Recruiting of high school athletes once again has become a controversial subject, particularly since Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps charged that several schools were offering basketball players cash payments--as much as $10,000 per year--to attend those universities. The Washington Post recently invited a number of area college basketball coaches--John Thompson of Georgetown, Lefty Driesell of Maryland, Paul Evans of Navy, Gerry Gimelstob of George Washington, Ed Tapscott of American, A.B. Williamson of Howard, Joe Harrington of George Mason and Wil Jones of the University of the District of Columbia--to a round-table discussion with Post editors and reporters. Excerpts from that session follow.
Post: In addition to his charges about schools paying athletes, Digger Phelps also said that the whole spectrum of college recruiting had gotten out of hand. We'd like to open up the discussion by having each coach here give his thoughts on Phelps' statements.
Joe Harrington (George Mason): I agree with what John Thompson said at the NABC (National Association of Basketball Coaches) banquet--that it is going on, and that bothers me and hurts our profession. Driving in here, I thought about the years I was recruiting at Maryland . . . I know back then, I felt that some of that was going on. If it is going on, I would like to get it out on the table and find out where it is going on.
Paul Evans (Navy): I think it is going on and it can't be policed. They only have 14 people officially assigned by the NCAA for that detail and they've got so many other small rules that they are worrying about, I don't think anybody ever gets caught for $10,000. They get caught for a meal or something like that when it gets down to the fine investigation. It is a travesty that is going to get worse. And if they don't evaluate any other way than what a coach did in the NCAA or whether he wins, you will always have this temptation to go and buy players.
Wil Jones (UDC): I'm the little guy in this room--my budget is not even plane fare for some people that you all go to see . . . It seems to me they can catch them if they are doing it. I don't think it is being done . . .first we have to find somebody to prove that there has been payment made to a youngster . . . I'm saying $10,000. I have never had the opportunity to give a kid that and I've never worried about that when I had to recruit against people who were supposedly giving money. And I don't think that totally sways people. Because I have another belief about that giving of money. Most of the players that we get are black. You buy a kid, you turn him into slavery, and I'm not for that. So I am naive to what you are saying until it is proven that you got somebody who is giving money. And don't tell me they can't get caught if they are doing it. If they are so sure that those cars and those apartments and those houses those kids have are that way, then I'm sure they can find it and get it.
Lefty Driesell (Maryland): I wrote Digger a letter and I wrote Gary Colson (the New Mexico coach) a letter; I think he (Colson) said some kid got $200,000. And I said, 'You know what is going on, let's get it out in the open.' Tell the NCAA or tell all the coaches in the country who is doing it and let's get them out of the business, 'cause recruiting is tough enough without people giving out money. I think there are a lot of things that have to be changed in athletics. I don't know if Tates Locke's book is correct or not, but if it is, there is a guy (Locke, the former Clemson coach) who coached in the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) and admits to cheating, giving guys money, plane rides and all kinds of stuff. To me, Clemson should forfeit every game that he ever coached there. If UCLA cheated, I think they should have to give it all up--forfeit all the games that the kid played in. If they are cheating, they aren't doing anything to them. Then I think the NCAA or the college presidents or whoever is in charge of intercollegiate athletics had better decide why they are doing that. What would make Tates Locke do that? . . . Maybe he was worried about his job? So then you had better give coaches a little bit of tenure. I personally think the way they are giving out NCAA money for playoffs has a big effect on coaches, alumni and athletic directors. I think whatever money is made off the NCAA playoffs should be split up among all the teams in the NCAA instead of going to the teams that get to the final four or the final eight or whatever.
John Thompson (Georgetown): First of all, I think that I have indicated before that it is a dangerous thing in any profession to make a generalization. When you say 50 percent, you might as well say 100 percent. Because anybody who does not like you, or anybody who is not winning, or anybody who wants to blame you--blames you. I think anybody who has courage enough to say that 50 percent are cheating should be more specific and indicate who is cheating. So I don't consider it heroic for a person to make a generalization of that kind. In fact, I think a statement like that is more detrimental than anything. I think all of us know that there are some things going on. I don't think they are new. You know that never ceases to amaze me how every year, we come out with things going bad. I heard that when I graduated from high school and I was heavily recruited in this area also. I don't know of anybody that I could touch and put my hands on that has received $10,000 for going to school. I don't think that there is anybody in this room who can go to a person and say that this person got $10,000. So I think that sometimes we tend to believe the things that we want to believe--particularly the negative things. I feel that more guys in this profession are honest than dishonest. I think, like anything else, that it is good copy. You know you can sell more papers if we have a story in the paper about somebody giving somebody $10,000; then you can sell a story on some poor soul over here working like hell with his kids and maybe winning just above 50 percent of his games. So that tends to be projected far more than the honest guy . . . I feel that the greatest disservice to kids in college athletics is not the $10,000, but the things that they are entitled to but they don't get, and that they are deprived. That is where the cheating is going on in my opinion. To some extent, I think that some of the NCAA legislation is very primitive.
Ed Tapscott (American): Well, I guess I find myself in agreement with most of the people here. I've heard the rumors and heard the stories, but I can't ever put a finger on a situation that I know of personally. If there is one positive thing to come out of Digger's statement, it should serve as an invitation to the NCAA to get serious about investigating such stories. But at the same time . . . I think it gives rise to a responsibility on his part to come forward with some concrete piece of evidence . . . Certainly it is not his job to police other coaches in the profession. I don't think that is any of our jobs
Harrington: We are in a year where two very prominent coaches who coached at NCAA big colleges for a long time got fired (Ned Wulk at Arizona State and Abe Lemons of Texas). Coaching is insecure, and you get some coaches who are under a lot of pressure--strange things can happen when you put a coach under a lot of pressure. The NCAA tournament and the playoffs have gotten so large. The money part of it, I think coaches are pressured . . . with their backs against the walls to win games and make the playoffs and make money for their schools. The job security is such maybe they feel they have to cheat. It is sad that they may feel that way, but that may enter into it.
Post: Lefty, has the coaching business, specifically recruiting, changed over the years you have been in it?
Driesell: I don't think so, not that much from when I first started. As a matter of fact, I think that some of the recruiting rules and things that we have now have made it better this year. For example, a lot of kids made up their minds early. I don't know if they are making it up because of money. It used to be I used to have to recruit kids all summer because we didn't have a national letter of intent. You get them to sign, but you had to recruit them all summer to keep them. But I think recruiting has probably become more intense--more of a year-round thing. When I first started coaching, this time of year hardly anybody had signed. You didn't really know who you wanted until the state tournaments were over and you got a chance to see everybody play. And you sort of decided who you were going to go after. Now I know the juniors already we are going to recruit next year. So in some ways it has gotten better and in some ways it has gotten worse.
A.B. Williamson (Howard): If a kid knows that he wants to go to a certain university in August--let him go ahead and sign the letter and go there. I won't spend my money and time because a lot of kids won't tell you that they made their minds up.
Post: Why doesn't the NCAA put in a rule that if you're caught cheating on a kid you stay on probation until that kid leaves school, or until his four years are up?
Harrington: I think that is the thing that is unfair. If you did something illegally to hurt the kid, you are going to penalize the kid.
Driesell: The kids know they shouldn't take it. Every kid knows you are supposed to get room, tuition, books and fees. You should penalize the school and the kid. They don't do anything to the kids. If the kids knew they could be on probation, I don't think they would do it.
Evans: Take a great player who is worth a lot of money in the pro market in three or four years. You put somebody like that kid on probation, he is jeopardizing his future as a pro athlete. You make one of those kids ineligible, it might slow down a whole lot of cheating.
Post: Wouldn't they then go to the pros the very next year?
Driesell: They wouldn't get as much money.
Tapscott: One point I think shouldn't be lost . . . is that the responsibility in that situation goes to the head coach. He is responsible for what goes on in his program. In many instances you have situations where coaches have cheated, at least the NCAA has proved it to their satisfaction. They left a school that was left on probation, the player maybe was declared ineligible, and yet the coach moves on to another job and the stigma is apparently not enough to keep them from moving on and starting over at another program. Why not let some of the penalty attach to the coach--individually. So that if you go to a school, the school accepts you with some kind of probation.
Post: Have any of you in your recruiting attempts seen specific instances of violations that would cause you to call or write the NCAA?
Jones: Not really. When a youngster asks you a question, or a family asks you a question, it is up to you as a coach to say I cannot do that because of the NCAA rules. But a lot of the families are not aware of the rules, and coaches have to tell them. . . I have never known a coach to give the money to anybody anyway. It is always the alumni. You get one of those sick alumni that don't like you--or you get a guy that says, 'I don't like you and I'm going to get this kid and his family some money' and saying it came from you. Then you are in trouble.
Post: How much of this money talk is just kids trying to one-up another kid? How much of it is the guy in New Jersey saying, 'I got $10,000,' and the guy in Texas saying, 'I got $15,000,' and word gets back to Digger?
Thompson: I think a lot of it. That happened up at Pittsburgh in an all-star game (the Dapper Dan in April). An NCAA guy came up to me and . . . was saying that these guys (players in the tournament) claimed that they had been paid. And I told him, 'Hell, they should pay someone to go to school. It was the worst guys . . . who were saying they had been paid. That is a status symbol . . . You have to find out what is rumor and what is fact rather than to throw out generalizations about people, because that is a very dangerous thing. I don't feel that the coach can take the full responsibility for it, myself. I don't think (you can) legislate morality. When they had capital punishment, people were murdering people, so what difference does it make? The coaches are going to jail, and coaches are still going to cheat. The scale is not balanced. There are a lot of factors. There are a lot of people making money off the kids. You'll print the point spread. That relates to gambling. That affects me and my program. You know if I win you'll sell more papers. You all are making money off every kid I've got on my team.
Post: Where do the university administrations work into this? When does someone start turning to them? What is the responsibility of the administration?
Gerry Gimelstob (George Washington): I think that the university administration has to find out whether the athletic programs are an extension of the university or are they a separate entity entirely. I think they should, without question, be a part of the educational process. Hopefully all the coaches in here consider themselves teachers in some way. You know that is important.
Jones: Why can't you just pay these kids and let the schools send the money to the NCAA and let the NCAA issue the check to the youngsters and you never have anything to do with it? . . . So if a youngster knows if he goes to Maryland he is going to get $10,000 this year to go to school. If he goes to Georgetown, he's got $10,000 to go to school. Then he is going to zero in on that program to do what he wants to accomplish . . . why can't you just set it up, so they get paid and they can't get any more?
Williamson: The majority of the kids, let's face it, if there was not basketball they would never see the inside of a university. . . A lot of times he is going to ask to stay on campus when everyone has gone because he can't afford to go home. So being in school is not making him a lot of money. . . All the schools help these kids make it through. A lot of times these kids don't have money to wash their clothes. I think it was a bad thing when the NCAA took away the $15 a month laundry money . . . Some of the homes you go in, see, these kids would not leave that area and would probably work construction or something in that area all his life. But because of his unique ability, we go in and tell the parents--who don't know anything about higher education in a lot of instances--how good their child is and how much he will help the university. But then it comes to the thing where, well, what can the university do for their child? That is where the problem comes in. A lot of times, people accept deals and the best deal for their family and their kids.
Driesell: The whole problem to me is money. The more I think about it, for example, why do the kids want something? Because they see the schools making money. Why do the coaches get fired? Because the alumni and athletic directors want money for their schools. They want somebody that can fill up the fieldhouse. I really don't know what the solution is. Maybe don't give scholarships. Don't charge to come to games. It is getting out of hand. Why did they play that thing (the NCAA tournament in New Orleans) out there in that Dome? To make money. It was a sorry place to watch a basketball game. But they wanted to make a lot of money. The whole thing is money--money for the kids, money for television, money for everybody. And I think as long as you are doing that, you have a professional athletic situation going on. You have to amateurize it some kind of way. As long as you professionalize it, you are going to get more and more of it going on. As far as coaches cheating, you are never going to stop that. I think they get money because they are good. Most people that I have met in my life who were motivated by money alone failed. There is something inside you--your pride, your dignity and those other things--that make you want to compete. It is no different anywhere else.