Tarkanian felt he
had all the evidence he needed to back up that allegation. Typical of the
information he and his wife had amassed was an affidavit signed by Jackie
Robinson, now a senior on the UNLV basketball squad, that concerned a
conversation Robinson says he had with NCAA investigator Lester Burks in April
1973. Robinson was then a widely recruited high school senior who had decided
to attend Las Vegas, and he claims he told Burks of several illegal offers made
to him by West Coast colleges. These included cash, automobiles and guarantees
that he would graduate. Only when Robinson mentioned Las Vegas—which he stoutly
maintains never offered him anything illegal—did Burks show intense interest.
In the Robinson affidavit, Burks is quoted as saying, "Between you and me,
I'm not supposed to be saying this, but I know a guy who attended Las Vegas a
couple of years ago and he quit. It's easy to pick up $50 or $60 a day there.
To tell you the truth, if I were a kid coming out of high school, I wouldn't go
there. You were recruited by UCLA, weren't you? They told me they wanted you.
Why did you choose Las Vegas over UCLA?" According to Robinson, Burks also
said, "Tarkanian, he's just one step ahead of us. But we're out to get him
and we will."
affidavit, Dwight Taylor, a former Long Beach State player, says that NCAA
investigator David Berst told him, "We're out to get Tarkanian and we're
going to hang him." To Roscoe Pondexter, who also played for Long Beach
State, Berst allegedly said, "I'm going to get Tarkanian if it takes the
rest of my career."
With the NCAA
refusing comment on the matter except to say it was satisfied with its
investigation and review of the case, Tarkanian seemed to have the weight of
the evidence on his side as the hearing began early last week. The defense
presented by UNLV's lawyer, Thomas Bell, was simply that due process is not
guaranteed a plaintiff against the NCAA, because the NCAA is a voluntary
organization, like the Elks or Boy Scouts. If one does not like the NCAA's
decisions, he implied, one is free to get out of the association.
lawyer, Sam Lionel, countered by saying that every American has the "right
to liberty and due process" whenever his right of property—in this case,
Tarkanian's freedom to earn a living at his chosen profession—is threatened. He
then produced a heap of evidence designed to disprove the NCAA's findings.
There was, for example, a transcript of a taped conversation between Rodney
Parker, who scouts schoolyard players in Brooklyn, and Berst. Lionel purported
to show that Berst had later misrepresented the discussion while testifying
about it at a hearing of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions.
Near the end of
the trial, Lionel produced the so-called "pink file," a collection of
sworn statements from players, coaches and others alleging that NCAA
investigators were determined to pin something on Tarkanian, whether he was
guilty of rule violations or not. Included in the file were affidavits from
current and former UNLV and Long Beach State players stating that they had been
harassed by investigators in search of information. Evidence was presented that
former UNLV Assistant Coach Tony Morocco had not told the truth when he accused
Tarkanian of recruiting violations. Lionel charged that investigators used
Morocco's statements against Tarkanian, even after the former assistant, who
says he recently "got back into" religion, had informed the NCAA that
he had told untruths.
Last Friday, four
days after the Tarkanian hearing, District Court Judge James Brennan rendered
his ruling. Even to the Tarkanians it was a victory of shocking proportions.
After granting a permanent injunction against the coach's suspension. Judge
Brennan ripped into the NCAA. He denied its right to make autonomous decisions,
stating that when a plaintiffs property rights and liberty are threatened,
"the association's action becomes judicial business." Calling the NCAA
"a monopoly," he questioned whether there is any viable alternative to
its "voluntary" membership. He then castigated the NCAA investigators,
calling their evidence against Tarkanian "total 100% hearsay." He said
that Berst had "an obsession to the point of paranoia to harm the
plaintiff," and that Morocco was "an inveterate liar." In summary,
he said the NCAA's case against Tarkanian could be "reduced to one word:
UNLV will appeal,
and it may be months before the full significance of the case is understood.
The NCAA may further discipline UNLV, or it may choose to do nothing, allowing
its original, though tainted, probation to stand. The NCAA also may want to
take a hard look at its investigative staff, which, says Nevada's Chief Deputy
Attorney General, Lyle Rivera, uses procedures so slapdash that a law
enforcement agency would be "crucified" for employing them. A
congressional investigation of the NCAA, requested by Representative Jim
Santini of Nevada, is being considered by John Moss, chairman of the Oversight
and Investigations Subcommittee.
mounting difficulties, the NCAA last weekend continued to remain silent.
"Our policy is not to discuss a case once it has been completed," said
NCAA spokesman Dave Cawood.
Tarkanian was exercising no such restraint. He wanted the NCAA investigators to
know he is not satisfied yet. "They better tape their ankles," says the
coach, "because the game is just beginning."