The NCAA has decided to put UCLA's basketball team on probation for a year, sources say, a punishment that would take the 10-time national champions off television and bar them from the 1982 NCAA tournament. Unless UCLA appeals the verdict, the NCAA's announcement of probation will be made soon. The violations are said to involve cars and apartments.
It is to this sorry pass that the Wooden dynasty has come: UCLA is in the colleges' metaphorical jailhouse. The classy Bruins, with a proud tradition built by Hazzard and Goodrich, Alcindor and Warren, Walton and Wilkes, soon will hear the slammer door clang shut, just as it has in years past on such as Southwestern Louisiana.
John Wooden's name won't come up in the NCAA report, sources say, but the NCAA has asked UCLA for information going back at least 3 1/2 years. At that time the UCLA coach was Gary Cunningham, who gave way to Larry Brown the last two seasons, before assistant Larry Farmer moved up to the post. Wooden's successor, Gene Bartow, says he was not questioned by the NCAA.
UCLA's probation will be no surprise in college basketball circles. The surprise for years was that NCAA cops never accused UCLA of so much as jaywalking. Usually, the sure-firedest way to meet an NCAA investigator is to win a whole bunch of games. Yet UCLA won 10 national championships in 12 seasons and nary a pinch by the cops.
So surprise soon turned to cynicism.
A 7-footer normally wouldn't work up a sweat before a gumshoe came sniffing around to find out who was giving him what.
Southwestern Louisiana was nailed for so many transgressions the NCAA ordered the basketball program disbanded. When Kentucky football got good, NCAA investigators did such earnest work they not only found violations in football but (as long as we're here) also in basketball.
Coaches at such schools invariably squawk of their innocence. And they point fingers at others.
Very often those fingers pointed west. Pointed at Los Angeles.
They pointed at UCLA and asked, "If the NCAA can find enough evidence to put Southwestern Louisiana in solitary confinement, why can't it get a parking ticket on UCLA?"
No longer surprised, the cynics decided UCLA simply was too powerful for the NCAA enforcement staff to mess with.
The school's athletic director, the late J.D. Morgan, was an influential member of the NCAA hierarchy. As such he helped create the basketball-on-TV packages so important financially.
Coaches believed, too, that the NCAA enforcement staff was hesitant to advance on UCLA during John Wooden's time, when his astonishing success generated unprecedented interest in college basketball and was seen as good for the NCAA as a whole.
A former NCAA investigator practically admits as much.
"We looked at UCLA a lot of times," he said. "One thing difficult in cracking a case like UCLA is that it's so successful -- and people are reluctant to throw stones at great success. They'll talk about Southwestern Louisiana, but they're a lot more reluctant to talk about UCLA. People wouldn't help us."
But now Morgan is dead and Wooden has been retired six seasons. Now come the NCAA police with sirens screaming.
They have talked to former UCLA players and coaches. They have talked to players recruited by UCLA who wound up going to other schools. They have talked to transfers out of UCLA. The NCAA has talked (again) to businessman Sam Gilbert, UCLA's most powerful booster.
Gilbert denies any association with UCLA, except to say he has been a friend to many players from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's days forward.
"I don't represent them (UCLA)," Gilbert said yesterday by telephone. (He is sensitive to this because the NCAA polices the actions of "representatives of the university's athletic interest"; by which phrase it covers virtually anyone who comes into contact with a player before and after he enrolls in school. The NCAA considers Gilbert such a 'rep.')
"My only relationship," Gilbert went on, "is that I have negotiated contracts for players, which I have done for free. I have never communicated to any coach, whether I liked him or not . . . I just like UCLA basketball."
Sam Gilbert says he is just a fan. He buys his tickets like any fan, and he doesn't recruit players.
Gilbert confesses to breaking NCAA rules. Sort of.
"Some of them can be interpreted that way," he said.
Then he told how he started having UCLA players to his home for Thanksgiving dinner.
"I said to Lucius (Allen) and Kareem, 'What are you doing Thanksgiving?' They said, 'Sitting in the dorm.' School's closed that week. I said, 'That's crazy, come to my house.' That is a violation."
Technically, yes. Just as it was technically a violation for a Miami football coach to lend a player $10 and then not collect the four cents interest due on such a loan. The NCAA actually made that charge before withdrawing it in the face of common sense.
The NCAA, in this UCLA case, is not putting the Bruins on probation for a booster's Thanksgiving dinner.
"It is a significant case," said a source knowledgable with the details of the investigation.