, the Sox had growth potential; Merrill Lynch was thought to be particularly intrigued by the prospect of future cable-TV riches. All in all, said Okman, "we think there may be value there."

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