At least nine members of the 1980 Maryland football team had access to an assistant coach's telephone credit card and used it to make nearly $6,000 in phone calls during 1979 and 1980, according to the players and the coach who were involved.
The assistant coach, Thomas Groom, confirmed this week that he gave the card's number to all-ACC tailback Charlie Wysocki and to wingback Jan Carinci during the 1979 season.
According to the NCAA, it is a violation of the organizaton's "extra-benefits rule" to make a telephone credit card available to an athlete.
"The rule holds that athletes may not be given a privilege that is not available to all other students," said David Berst, the NCAA's assistant director of enforcement. "That would apply to use of a phone credit card."
The only exception, Bert said, is if the athlete is given the card to call a player being recruited by the school. Groom said that was the reason Wysocki was given the card. An interoffice memo from jerry Claiborne, the football coach, to Athletic Director Jim Kehoe, dated May 12, 1981, said that both Carinci and Wysocki were given the card to make "emergency calls to their homes." Groom said Carinci was given the use of the card to make one call to his family.
Claiborne said Monday that the school has never contacted the NCAA about the incident. "I don't see where we did anything wrong," he said. "There was no malicious intent. A coach made a mistake and let the number get out and some of the kids abused it. But we didn't know the card was being abused until January. When we found out about it, we stopped it."
Claiborne said that he did contact ACC Commissioner Robert James to inform him of the incident.
Berst said that in a case where the head coach was unaware of the violation and moved to halt it as soon as he became aware of it, "that action would be a mitigating factor in the school's favor."
Asked specifically yesterday if the NCAA was investigating Maryland, Berst said, "Under our procedures, we can neither confirm nor deny whether we are investigating a particular institution."
Exactly how much was spent on the phone calls is disputed. The players, who saw the phone bills, say it was about $6,000. Groom, who was told by Claiborne to pay 25 percent of the bill as punishment for letting the number get out, said he paid the university "between $1,400 and $1,500," indicating a total bill of close to $6,000. But Kehoe said this week the exact figure spent was $4,276.11. Groom, he said, was charged $1,069.06.
Only one of the players involved, Carinci, has not yet paid back all the money he owes. Now a player for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, Carinci paid part of his bill and told Claiborne he will pay the rest as soon as he gets his first paychecks from the Argonauts.
The use of the card was discovered in January by administrative assistant Gothard Lane, who works in the football office. At the time, state auditors were on campus conducting a general audit of the university.
Kehoe informed Claiborne of the telephone credit-card problem and, Kehoe said, "I told him (Claiborne) there are state auditors on board here and I don't want anything to come up that would directly or indirectly mention misuse of the card. I want this handled internally."
Kehoe said Monday that although the money involved belonged to the state he has never informed state auditors about the incident. "We knew what was going on. We have over 80 percent of the money paid pack. We're taking care of it," he said. "That's a matter of record."
Claiborne was under the impression until Monday that it was the state auditors who had discovered the problem. Actually, Kehoe said, it was Lane who walked up to Kehoe in January, holding Groom's bill, and said, "We've got a problem."
Lane was assigned to call all the phone numbers on the bill and ask persons on the other end if they knew anyone on the Maryland football team and, if so, whom. From that, a list of the players was compiled and all were called to an 8 a.m. meeting with Claiborne in late January. Only Wysocki, snowed in at his home in Pennsylvania at the end of a weekend, was not there.
Eight players were at that meeting: Carinci; split end Chris Havener, the team's leading receiver in 1980; defensive tackle Mike Carney; walk-on Andy Paffenroth, who had quit the team earlier; center Bruce Byrom; defensive back Ralph Lary; defensive back Sammy Johnson, and offensive tackle Bob Gioia, who denied involvement and was excused before the session ended.
When the players arrived at the team meeting room, they knew they were in serious trouble. Claiborne has been president of the American Football Coaches Association for the past year and has been a member of the NCAA rules committee. He has built his reputation over 30 years as a coach as a stickler for the rules, a disciplinarian who will stand for no bending of the rules -- his or the NCAA's -- on his football team.
"Going in there," Byron said, "was like going into the court before God."
"I was angry," Claiborne said. "I was upset it had happened and I was disappointed in the kids. They aren't bad young men; they simply made a mistake. They were wrong. I told them that."
Claiborne succeeded in scaring the players, which he said he intended to do." Walking back to the dorm, I turned to Sammy Johnson and said, 'Wow, this could be it for us,'" Byrom recalled.
The next day, Claiborne met alone with Wysocki. The star tailback told him all his calls had been recruiting calls. "He told me I had to pay back, though, because he didn't see why I needed to talk to recruits for that long," Wysocki said.
Claiborne's version is different. "We checked the records and not all of his calls had been to recruits," he said.
Byrom had the largest bill, $2,200. Carinci was next with about $1,100, followed by Paffenroth, who was close to $900. The bills of Havener, Wysocki and Carney were all more than $100, although Havener disputed the $425 figure presented to him by Claiborne, saying his bill was only a little more than $100. Lary and Johnson had bills of less than $20. Several calls were unaccounted for, either because the party reached at the number denied knowing a Maryland football player or because no one could be reached at the number.
Claiborne then met with Kehoe to discuss Groom's status. Groom said he believed at that point he would be fired. The players said the word was around the team that he would be fired. Kehoe and Claiborne disagreed over what kind of disciplinary action should be taken, although neither man would discuss it this week. In the end, Groom's punishment was an order to pay 25 percent of the bill -- plus a lecture from Claiborne.
"I take responsibility for what happened; it was my fault," Groom said. "Coach Claiborne has never done anything any way but the right way and as soon as he knew what happened, he stopped it."
Groom said when he gave the card number to Wysocki and Carinci he believed each would only use it once. Wysocki said he understood that he was allowed to use the card when he needed to for recruiting purposes. Carinci said it was never clear to him one way or the other, that he simply kept the card number and used it when he felt he needed to talk to his family -- or, at least at first. "Later, it snowballed and, boom, $1,100."
What is most unclear, because neither player will comment, is how they got the new card number in January 1980 when the old one expired. Groom said he didn't know how they obtained the new number.
Also unclear is why it took so long for anyone to discover the plethora of calls being charged to one credit card. According to Groom, at one time each assistant coach received his bill monthly to check the calls, but that stopped sometime prior to 1979.
Now, the bills are sent by the phone company to the university's physical plant, then sent to the athletic department's business office and, finally, to the individual offices involved. Somewhere in the bureaucratic tangle, school offices maintained, the bills went unnoticed.
"That was part of the problem," Byrom said. "The longer it went on, the more confident we all became that it was okay to keep calling. It was just so easy. At first, I just called my girlfriend. Then I started calling my folks and, finally my friends. My mother was leery about it. In a way, I think she was glad we got caught."
The card number got around, Carinci said, mostly because he was unable to withstand peer pressure. "One night, my roommate (Paffenroth) heard me using it and he said, 'Hey, let me use it, too.' Then some other guys heard about it and asked me, too.
"I guess I felt like I had two choices. In order not to be seen as a prima donna or a coach's boy I had to let the other guys, use it or stop using it myself, which is what I should have done."
Carinci said he did not give the card to all the players who eventually used it. Wysocki denied giving the number to anyone.
Perhaps the most shocked member of the group when the truth came out was Havener, who had been told the card was a special phone company card that almost acted as a WATS line -- the bill was the same every month regardless of the number of calls.
"To say I totally believed that would be naive," Havener said. "But as time went by, I was lulled into a sense of false security by the fact that nothing was happening and some of the other guys were making so many calls. It became like a general practice. That doesn't mean it wasn't wrong. It was."
After the meeting with Claiborne, all the players were instructed to go to the football office to look at the bills and initial each of their calls.
Only Havener became involved in a dispute over the number of calls he made. Some of the confusion apparently stemmed from his belief that a bill for part of the money had been sent to his home in Florida. He and Claiborne argued about the bill and the coach told Havener he would hold up his diploma until the bill -- by Maryland's accounting, not Havener's -- had been paid.
The two did not talk for several weeks. At one point, Havener said Monday, he saw Claiborne in the weight room and the coach told him, "Everyone has paid but you."
"I knew that wasn't true and I asked him why he said that," Havener said. "Then he said, 'Well, everyone's at least paid part.' I said, 'I've paid all I owe.'"
It was not until Monday, after both had been contacted by The Washington Post, that Claiborne and Havener spoke again. Finally, yesterday, they met, discussed the situation and Havener paid his bill, closing the matter.
Players on the team said that Claiborne was extremely shaken by the incident, disappointed in both the players and Groom, who played for him in 1963-66 at Virginia Tech and who joined the Maryland staff in 1972 when Claiborne arrived.
"They all made a mistake," Claiborne said. "I told Tommy that I felt he should pay part of the bill because the card was his responsibility and he let it get out.If I had felt what he had done was blatant, I would have fired him, but from the reports I got it wasn't."
Claiborne also met with his entire coaching staff to tell it that under no circumstances was a credit card number to ever be given to a player again. "From now on, if they want a player to call a recruit, he will do it from this office or he won't do it at all," Claiborne said.
He also told the players that the less each one said to anyone about the matter the better. Still, the issue was a topic for discussion among virtually the entire team and around Ellicott Hall, the dorm where the players live.
One of the players involved could not resist a final comment. On the ceiling of one of the elevators in the dorm, he wrote, "Scandal at UM." Beneath that, he wrote the card number.
The comment and the number stayed there until recently, when a coat of white paint was applied to all of Elliott's elevators. The only evidence remaining of the graffiti is a very dim '3,' noticeable only upon extremely close inspection. That was the first number of the credit card.