The issue now isn't Lefty Driesell's bald arrogance. Nor is it the behavior of Herman Veal (who has kept his dignity even as his coach went over the edge). The issue certainly isn't the woman's character. What's going on now at the University of Maryland is another confrontation of ideas that for 20 years have coexisted in uneasy tolerance.
The university has tried to dispel its reputation as a "jock school" by raising its academic standards. Building during the leadership of Wilson Elkins and Robert Gluckstern, Maryland now is a respectable institution under its new chancellor, John Slaughter.
At the same time, Lefty Driesell, the basketball coach of fame and notoriety, is left over from an era when Maryland athletics gained favorable treatment in academic and conduct cases simply because the athletic department carried a big financial and political stick.
Next week's investigation by Athletic Director Dick Dull won't be any more fun than last week's revelations. Isn't Dull (to ask the obvious) a curious choice to investigate the athletics staff? Presumably, Chancellor Slaughter gave Dull the go-ahead out of confidence that Dull believes athletics, while important, are subservient to education.
Dull's job now is to find answers to hard questions.
It seems clear Driesell called the woman. And, by her account, he tried to pressure her into withdrawing her complaint against Veal. Did the basketball coach also use his political influence to put pressure on university officials who ruled Veal ineligible? There are reports he did. If true, that means Driesell tried to subvert the probationary process that governs all students. Is that a firing offense?
And where does money fit in this squabble? Without Veal, Maryland is a lesser team perhaps not deserving an invitation to the NCAA tournament (worth a minimum of $125,000, a maximum of $500,000). There is no testimony that Driesell interfered in the Veal case until it was decided once and for all. Did the coach blow his top only when he realized the financial significance of Veal's absence?
Also, if it comes to fixing punishment, can Maryland afford to fire Driesell if that means paying off the last four years of a contract worth maybe $60,000 a year?
What if (to keep asking questions) a chemistry professor called in chips from his bigwig friends to try to reverse the expulsion of a brilliant student caught crossways in a conduct case? Would a chancellor abide such meddling by a faculty member in processes outside his jurisdiction?
Chances are, failing tenure, that professor would be given a ticket on the next bus to Mediocre State U.
So what to do about a basketball coach boasting of his "pull" at a time university presidents want firmer control of college athletics? Seldom is a confrontation as visible as this matching Driesell and Slaughter.
That's because few coaches are the match of Driesell when it comes to dousing the campfire with gasoline. "I'm an animosity person," he said in a coaching context, meaning he works best with vigorous disdain for the other team.
Now he has aimed that animosity at his own school.
"I've got a little bit of pull around here," Driesell said on television, "and we'll see how much."
Driesell's mouth is often a wind tunnel that carries half-formed thoughts at gale force. This time, though, a source says the hot air was accompanied by a power play.
A quick review: Veal's probation, and subsequent ineligibility, was confirmed at the last-review level last week. The probation for alleged assault was first levied in December and confirmed at appeal in January. Only after the last review, announced before the ACC tournament, did Driesell say anything about the case.
Not only did Driesell pop off about testing his influence. Sources say the coach went to work pulling the levers of power available to a gentleman whose basketball team brings the university millions of dollars from ticket sales, TV revenue and good will among philanthropic alumni.
"You've got power if people think you've got it," Tip O'Neill once said. Maryland's faculty people believe Driesell has power. They know he brings in big money. They know he commands media attention mostly good for the school. They see the political hotshots at courtside. They see, fairly or not, these politicos currying favor with the coach, and they fear the reprisals possible should Driesell declare war on them.
Here is a coach who, after all, says he's been told to keep quiet about this case by lawyer Edward Bennett Williams, whose clients have included Jimmy Hoffa, Richard Helms and Bobby Baker.
The Williams name-dropping (EBW says Lefty is not his client) is only one of Driesell's shots in this sad little skirmish. The woman involved says the coach called her three times, frightening her. Other sources say Driesell and/or his political friends made phone calls to officials at every level from the student judicial board to the student affairs office to the chancellor's office.
The idea behind the Driesell offensive was to change the decision made by the university through its established procedures for dealing with violations of the student conduct code.
At every level, the university held firm.
Driesell now knows how much pull he has.
"This is a turning point for the university," a faculty member said. "It means the tail no longer wags the dog. In the old tradition of a lot of money and power associated with athletics, other departments have been fearful because whatever the athletic department needed to get done--in academics or conduct procedures--it got it done.
"It's been demoralizing to good professors and good students to see that going on . . . This is kind of a watershed."