A bell ding-a-lings on the Associated Press wire machine when the contraption has big news to report. At 10:22 this morning, the bell rang next to a disc jockey in Louisville.Golden Tones said, "This one is marked URGENT. So I'd better read it to you.
Had Secretariat eloped?
"URGENT," the dee jay said. "Seven-foot Melvin Turpin, an All-State basketball player at Lexington's Bryan Station High, who now is enrolled at Fork Union Military Academy, Fork Union, Va., announced today he will attend the University of Kentucky next fall. He will be eligible immediately to play for the Wildcats."
They take their basketball seriously in Kentucky.
Joe Begley, a mountain man who hates the strip mining for coal that defiles his beautiful Kentucky, once said, "If a lump of coal ain't Jesus Christ here, basketball is." For tonight's Kentucky-Indiana game in a 23,000-seat arena, a scalper wants $50 a ticket. A Kentucky publicity man said the school could sell 50,000 tickets. The game will be on live television in Indiana, on tape in Kenucky and on cable TV around the country.
"This is unreal, this is semi-NBA, this is quasiprofessional," said a man who works for the Indiana University. He said it admiringly as he moved his eyes to the far corners of Rupp Arena, a palace.
If college athletics has moved outside the educational process, as the current New Mexico scandal further suggests, perhaps the examples of Kentucky and Indiana, where devotion to basketball is total, ought to be held accountable as accomplices. They have, after all, won so often and so big as to create the idea winning is all that matters.
I think not. The Kentucky-Indiana basketball game tonight is a wonderful example of what college athletics ought to be. It is naive anymore to think of the colleges as students playing games; this is a multimilion-dollar show business enterprise. All we can ask is that the very best teams put on their shows with honor. At least, no one has been arrested at Indiana or Kentucky lately.
The police have been very busy at the University of New Mexico. The charges have been mail fraud, credit card fraud, aggravated assault and misapropration of city funds. An assistant coach aditted forging a transcript and bribing a school official to accept it as real. Six basketball and three football players have been declared ineligible after revelations they were given credit for an off-campus correspondent course they never took (the ironic name of the course: "Current Problems and Principles of Coaching Athletics").
The New Mexico Athletic Council announced yesterday it had recommended the firing of Norm Ellenberger, the basketball coach. The FBI is in this case, investigating a gambling operation said to have included two friends of Ellenberger.
A coach in the Southwest has told colleagues that two gamblers asked him to offer his players incentives -- $25 for each rebound, say -- in a game important to New Mexico's chances for a league championship. New Mexico wasn't even playing in this game the gamblers wanted to fix. But they were willing to pay, the coach has said. He told them to go away.
Ellenberger built Kentucky-like devotion in New Mexico. In seven seasons, his teams has a 134-62 record, won two Western Athletic Conference championships and played in four postseason tournaments. The 16,641-seat arena is sold out every game. Basketball brings in $1 million a year for New Mexico.
The sad thing, says Bob Knight, the Indiana coach who is a friend of Ellenberger, is that a coach could have won at New Mexico without being sleazy.
"The New Mexico thing bothers me because, one, I like Ellenberger." Knight said, "And, two, he's an excellent basketball coach. But he took the easy way of establishing a basketball program. He should have concentrated on recruiting in Southern California and getting every kid in New Mexico who could play. But he went for junior college players from all over instead of working his butt off to do it the right way.
Pressures to win in big-time college athletics are immense. If you don't win, you don't sell 16,641 season tickets. If the seats are empty, the coach is fired. The system eats people alive. It is not education that colleges are interested in when they hire basketball coaches. It is money. As long as Norm Ellenberger made money for New Mexico, how he did it seems to have mattered to no one.
Knight blames only Ellenberger.
"The ultimate fault has to lay with his choice of how to build the program," Knight said. "That choice is never forced on anybody. If they come to the coach and say, "We don't have any players here, do whatever it takes to get them,' a coach doesn't have to go along with that.
"He can say, 'No, I think we can get players the right way. This is the way we're going to do it.'"
The National Collegiate Athletic Association attempts to police its member schools. It might as well try to empty the Atlantic with a teaspoon. "The NCAA has no subpoena power and no threat of perjury charges," Knight said. "No matter how hard their investigators work, and they work very hard, they can't do it."
So Knight does it himself. A one-man police force in Indiana. He does it by the threat of humiliation.
"Some people came to me my first few months on the job and said they'd help me," said the coach who in eight years at Indiana has won a national championship, four Big Ten championships and 77 percent of his games. By "help," the people meant they would help Knight break the NCAA rules.
"I told everyone of them the same thing. I told them if I ever heard of any one of them ever cheating with a kid of mine, I would personally turn in Indiana t the NCAA.
"And I would name names. I would make sure everyone knew that Indiana was on probation as a result of what so-and-so personally did. Now, if so-and-so wants to be the person responsible for that, then go ahead."
Indiana has no booster club in basketball. Knight has accepted one gift ever. A fishing rod. He has turned down cars and boats. He wants no entangling alliances will people who might show up in an FBI investigation some day. When a soft drink company paid him $6,000 to put his picture on a tray, Knight gave the money to the university scholarship fund.
"Money is what causes it all," Knight said. And he drew a melancholy scenario of a 17-year-old kid being given a jacket at an all-star game, being given $100 by a coach as spending money, being paid to wear a certain brand of shoes.
"And what's the next step?" Knight asked rhetoricaly. "The next step is, why is it any different to accept money from an alum than from a shoe salesman. And what's the next step after being paid by an alum? The next thing is shaving points."
In 1951, when the Louisville Courier Journal liked gambling on sports so much that it published point spreads on high school games , the New York district attorney's office ordered the arrest of two of Kentucky's favorite sons, All-American players Ralph Beard and Alex Groza. They had been All-Pro in the NBA the year before. They were charged with shaving points. They never played again.