On the day Georgetown University boosters announced they had bought a $350,000 house for their basketball coach, George Washington University boosters voted to buy their coach a $2,300 used Pinto for recruiting.
The physical distance separating these two schools at opposite ends of the Whitehurst Freeway is only about a mile. But the distance between their basketball programs reaches from one end of I-95 to the other. And that distance is increasing.
GW is in its fifth year in the Eastern Eight, a high-powered basketball league with four large state universities, including Rutgers, a recent NCAA tournament semifinalist. GW's entrance requirements -- regarded as the toughest among area schools for basketball players -- and small recruiting budget, in addition to injuries and transfers, finally have caught up with the team.
The unexpected loss of three players off last year's team -- one by academic ineligibility, one by injury and one by choice -- hurt the team's depth and experience. It also ruined what had been a fragile foundation. Now the Colonials are 4-13 and heading for their worst record since 1967-68, the season before current Coach Bob Tallent played his final year for the Colonials after transferring from the University of Kentucky.
Since getting that used Pinto in mid-November, GW assistants Len Baltimore and Rick French have logged more than 15,000 miles. But, Tallent said recently, "I don't know how much we can accomplish (under current conditions). We can work ourselves to death and it'll be hard to finish in the top four in the league."
Edward Caress, a GW chemistry professor and the school's faculty representative to the NCAA, said, "That's an accurate statement."
For example, West Virginia University, the hottest team in the Eastern Eight this season, has reported recruiting budget of $65,000. Its coach, Gale Catlett, has become upset, not about having enough cars for recruiting but because the athletic director vetoed his request to charter a flight to Penn State.
GW's recruiting budget, according to Tallent, is $10,000 from the athletic department and another $2,000-$4,000 from Colonials Inc., the booster group that bought the used Pinto. For their recruiting trips, GW's three coaches recruit with one car, gasoline coming out of the recruiting budget.
In order to squeeze the most from the recruiting budget, Baltimore said that when he travels he stays with friends or relatives, not in a hotel. The budget, Tallent said, is basically the same as in 1974, the year he became coach. Tallent's 1974 recruiting budget was $8,500 and has increased $500 per year in the last three years to its current $10,000.
The issue also is raised as to whether this money can be used efficiently, since a coach spends 50 driving hours a week to see five players. Recruiters whose schools can afford airline tickets can see three or four players the same day.
"What do I need to be competitive with the other teams in our league?" Tallent asked. "The same thing they've got -- a relaxing of our entrance requirements for at least a couple of kids a year and, obviously, we could use a lot more money for recruiting."
How much? A small amount, probably less than $10,000, if GW wanted to regain its .500 level in the Eastern Eight, a plateau (19-19 overall) it achieved in the league's first four season; perhaps as much as $40,000 more to get in the same sphere as Rutgers, West Virginia, Pitt and Rhode Island, knowledgeable basketball people say.
It also is said in basketball circles that a poor coach can win with good talent, but that a good coach cannot win with poor talent. At GW, opinion is divided about whether Tallent, now in his seventh season, is a good coach, although, going into the current disastrous season, he has the highest winning percentage of any GW coach in almost 50 years. And Tallent has produced five of the university's 11 winning basketball teams in the past 24 seasons.
However, in interviews with alumni, GW coaches and other college basketball coaches, the virtually unanimous opinion is that the Colonials cannot compete successfully without better funding, especially if the university continues to refuse to relax entrance requirements, as seems almost certain.
One man who disagrees with the assertion that a lot more money is needed is Robert K. Faris, GW athletic director for the past 26 years. "We have sufficient funds and we've had increases each year," he said. y"You never get the total amount of increases you'd like to have."
Sources familiar with the situation claim Faris even objected when the boosters provided the Pinto.
On relaxed entrance requirements, Faris said: "I'm sure the university doesn't believe in dual standards."
That is not just one man's opinion:
Ron Howard, associate director of the alumni office: "I consider it a point of pride GW graudates people like Mike Zagardo, Mike Samson and Tom Tate who are admitted to top medical and law schools around the country. . . . I was an undergraduate at Iowa. I was there when Connie Hawkins was there and I saw the abuses that can and did go on there, and I am exceedingsly thankful that GW i not in a situation where they would be caught up in something like that."
Joe Ruth, director of admissions: "There once was a football coach (Bill Camp) who told me I was costing him his job -- and he was serious. . . It's been the curse of coaches since I've been here and I've been here over 20 years. Where our problem is, we haven't figured out how to keep them in school. . . Bob has found that they can't hack it here. He's learned there's no point (in trying to get them admitted). It's just a different situation. We're not a huge sports-oriented place or have a faculty that will pass them to keep them eligible."
Randall Packer, biology professor and chairman of the faculty Senate Athletic Committee: "I have real difficulty with it (the dual standard). I'm very comfortable being at a university that has straight admissions policy across the board. . . When an athlete comes to college, when he leaves, he should be up to a standard the school is proud of. I don't know if we ought to go the direction of Georgetown until I know what they did."
What Georgetown does: when an athlete does not qualify under Georgetown's normal admissions requirements -- which are tougher than GW's -- Coach John Thompson carefully screens the player for self-motivation, character and a reason why his grades or board scores are not high enough. Then Thompson presents names to an admissions committee that further screens the applicant. If he is accepted, he goes into a summer school program after which the admissions office can deny admission if he can't handle the work. If he is admitted, then the player goes under the scrutiny of Mary Fenlon, the athletic department's academic advisor. (According to Sports Illustrated, 35 of the 37 players Thompson has recruited have either graduated or are progressing toward their degree on schedule.)
GW has no such program and its applicants average 1,100 on the college boards. Ruth said GW looks for board scores of at least 1,000 and with applicants, including athletes, whose board scores are lower "you look harder and harder at other things. It's not a hard and fast thing." Ruth has accepted a few such basketball players over the years. The NCAA requirement for an athletic grant in aid is a 2.0 (C) high school average. At least six of the schools in GW's league will admit an athlete on that one requisite.
This means that GW has a smaller talent pool from which to choose."I might go out and see 10 players we would recruit," said Baltimore, a former GW player who has risen through the ranks from graduate assistant to No. 1 assistant in charge of recruiting. "Of those 10, five can't get in. And of the other five, two are likely no to be interested."
Thus, GW is in the position of needing to spend more money than the competition. The school also is faced with an identity crisis. For a couple of years, GW recruited on the building of the 6-year-old Smith Center, its 4,500-seat, on-campus arean-recreational complex. Because of GW's early success there, the school sold WDCA-TV-20 on a five-year television package and, in what was considered a coup at the times, "stole" Georgetown's radio station, WEAM.
Believing his program to be at a crossroads three years ago, Tallent and his staff met with Univeristy President Lloyd H. Elliott after a 13-14 season -- Tallent's only losing record thus far -- full of injuries and what one source today calls unrealistic expectations. Two things came out of that meeting. Elliott reiterated the school's admissions policy and he said he would review Tallent's request for an increased budget.
No major additional funding came out of the meeting; there is uncertainly at what level the decision was made. Some sources familiar with the inner workings of the university say Faris made the decision, which he denies. A number of GW officials passed the buck back to Faris and Elliott in recent interviews about who determines basketball budgets and policy.
Elliot, when contacted last week, said the Senate Athletic Committee made all policy decisions concerning athletes. Elliott suggested calling Caress, the NCAA representative and, according to Ellott, the chairman of the committee. "A lot of people make that mistake," Caress said in referring a reporter to Packer, who he said headed the committee that had yet to meet this academic year.
Packer, in his first year on the committee, said he believed its purpose is to serve as a watchdog. "I'd say the athletic director" was Packer's response when asked who made the budgetary recommendations to Elliott. When told that Elliott said his committee made policy and budget decisions, Packer replied: "That's more power and responsibility than I thought (we had), and I don't think that's the case."
Other sources also say that committee rubber-stamps whatever Faris wants, therefore leaving all recommendations up to Faris. "It is not a very powerful body," is the way one GW official described the committee.
Since talking briefly with a reporter last week, Elliott said, "I'm not inaccessible, but I'm not going to take matters out of their (committee's) hands."
Following Tallent's unsuccessful request for easier entrance requirements and more money, the TV contract with Channel 20 was canceled by the station after one year. The radio contract with WEAM is now down to 10 games this season, with the threat of nonrenewal, and even the league's Saturday afternoon TV contract was canceled after three weeks this season because a $275,000 advertising package was unsellable.
Thus, it is no surprise that an athlete from Atlanta at a major Eastern school with academic standards similar to GW's said he thought he was being recruited by Georgetown when a recruiter introduced himself as being a representative of "George Washington University in Washington D.C."
Even though Tallent has had only one previous losing season, Faris refused to give him a vote of confidence last week. "We're all rather unhappy we're having a bad year," he said. "But we'll evaluate our basketball program at the end of the year. In the middle of the year, I have no comment to make."
The greatest complaints about Tallent's coaching abilities come from alumni and fans. In fact, Tallent's stature among his fellow coaches is high. Thompson, whose team's rivalry with GW is near legendary, called Tallent, "a good coach, well-organized." Jim Lynam, formerly of American U. -- another of GW's city rivals -- and now coach at St. Joseph's, said, "He's done an outstanding job considering the obstacles."
Lynam said he was referring to entrance requirements and budget: "I'm sure GW is not going to compare favorably in those areas. It just makes it a little more difficult for the coach."
Some parents and alumni complain about Tallent's firey style, a tendency to blame too many losses on shortcoming s of his players and what they say is the manner in which he constantly yells at his players.
Said a father of a former player. "He (Tallent) shouldn't be allowed in any program with young people. He doesn't know how to lead a bunch of kids. He has one approach: to chew (them) out all the time. He may know everything there is to know about basketball, but they are still kids . . . (But) it's not only Bob Tallent but Bob Faris. He stopped doing his job when they got the Smith Center built. That was his coup."
Tallent denied that he treated all players the same way, but asked for the name of a coach who didn't do a lot of yelling. His critics say that his style is reminiscent of the late Adolph Rupp, under whom he started at Kentucky before falling into the coach's disfavor.
"I'm not like Rupp," Tallent said, "I don't think anybody could get away from that these days."
Another criticism of Tallent is that he does not like to recruit, which he denies. The fact that he no longer goes on the road to recruit as much as he did in the past, he said, is strictly a budgetary matter. On one key phase of recruiting, he and Faris disagree. Tallent says GW must recruit nationally, or at least regionally, because of academic requirements; Faris says there are enough players in the Washington area to make GW competitive.
Faris also says his expectations of GW basketball with its current resources are: "You want to have one of the 20-win years every so often, but you always expect to be over .500, in the 17-10 area." Faris said GW "very definitely" wanted an NCAA tournament bid.
"We've got an outstanding facility to play in. I think it (an NCAA bid) can be done. We've been close to it before, as you well know."
A look at GW's record the past 24 seasons shows one NCAA bid (in 9-17 season in which the underdog Colonials won the 1961 Southern Conference tournament for an automatic NCAA berth), one 20-victory season and only two seasons with more than 15 victories. In the first four years of the Eastern Eight, the Colonials have never finished among the top four teams and have lost in the first round of the playoffs each time.
And the biggest source of unrealistic expectation under Tallent was back-to-back victories over Maryland in the 1976-77 and '77-'78 seasons. In Faris' 26 years as athletic director, GW is 6-26 against the Terrapins, having lost 17 straight games until the 1976-'77 victory. Fourteen of those 26 defeats were by at least 10 points and nine of them by at least 19.
It is a record of mediocrity at best, leaving one GW alumnus who believes in the school's academics to ask:
"How did Duke, Virginia and Georgetown get so good? They're in the same situation as us -- good academics and tough entrance requirements. It took an evaluation of where it stood and what changes would be necessary."
Said Baltimore, "That's why coaching is such an insecure profession. They fire you, make an evaluation and then make all the changes for the next coach."