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Last week a conflict between individual rights and efforts by sports administrators to police their athletes again attracted national attention. But the latest case bears scant resemblance to Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn's suspension of Ferguson Jenkins, the Texas Ranger pitcher who was arrested in Toronto on drug charges and then refused to answer questions about the incident posed by members of the commissioner's staff (SCORECARD, Sept. 22). The Jenkins case involved a matter that didn't directly affect baseball—and this week baseball arbitrator Raymond Goetz overruled Kuhn and ordered Jenkins reinstated. By contrast, the case of University of Illinois Quarterback David Wilson revolves around academic eligibility, an issue at the very heart of intercollegiate sport.
Wilson was recruited out of Fullerton ( Calif.) Junior College by Mike White, the new coach at long-downtrodden Illinois, who described Wilson as "the one player who could turn our program around fast." But the Big Ten's faculty representatives, who oversee the conference, ruled that Wilson had just one season of eligibility remaining and that he would have to sit out 1980 because he wasn't making satisfactory progress toward a degree. Wilson was aggrieved. He knew White was grooming another junior-college hotshot to take over as Illinois' quarterback in 1981. Also, in declaring Wilson ineligible for this season, the faculty representatives had overruled their own eligibility committee—without affording Wilson a hearing.
Claiming that the Big Ten's action jeopardized his hopes for a pro football career, Wilson earlier this month won a court injunction allowing him to play this season, a decision that pleased Illinois boosters even though their school's athletic association and athletic director were defendants in the case. It also delighted Wilson's lawyer, Robert Auler, who said of Big Ten officials, "Who the hell are they to be a Super God over the University of Illinois?" Last week, the injunction was briefly lifted, but a three-member appellate-court panel voted 2-1 to reimpose it, holding that Wilson's suit raised "many and serious issues of constitutional dimensions." The ruling was greeted by cheers from the Illinois fans who filled the courtroom.
The constitutional issues the judges referred to aren't to be taken lightly. The overlords of college sport could no doubt make a greater effort to protect the rights of the athletes they're policing. Wilson could certainly have been afforded a hearing by the Big Ten faculty representatives; after all, it was his fate they were determining. But it remains the duty of those same officials to vigilantly maintain academic standards, which of late have all too often been undermined in the scramble to keep athletes eligible. As Jack Wentworth, Indiana University's faculty representative, noted, a coach's desire to turn a football program around or a player's NFL aspirations mustn't be allowed to take precedence over the educational system's primary responsibility to "look at what is best for the young man from the academic point of view."
Fairly or not, some Big Ten officials are known to be concerned about White's arrival in the conference. At California, where he coached for six seasons, White's teams were frequently accused by rivals of dirty play. At Illinois he has hired four staff members who had recently worked at scandal-torn Arizona State and Oregon, including the academic counselor who steered Arizona State players into now-notorious extension courses at Rocky Mountain College. Under the circumstances, it was easy to jump to conclusions when it was learned last week that a high school transcript that Illinois had represented to the Big Ten as being for its 21-year-old quarterback, whose full name is David Carlton Wilson, wasn't his at all. It was the transcript of another alumnus of Katella High in Anaheim, Calif., 19-year-old David B. Wilson. It included credits for high school courses taken after David C. Wilson had enrolled at Fullerton, yet nobody at Illinois caught the discrepancy. As it turned out, the mix-up was apparently an honest one, but it pointed up the opportunities for transcript abuses by schools eager to keep talented athletes eligible. That, in turn, further underscored the Big Ten's legitimate interest in overseeing the eligibility practices of its member schools.
MUSIC, MAESTRO, PLEASE
The news out of Kansas City last week that former Chief Tackle Jim Tyrer had shot to death his wife Martha and himself was inevitably one-sided. Press accounts of the tragedy dealt with how Tyrer, 41, had logged 14 NFL seasons, how he had been an All-Pro selection and how he had suffered financial setbacks since his retirement from football in 1975. But little attention was paid Martha Tyrer, 40. This was an oversight that Pat Livingston, the wife of Quarterback Mike Livingston, who was traded from the Chiefs to Minnesota last spring, sought to correct in an unsolicited article she submitted to SI. She wrote: