SI Vault
Edited by Jerry Kirshenbaum
August 30, 1993
Down and Out
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August 30, 1993


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Down and Out

College football lost one of its few remaining coaching giants on Sunday when Washington's Don James abruptly announced his retirement. James, 60, who was replaced by longtime Husky assistant Jim Lambright, quit in protest hours after the Pac-10, having conducted a nine-month investigation of wrongdoing by Washington boosters and players, imposed severe sanctions on the program. "I have decided I can no longer coach in a conference that treats its players and coaches so unfairly," James said.

The penalties against the Huskies include a ban on bowl appearances for 1993 and '94, a loss of 20 scholarships in those years and forfeiture of conference TV revenue for one year, which Washington officials estimate will cost the school $1.4 million. In addition, the Pac-10 stripped three players, including star senior tailback Beno Bryant, of their eligibility, but the players can be reinstated on appeal. In response James decided to give up a 21-year career in which he won almost 70% of his games, took the Huskies to a share of the national championship in 1991 and earned a spot on the short list of coaching throwbacks to the days of Bear Bryant and Bud Wilkinson (page 94).

Washington was not the only football power to be punished on the eve of the new season. Last week the NCAA announced that because of violations that occurred under Pat Dye, another coaching icon, Auburn would be barred from postseason play for two years and from television for one. The program will also lose six scholarships over the next three years. The key evidence against Auburn was the tapes secretly recorded by former defensive back Eric Ramsey, who received improper payments from a recruiting coordinator, an assistant coach and a booster (Oct. 7, 1991, et seq.). Personally implicated in the Ramsey scandal, Dye resigned as athletic director before the 1992 season and as coach at season's end.

In contrast to the Auburn case, Washington's coaches weren't accused of complicity in any of the 25 NCAA rules violations cited by the Pac-10. However, the Pac-10 Council found that boosters had given players dubious summer jobs and that former quarterback Billy Joe Hobert had used his reputation as an athlete to receive $50,000 in loans. Accusing the school of a "lack of institutional control," the Council also found that Husky players had served as hosts for recruits who turned in phony meal receipts and then split the loot with the recruits. If coaches didn't know about such goings-on, the Council concluded, they should have.

James was particularly incensed about the two-year bowl ban. In imposing that penalty, the Council overruled the conference's Compliance and Enforcement Committee, which had recommended a one-year ban. James was said to feel that Pac-10 rivals were out to get the Huskies (as Lambright put it, "The big dawg is shot out of the sky") and that the "upper campus"—the administration—had not supported him vigorously enough. Indeed, although Washington president William Gerberding protested the harshness of the sanctions and publicly praised James, sources say he believes that the athletic department has grown too independent. To judge by the abuses found in the football program, he is right.

In cracking down on Washington, the Pac-10, the only conference that conducts its own compliance investigations, is to be commended. For, like too many others in college football, James ultimately was guilty of losing control of the monster he helped create.

Less Shady

The conclusion by two independent investigators last week that former NHL president Gil Stein rigged his election to the Hockey Hall of Fame represents a milestone for a league still trying to get its act together (page 20). For too long the NHL conducted its business through secret deals, behind closed doors, with a handful of power brokers brooking no opposition. Stein's Hall of Fame machinations were in that tradition. According to the investigators, he 1) prevailed on Los Angeles King owner Bruce McNall, chairman of the NHL board of governors, to nominate him to the Hall; 2) stacked the Hall's board of directors, which votes on new members, in his favor; and 3) changed voting procedures to ensure his election, which occurred in April.

The investigators properly recommended that Stein's election be overturned, but, Stein, faced with humiliation, withdrew his name. Stein, the NHL's attorney for most of John Ziegler's 15-year reign as the league's president, succeeded Ziegler last year but lost a battle for the new position of commissioner to Gary Bettman, who assumed that office in February. It was Bettman who called for the investigation, a move that in itself raises hopes that the shady dealings of the Ziegler-Stein era are a thing of the past.

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