The Tito Horford Story is still another ulcerous lesion on the soft, vulnerable body of big-time college athletics.
It is about greed and what greed spawns.
Which is cheating.
Ed Tapscott, the diligent young basketball coach at American University, had been telling the story for almost an hour now, explaining how he'd come to know and recruit Horford; how he'd been not so much shocked as repulsed by the gluttony that stained the mad pursuit of this 7-foot Dominican teen-ager, a disturbingly pricey commodity; how he'd come to consider Horford as a victim of a social and cultural divide -- technically not an innocent but obviously fouled up beyond all recognition.
Tapscott was almost ready now to turn the hose on it. He had kept a log, he said, on all his conversations with Horford, and could testify that Horford had told him directly that representatives from two schools had offered to cheat to get him; one school would give Horford money straight up, the other would give money to Horford's club team in the Dominican Republic.
Tapscott said he was considering turning them in to the NCAA.
It would be an act of great courage for him to do so.
And he should do so immediately.
"My inclination is that I probably will have to," Tapscott said.
He's never engaged in this kind of thing before.
"I never recruited anybody this good, who anybody's cheated for before," he said. Then, his laughter making a tinny sound, "It's a new experience for me."
He shook his head, and in that moment it may have seemed as if he was back in law school contemplating the ethical ramifications of a particular advocacy. "It's a tough question," Tapscott said, "but here's my point: Why am I leaning towards (turning the two schools in)? If I can sit here and moralize and bitch about cheaters in the NCAA to you, to my athletic director and to other people, and then, when I have information people have cheated and I don't do something about it, then how can I sit here and moralize and bitch? I'm a hypocrite!"
Tapscott did not appear to be morally conflicted. He knew right from wrong, and was inclined to do right. But it's one thing to sit on the window ledge and talk about jumping, and quite another to jump.
Tapscott knows this is not without its risks. He is familiar with the saga of Frank Serpico, the New York City policeman who voluntarily testified before the Knapp Commission, investigating corruption within the NYPD. Serpico became a folk hero to many, but within the police fraternity he was cursed more often than he was cheered. Presumably the pressures of being a symbol were such that he fled the country, living in self-imposed exile in Europe.
"There are lots of questions to be asked," Tapscott admitted, understanding the difference between the dutiful eagle and the stool pigeon is sometimes just a matter of feathers. "Is the NCAA going to do something to the perpetrators of this thing? Or are they simply going to make a scapegoat out of Horford? Or are they going to come back at me and say, 'All right, Tap, let's put you under the microscope, too.' Part of this is self-interest, no question. My inclination is to report them, yeah. But I'm going to have to go to the NCAA asking, 'What can you guarantee me about what will be done?' Or am I just going to set myself out there never to -- well, I'm not interested in coaching anywhere but AU. But will I be a pariah within my profession?"
Laying it out, Tapscott said, "The problem is, I tell the NCAA, 'Look, I got this from the kid. Horse's mouth. Directly. I've got no source other than him.' " He shrugged. "They go in. It can be covered up. And if Horford refuses to talk, the NCAA just has what I say Horford says . . . "
Hearsay. Leaving Tapscott on a long, thin limb.
"That's not a problem," Tapscott quickly said. "If Horford decides not to give them up, that's his moral dilemma. I've done my part."
The NCAA has already told Houston that Horford is ineligible to play there, because of a recruiting violation committed by a Houston assistant coach. From all accounts, the other schools that persistently pursued Horford were Florida State, Kentucky, UCLA and Louisiana State, where he enrolled.
There are successful coaches in this country who are widely believed not to cheat in recruiting, and who are said to be disgusted by those who do. Outside the Beltway, they include Bobby Knight, Dean Smith and Digger Phelps. Inside the Beltway, they include John Thompson and Lefty Driesell.
By going to the NCAA with the information he has, Tapscott's hands would be clean. He would have done right. But he shouldn't have to stand alone.
Each one of these moral men should call Ed Tapscott today, urge him to turn the cheaters in and pledge to stand beside him.
If not now, when?
If not them, who?