MAKING COST-OF-LIVING AND OTHER ALLOWANCES FOR CHEATING AT USC
Ethical standards often come into conflict. They did for Coach Goux. By beginning to sell players' tickets, he chose compassion and a chance to meet the severe financial needs of certain students...
—James H. Zumberge
With those words of self-justification, the president of mighty USC angrily threatened last week to bring suit against the NCAA. Zumberge was reacting to the NCAA's imposition of a three-year probation on the Trojan football team, which has won eight national championships and 19 bowl games. Less happily, USC has also been tainted by scandal. In 1980 it was barred for one season from bowl games by the Pac-10 for academic abuses involving athletes. That year the school also released the findings of an in-house probe that over the previous decade the USC athletic department had skirted normal admissions standards to get 330 "academically marginal" athletes into school. Then, two weeks ago, the NCAA found USC guilty of generating cash payments to football players through an elaborate ticket-scalping scheme that had been in operation from 1971 to '79.
According to the NCAA, USC players turned their complimentary game tickets over to an assistant coach, Marv Goux, who sold them for the athletes' benefit to boosters for considerably more than face value. As many as 33 players profited in a single season, pocketing as much as $2,000 apiece. Indications are that the amount received over the years by all players exceeded $200,000. In punishment for what it called a "flagrant example of willful circumvention of NCAA legislation," the NCAA banned the Trojans from bowl games following the 1982 and 1983 seasons and from TV appearances in 1983 and 1984. It also froze the salary of Goux, a 25-year veteran of the coaching staff, for two years and ordered the athletic department to sever all ties with 16 of the outsiders who bought scalped tickets.
Although Zumberge insisted that he wasn't making light of the infractions, he said that the school was considering legal action on grounds that the NCAA penalties were discriminatory and unduly harsh. In suggesting that Goux had acted out of "compassion," Zumberge argued that a campus housing shortage had obliged Trojan athletes to live off campus, where the amount of scholarship money permitted under NCAA rules proved "unrealistic" in the face of L.A.'s high rents. When a reporter asked about the NCAA's contention that the scalping operation had given the Trojans a competitive edge by generating cash that recruits might find alluring, Zumberge replied, "Against whom would we get a competitive edge?" His implication: USC had only been doing what everybody else was doing.
The NCAA sanctions could hurt USC recruiting and cost the school $1 million in lost TV revenue. Still, Zumberge was off base in invoking what he called mitigating circumstances. For example, he argued that the NCAA punishment was too severe coming on top of the earlier Pac-10 penalties, which may be the first time a defendant has ever cited repeated offenses to justify a lesser sentence. Zumberge also made a point of saying there was no evidence that Athletic Director Richard Perry or Football Coach John Robinson, both of whom took over when John McKay left those jobs in 1975, had been aware of the ticket scalping. But it's hard to believe that Perry and Robinson were in the dark; the ticket-selling scheme was an open secret on campus, and Goux reportedly discussed ticket sales at team meetings, on at least one occasion writing ticket prices on a blackboard. In a 1979 Miami News story that first reported Goux's scalping operation, former Trojan Tight End Joe Shipp recalled that Robinson had instructed players not to discuss the ticket deal with outsiders.
Zumberge was being disingenuous in other ways. Although ticket scalping has long been common at other schools, there's no proof that it has ever been as extensive or as well organized as at USC. And as Delaware Athletic Director Dave Nelson notes, "There's a lot of difference between a kid who's doing it on his own and when a coach is involved."
Then there's Zumberge's contention that Goux acted out of compassion for disadvantaged athletes. That claim might be more persuasive had tickets been sold on the basis of need. In fact, ticket proceeds were divvied up according to what amounted to a salary scale, with All-Americas commanding higher prices than bench warmers. As Shipp told the Miami News, "If you became a star, they took care of you a little more." As for USC's supposed housing crunch, interviews with former Trojan athletes and sources in the school's housing office suggest that football players who wanted campus lodging usually could obtain it, that most of those who lived off campus did so by choice and that off-campus rents were comparable to those charged in the dorms. Dick Hannula, captain of the 1978-79 USC swimming team, says that he lived his first two years in a dormitory and his last two in nearby apartments. "If you lived near campus the cost wasn't any greater than in the dorms," he says. "I was able to pay my rent entirely with my scholarship money. It's ridiculous to say the kids needed more money and had to live off campus. That's not the point. They cheated." And so did their school.
HE ISN'T THURSDAY'S CHILD
An Olympic gold medal isn't the only prize that Renaldo Nehemiah passed up when he signed with the San Francisco 49ers two weeks ago. Nehemiah also was tantalizingly close to joining Edwin Moses and Pietro Mennea as the only male track-and-field athletes to qualify as seven-day wonders on the unique listings that Jed Brickner, a Los Angeles lawyer and track buff, maintains of top performances according to the days of the week on which those performances occurred (SI, March 17, 1980 et seq.). Moses has the "records" in his specialty, the 400-meter intermediate hurdles, for all seven days. The now-retired Mennea has the fastest clockings ever in the 200 meters on a Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, is tied for the fastest on Saturday (with Clancy Edwards) and has the fastest times at sea-level on each of the other two days.