Their football season plays like a broken record, amplifying a contradictory tune.
"Clemson wins . . . NCAA investigation . . . Clemson wins . . .NCAA investigation . . . Clemson wins . . . "
And so the Clemson Tigers, defending national champions, face the music.
Nearly two weeks ago, Clemson officials met with the NCAA Infractions Committee for three days outside Chicago.
Among the Clemson officials present were the university president, Bill Lee Atchley, Athletic Director Bill McLellan and Coach Danny Ford. Having conducted its own internal investigation, as required by the NCAA, Clemson responded to the findings of the NCAA's 18-month investigation into the university's football program.
"It was a very controlled and good atmosphere," Atchley says. "No one really lost his temper."
Sources close to the investigation say the NCAA considered as many as 150 charges against Clemson, some dating to the previous coach, Charley Pell, now at Florida.
After meeting with Clemson officials, the six-person Infractions Committee made its final decision whether to call for sanctions against the university's football program.
It was learned yesterday that the Atlantic Coast Conference has voted to place Clemson on two years probation for recruiting violations. ACC sanctions include the loss of conference television revenues. That sanction is independent of any that may be taken by the NCAA.
Now, Clemson waits on the NCAA to learn its fate. Rumors -- mostly nasty -- continue. Several players say they expect probation from the NCAA. Nobody who knows the facts is talking. Everybody who doesn't know the facts is talking.
"I'm one who says, 'It happened, we were accused of certain things and it was drawn to our attention,' " says Atchley. "So let's go and try to find out the right, the wrong, the fairness and get it behind us. If we've done something wrong, let's correct it and make sure it doesn't happen again.
"I find it somewhat concerning that we haven't had better checks and balances in the past," Atchley says. "Why we allowed certain things to get a little more sloppy than we should have. Those are things we have to correct, maybe even take a new approach to our entire structure."
David Berst, NCAA director of enforcement, says it usually takes seven to 10 days for the NCAA confidential report, which lists the final decision of the Infractions Committee, to reach the school in question.
Atchley said Saturday morning he has not yet received that report. Sources close to the investigation say the Infractions Committee's final decision was reached on Oct. 31, the day after the Clemson officials left.
"I wish the decision would come out now," says wide receiver Jeff Stockstill. "It's been going on too long . . . I feel we've already paid enough dues just through all the bad publicity they've put us through."
Before another sellout crowd at Memorial Stadium Saturday, the Tigers defeated North Carolina, 16-13, stopping the Tar Heels' final drive for a possible winning touchdown 15 yards short. That made it six straight victories for Clemson.
The Tigers now are 6-1-1 and ranked 11th in this week's Associated Press poll. On Saturday comes the game at Maryland for the Atlantic Coast Conference title. Both are 4-0 in the ACC.
"We've got it going," said all-America safety Terry Kinard.
For the fifth time in six years, Clemson people now are talking about a bowl. They are also talking about the investigation.
In 1981, Clemson was the best in America. The 12-0 record included a 22-15 victory over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. The facts spoke the truth. So did both polls, voting Clemson No. 1.
"It put us with the haves, not the have nots," McLellan says.
"It used to be across the country people would say, 'Where's Clemson?' " says Atchley. "Today they don't say that."
Wide receiver Frank Magwood puts it simply: "A dream came true."
Yet throughout the 1981 season, NCAA investigators kept visiting Clemson, asking all those questions. They reportedly interviewed 28 players and six coaches.
"You would sit there answering the questions," says Stockstill, one of the players interviewed, "and you would kind of get ticked off at some of them. Bad thoughts would go through your head, but you would sit there and answer this and that."
The investigation began because of accusations made by James Cofer and Terry Minor, two high school football players from Knoxville, Tenn. Both players signed an ACC letter of intent to play at Clemson in December 1980, then decided when it came time to sign a national letter of intent that they wanted to attend Tennessee instead.
They requested a release from Clemson and did not receive it. Both players said publicly Clemson offered them money in return for signing. The NCAA investigation began. Cofer and Minor eventually attended Louisiana Tech and dropped out. Reportedly, at least two other schools also accused Clemson football of violations.
The scope of the investigation widened and in 1981 the questions kept coming. So did the victories.
After the 13-3 victory over Georgia in the third week, Clemson was ranked No. 19. After the 82-24 victory at Wake Forest in the eighth week, the Tigers were ranked No. 2. Wide receiver Perry Tuttle led the offense, linebacker Jeff Davis and tackle Jeff Bryant led the defense.
In only his third year as coach, Ford was the consensus coach of the year. At 33, he was the youngest head coach ever to be so honored. Even now, McLellan talks of Ford as a young Joe Paterno.
After the Orange Bowl, Stockstill remembers walking to midfield. "I was trying to take it all in. I didn't say a word. Then something clicked and everything exploded. I just went wild."
It was that kind of a year.
This year began with a 13-7 loss at Georgia on national television, then a 17-17 tie against Boston College.
"We weren't 0-1-1 because we were being investigated," says Ford. "We were 0-1-1 because we weren't scoring enough points."
The third week brought a 21-10 victory over Western Carolina.
Then in the fourth week, Atchley ordered senior quarterback Homer Jordan held from the Kentucky game because of an internal investigation into possible involvement by a Clemson booster in the purchase of Jordan's 1982 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Jordan was cleared and returned to the team the next week.
"Homer Jordan was a victim of some circumstances without his knowledge," says Atchley. "The action I took was realistic and fair."
The players reacted strongly to the loss of Jordan. "It made us mad," says Stockstill.
"It might have been the thing that turned our whole season around," says Ford. "It made the whole team pull together."
Sophomore Mike Eppley replaced Jordan. Eppley says he had not played in a serious game situation since he was in high school. "So I had my doubts," he says.
The team dedicated the Kentucky game to Jordan. One player called his loss a sacrifice. Times were tough. But so was Clemson's resolve, and the Tigers won, 24-6.
This has been a brutally harsh year for the multitalented Jordan. Besides questions concerning his car, Jordan injured his knee and had arthroscopic surgery, missing four games. When the Tigers went on the field at Virginia, fans taunted him, according to Stockstill, rattling car keys and saying, "Who drove, Homer? Who drove, Homer?"
Jordan is not allowed to talk publicly about the purchase of the car. In generally somber terms, he says, "I don't understand how everything can happen like this. I don't see how I've made it this far."
Through it all, Clemson continues to win. Jordan played the first half of the 48-0 victory over Virginia Oct. 9, but his tender knee hasn't allowed to him to play since. Eppley has played well in victories over Duke (49-14), North Carolina State (38-29) and North Carolina.
Now, as the Maryland game and the NCAA's final decision approach, Kinard says, "There is no way we can't think about the investigation."
Stockstill says, "We've been through so much, all the walls could have crumbled a million times. There are a lot of young people going through pressure that a lot of other people will never go through in their whole life."
And Ford says of the investigation, "That's the only thing that people write about now."
NCAA probation, of course, is a possibility. Should probation be handed down by the Infractions Committee, it will be Clemson's choice whether to accept it for the upcoming bowl season or at the beginning of next season. It might depend on which bowl offers Clemson a bid this year.
"If it happens, it happens," Ford says. "We won't take it lightly."
Atchley says he is not certain if Clemson will appeal the NCAA's final decision. If the university does appeal, the case will be heard at the next meeting of the 22-member NCAA Council Jan. 7-13 at San Diego, according to an NCAA official. An appeal, however, might risk a more severe penalty under NCAA rules, but is unlikely.
"I don't see it as the end of the world if you get a penalty of some sort," Atchley says. "If I thought it was fair and just, I probably wouldn't (appeal).
"If I felt we had something to appeal about, we probably would. It all depends. I would not just do it to cry wolf. I think it's something more responsible than that."
Atchley said if a stiff penalty is handed down by the NCAA, " . . . I think we need to be sure that the supporters of Clemson University and their friends and fans and such, understand what the situation is. I will be doing everything I can to say, 'Look, we're better off now. We're making some adjustments. Now is not the time to put our heads down. It is the time to all join together and show that our program can be a model for other athletic programs.' "