Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps' allegations that seven NCAA schools have paid as much as $10,000 each to lure players drew mixed reactions today among coaches gathered here for the NCAA basketball semifinals and final.
Of the dozen coaches interviewed today, none expressed shock or outrage at the comments by Phelps, who said that he has turned in two schools to the NCAA, neither of which was named publicly. But several coaches said Phelps' remarks were self-serving since Notre Dame lost 17 of 27 games this year, and because Phelps has had poor recruiting success the past two seasons.
"This casts a very dark shadow on the coaching profession itself," said Georgetown Coach John Thompson. "If he wants to make these statements, he should be specific and name the schools. Saying 'some' casts a shadow on 100 percent. It's unfair to the guys who are doing an honest job. But I do consider paying ballplayers to be similar to slavery."
"If Digger's got proof of what he says, he ought to turn the schools in to the NCAA," said Louisville Coach Denny Crum. "But if not, all you're doing is making the profession look bad, and he shouldn't be mouthing off."
Clem Haskins, coach of Western Kentucky said, "Maybe I'm naive, but I can't imagine a coach offering a kid $10,000 to recruit him. If it's going on, however, I want to know about it so I can get into another line of work. I don't have $10,000 to offer.
"Some people want to get attention at the final four," Haskins continued. "And this is a good conversation piece. He might need a little recognition after having an off season and losing a couple of (recruits). I know I've never been approached by kid who said he needed money, and I've never approached one."
Phelps said Thursday that $10,000 was the standard rate for a good high school prospect and that often the school has to pay that amount per year for the athlete.
Such offers would place a coach and his school in direct violation of NCAA rules. Phelps left New Orleans for Connecticut this morning and could not be reached for further comment.
David Berst, the NCAA's director of enforcement, said the NCAA would look into Phelps' charges. As a matter of policy, Berst declined further comment.
"I haven't read the story, but it wouldn't be any earth-shattering news," said Lou Carnesecca of St. John's. "It's a perfect time and audience for this to be brought out, since all of us are here. But I don't know if it's that rampant. This (revelation) may cause some sleepless nights among those practicing such chicanery. Maybe some governing bodies will even take note."
Virginia's Terry Holland said he has not encountered such cheating among programs in the Washington-area or in the Atlantic Coast Conference. "I think it does go on," said Holland. "And if Digger sees it, he should report it. But I hope this doesn't give the game a black eye on the weekend that we have the finest four teams in the nation competing for the national championship."
Said Alabama-Birmingham Coach Gene Bartow: "Digger is telling it like it is. There is a lot of cheating going on. I'm 0 for 11 (in recruiting) against one (school) in my state, but I don't understand why.
"Digger's right. It's time for some of these things to be brought out on the table. I have no idea of (the price), but a lot of things are going to players and coaches. It's sad and frightening."
Before Phelps left this morning, he told reporters that it was up to the coaches to make sure such violations of ethics don't occur, and that coaches should meet twice a year to police themselves.
North Carolina Coach Dean Smith went a step further. "The NCAA needs subpoena power somehow," he said. "Maybe this will cause at least some embarrassment, if not an investigation. We need to scare some programs with some stiffer penalties. University presidents have to say, 'We'll fire a coach who cheats. Period.' "
North Carolina freshman Michael Jordan said, "I read the article this morning and, in some cases, there is truth to what Coach Phelps said. Some players, while they're being recruited, come out and brag about what they may be offered. But it's something they should keep to themselves. I wish everybody would go about it the ethical way, but I haven't tried to give anybody any advice on the matter."
Georgetown sophomore Fred Brown said he doesn't know any players who were offered money. "It's pretty hard to determine whether the responsibility lies with the coach or the athlete," Brown said. "Some kids from families with severe financial problems may see no wrong in accepting the money and trying to help their families.
"Personally, I think being bought is wrong," Brown continued. "But what can you tell a poor kid who's offered that kind of money? And also, look at all the pressure these coaches have on them to win ball games. I don't know what to say. I don't want to put the blame on anybody."