If, as is alleged, Howard University broke some 30 NCAA rules, the school's predicament is, at best, the sadly inevitable product of a mad rush for the Big Time. In its haste, Howard forgot the rules, or misinterpreted the rules, or didn't know there was a rule. Softhearts of the world say that's the best face Howard could put on 30 violations.
At worst, Howard flagrantly voilated NCAA regulations in passionate devotion to the gospel pronounced by more than one ambitious football coach: "We'll get the studs in here, go on probation a year or two and then be in the Top 10 for the next five years. Where's my map of Pennsylvania?"
Howard's top athletic department people will be in Boston tomorrow to answer to the NCAA's Infractions Committee, which will hear allegations that the university borke NCAA rules in basketball, football, soccer and wrestling. The committee will hear Howard's side of the story and by October we'll know the NCAA findings and punishment, if any.
Nuns, monks and Billy Graham have never broken an NCAA rule. I have. As the author of a book about basketball in Kentucky, I was overcome by pride and generosity. So I gave a copy to a University of Kentucky basketball player. If the NCAA wanted to say I was "a representative of the university's athletic interest" (a catch-all category that might include anyone who can spell Kentucky), then it could say I'd broken a rule by giving a player a gift of value ($7.95, but I can get you a discount).
The point, is NCAA rules are so wide-ranging, so open to so many reasonable interpretations, that anyone passing through this mortal coil has a better chance of arriving at the pearly gates free of venial sin than free of NCAA violations.
So it would be no surprise of Howard is found guilty as charged on some of the 30 violations. Just as a football official could call a holding penalty every time the ball is snapped, so could an NCAA investigator find malfeasance at any school if he looked long enough.
Especially is that true at a university in a hurry to achieve athletic prominence after years of anonymity.
Howard is in very much of a hurry.
Look at the headines on old newspaper stories about Howard athletics: "Howard Hopes To Build Stadium" . . . "Howard Determined To Reach Big Leagues.'
In that last story, dated Nov. 15, 1974, the university president, Dr. James Cheek, left no doubts of his ambitions.
"The world will hear from Howard University athletics," he said "Why not? With a school of 10,000 students and 30,000 alumni, why not?"
And, at the end of the story, the university president said, "We want to be No. 1 in the university division. One day ABC or whoever carries college football will be carrying Howard."
The TV people haven't found Howard yet, but the collegiate sports world by 1974 already had heard from Howard athletics. The year before Cheek's speech, the NCAA stripped Howard of its national soccer championship won in 1971. The NCAA said Howard used ineligible players.
In defense, Howard said it didn't know the players were ineligible and it certainly didn't mean to violate rules, and, in fact, believed it had not transgressed Nevertheless, came the punishment, and when Howard goes before the Infractions Committee tomorrow any pleas of ignorance or good intentions likely will fall on NCAA hearts hardened by past experience with the university.
Some of the 30 alleged violations are frivolous, such as the one dealing with publicizing a prospect. Howard introduced a high school senior at a basketball game. That is a violation of NCAA morality (might as well give the kid a book on Kentucky basketball, too).
Along with the frivolous, however, come a handful of serious allegations that, if true, paint Howard as a football factory. It is alleged that grades were changed and that scholarships were taken away only on the basis of performance and without a hearing.
Those are offenses of a school so anxious to be on ABC that it ignores the rules. And why not, when crime seems to pay so handsomely?
Consider Kentucky's football team.
It went on probation after the NCAA ruled that (among other things) players had been paid according to their game performances. Yet Kentucky was in the Top 10 last season, its coach was a preseason Coach of the Year (and given a huge raise in pay) and every home game is a 58,000-seat sellout.
This is not to suggest that Howard is in fact guility as charged. We'll find that out soon enough. It only is to say it will be no surprise if Howard has bent or broken standards of good conduct; a lot of schools have, and, as 58,000 people testify on Saturdays in Kentucky, not many people seem to care about the abuses.
That is the truly sad part of the Howard affair.