The question for today is: will the media -- the newspapers, magazines and TV -- ever get beyond scoops about the details and identities of alleged fixers and deal with the conditions in college basketball that bring about these periodic scandals?
I'd like to see particular questions addressed to the coaches, to the athletic directors and to the presidents of schools accused to dumping. I'd like to see these questions addressed to the president of any school that has been involved with recruiting and transcript violations.
Questions like these:
Did the students involved in the scandals belong in school as bona fide students? Did they come in without any special concessions made to them because they were athletes? Were they made to carry the same kind of study load as an average student? Did they do the school work required of them? Did they receive legitimate passing grades? Did they graduate?
Is the school an academic institution or one trying to serve a big-time entertainment function for the community, for its alumni?
Is the school interested in basketball as a campus activity or does it want the glare and publicity that comes from playing in big-time arenas?
Is the school interested in basketball as a student activity or does it want to use the sport as a means of winning the revenue that comes from appearing on television?
These questions are asked here because the focus of this scandal -- as it was on past scandals -- seems limited to the fixes and the identity of the individuals involved. If the pattern established by the 1950s scandals is repeated, the culprits will be thrown out of school, tainted for life by their involvement in point-shaving and dumping, while the coaches and athletic directors and college presidents will do little more than wring their hands in public, suffering no great stigma and making no significant changes in the college sports environment.
A halftime report on NBC's college basketball telecast of the Holy Cross-Boston College game Saturday symbolized some of the distorted perspective of the media's approach to these scandals. The report involved Mary Albert talking first to Boston College Coach Tom Davis and then to his broadcast partner, Bucky Waters, a fromer coach at West Virginia and Duke.
"It's been a rough time for Coach Davis," Albert said, setting a tone of concern for a coach victimized by alleged malfeasances by his players. Davis may be saintly man, but in view of the winds swirling about his school, Albert might have asked him if he felt there was anything about the Boston College situation thay have contributed to the breakdown in moral fiber by his players which made them ripe targets for fixers. It would have been of interest to hear the coach discuss whether he felt the players belonged in college in the first place.
On came Waters, saying that coaches should take the time to warn their players about the pitfalls of gambling. Good enough, but then Waters went into a righteous spiel calling for severe punishment for anybody who has been proven to be guilty. He noted that severe punishment doesn't seem to have prevented later scandals, but insisted that dumpers are not juveniles: "they are intelligent young adults and should pay for their acts."
What about Waters and coaches like him? What were the standards by which his basketball players were recruited at West Virginia? What kind of scholastic demands were made on them in West Virginia's bids for national attention as a basketball power? What does big-time treatment of television do to athletes' concepts about what a college's priorities are all about?
Earlier in the telecast, Waters had said that if a player of his were fouled at a key time and that player was not a good foul shooter, he might instruct the player to fake an injury so that he would be taken out of the game, allowing a better foul shooter to replace him.
When a coach has that kind of mentality -- and boasts about it on television -- what kind of win-at-all-costs is he instilling in his players? And when a player is exposed to the win-at-all-cost mentality that begins with illegal recruiting, why should he necessarily see the ethical difference between that and the act of shaving points, i.e. enriching himself without actually making his team lose a game?
Basketball is the most dangerous game because of the way point spreads can be manipulated. A player might intially be attracted by a gambler's offer because he feels he is helping only to win a game by fewer points rather than actually throwing the game. College football is probably more corrupt with recruiting and academic violations than basketball, but there haven't been scandals in that sport because it is harder to get to enough players to affect a game. It is harder to control a football game to shave points.
Another aspect of the scandals is the role of newspapers which publish the point spread on college games. This helps to contribute to the corrupt atmosphere surrounding big-time college sports, yet some of the newspapers quick to go for scoops revealing alleged culprits are the very ones which publish odds. The most outrageous hypocrisy: righteous editorials decrying dumping written by newspapers whose sports pages publish those odds.
By the same token, some TV sportscasters talk about college results in terms of the point spread, not victory or defeat. Warner Wolf, now on CBS' NEW YORK affiliate, in particular of late -- even in the wake of this Boston College situation -- has announced, "If you bet Fordham with the points, you won your bet." He didn't even bother to give the score of the game. There ought to be limits to the shtich of a $400,000-a-year broadcaster.
This is no brief for the dumpers. But some of them we have read so much about in the past have paid their price a few times over for what they did a long time ago. One of them long ago went back to college and became a respected professional. To this day, though, the poor soul has not told his son that he once was a dumper. No college president has had to live down any of these scandals; and some of the coaches who sat on top of nests of corruption have had gyms names after them.