Chancellor John B. Slaughter said yesterday he will move management of the University of Maryland's academic support unit for athletes from the athletic department to the academic sector. At the same time, Slaughter said the blame for academic shortcomings of its athletes belonged to the university, as well as the athletic department.
Slaughter, who is chairman of the NCAA Presidents Commission overseeing reforms in college athletics, said that Maryland is guilty of exploiting its athletes, just as "every institution is" in big-time athletics.
In another development, the university's Board of Regents will hold a special meeting Monday morning to discuss the conditions surrounding the cocaine-induced death last Thursday of Maryland all-America basketball player Len Bias. Sources said topics likely to be discussed include drug use among athletes and their academic problems. When Bias died he was 21 credits short of a degree after four years at Maryland and did not earn a credit during the spring semester, flunking three courses and withdrawing from two.
Slaughter, who made his remarks in an interview yesterday with The Washington Post, said he has been thinking of changing the responsibility of managing academic affairs and support of athletes from the athletic department for some time. He said his unspecified timetable would be accelerated as a result of recent revelations about the academic problems of basketball players, five of whom flunked out after the spring semester, and the resignation of the team's academic counselors both last year and this year.
"I've had a feeling for a long time that one of the problems with academic advising in athletic departments is that it is managed by athletic departments," Slaughter said. "And I think that is not something we will change immediately, but over time that has to be a responsibility that is assumed by the academic sector of the university."
He made it clear his statement did not indicate a lack of support for the athletic department. "It's a statement facing the reality that academic advising . . . has to be assumed by the larger institution because that's where the resources are. And, of course, to be meaningful, the institution has to buy into it. That has not been in evidence necessarily at Maryland."
Specifically asked how much responsibility basketball coach Lefty Driesell has in the academic efforts of his players, Slaughter said, "Any coach has to play a major role in academic performance of the athletes. But he cannot assume total responsibility and cannot be expected to . . . It's too easy to identify a single person and lay all the blame at his or her foot. It's simply not fair."
Athletic Director Dick Dull said yesterday he welcomed Slaughter's plan of action. "It's a step in the right direction," Dull said. "I welcome interaction with as many academic components as possible."
In another development, the Baltimore Evening Sun reported that several University of Maryland athletes failed random drug tests during the 1985-86 academic year. Those test results are kept confidential by the Student Health Center, which conducts tests and sends players who test positive to counseling.
The athletic department is not told of a drug problem until the player tests positive a second time, after which the athlete is suspended from his or her team for two weeks. Dull said recently that no athlete has been reported for such an incident. The university began mandatory and random testing of athletes last fall; tests for anabolic steroids were not included until three months ago because laboratories equipped to handle such tests are scarce, Dull said.
The academic problems within Maryland's athletic department surfaced despite a concerted effort by university officials in the last five years -- including a tenfold increase in resources to $250,000. There are five full-time academic counselors working for the athletic department.
Slaughter said of the academic problems: "We have to be a great deal more directed in beginning to solve some of them . . . I think we did have a program for addressing them, which was showing improvement -- sustained improvement. I think in some cases we will have to intensify."
In a previous interview, Slaughter said his ultimate goal is producing the type of academic/athletic balance that exists at such private universities as Duke and Notre Dame.
"I'm probably too idealistic in this regard, but I believe very much in the idea of the symbiotic relationship between a good athletic program and a quality academic program," he said. "I believe you can make it . . . in a large, public educational institution like Maryland. That's one of the things I want our institution to do."
Slaughter said yesterday the resignation this week of Wendy Whittemore, last season's academic counselor to the basketball team "tells me that I'm right. We need to have better policies for academic support for our students and they need to be managed by the academic sector . . . in order for adequate resources to be provided so it can be seen that good academic advising is available."
Whittemore and Larry Roper, the team's first academic adviser, both said this week that they were not empowered to ensure that athletes were reaching their full potential as students, so coaches would steer players to courses in which they would stay eligible instead of allowing them to assume a greater risk in taking tougher courses. Slaughter said athletes should have the same opportunities as regular students in course selection.
"In view of the fact that such an incredibly small percentage of the athletes at any college program, including our own, will ever go on to a pro career, it's imperative for a student to have an opportunity to finish the university, not only with a degree, but a degree that is meaningful, where you are provided some career opportunities," Slaughter said. "That to me is the crux of the matter."
The subject of Bias' death also came up yesterday during a House District subcommittee hearing on law enforcement and corrections problems in the city.
Del. Walter Fauntroy (D-D.C.) said Bias' death "underscores the depth of the drug crisis" in the region.
The U.S. Attorney's office for the District of Columbia is looking into whether the cocaine that caused Bias' death was purchased in Washington, a law enforcement official said yesterday.
The official said U.S. Attorney Joseph diGenova has told Prince George's State's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall that any evidence uncovered by federal prosecutors in the District will be made available to Marshall, who is directing a grand jury investigation into Bias' death.
Federal prosecutors also could file drug charges in the District of Columbia if there is evidence of a drug violation in the District, the official said. According to the official, the U.S. Attorney's office also will seek the assistance of the D.C. police department.
Lt. William White III, the D.C. police spokesman, said yesterday that the department is not involved in the Bias investigation and "is not . . . assisting and conducting a joint investigation with Maryland authorities regarding the Bias death at this particular time."
Although D.C. police are not formally involved, White said, it does not preclude informal exchange of information between D.C. and Prince George's police and that already may have taken place.
White said reports that the cocaine that killed Bias may have been purchased at the Montana Terrace public housing project in Northeast Washington "at this point are nothing more than a rumor."
He said D.C. police have ongoing investigations in the area of the Montana Terrace housing project, but they are unrelated to Bias' death.
Staff writers Barbara Vobejda, Nancy Lewis and Joe Pichirallo contributed to this report.