Surely, these must be the worst of times for anyone connected with Maryland athletics. Surely, this is the nightmare that every university most fears: grand jury. Those are the words that cause those chilled, sweaty shakes in the middle of the night, that rattle you out of bed with your bones clanging and the panic rising feverishly in your chest.
This is not the NCAA come to open up your register and look underneath your cash tray. This is a grand jury come to spread you out, tack you down and slice you open. A grand jury is a study in criminal biology. After the NCAA, you might get a suspension. After a grand jury, you need bandages.
It has now been more than one month since Len Bias died. Time enough, you'd think, for the passions to abate and the story to cool. Time enough for the man and the myths to be finally, peacefully laid to rest.
Yet quite the opposite has happened. Not a day has gone by without some new and notorious revelation about athletics and academics at Maryland. Not a day has gone by without Bias' name being conjured up and poured over the hot coals of scandal like some fiery potion.
Day after day, it does not stop.
It is like a seam that held fast for years, but is now frayed and ripping, and is ripping so fast that if nothing is done soon there will be no seam left, and everything private that was held tightly inside will tumble onto the floor for all the world to see.
In Upper Marlboro, far away from the shade and security of campus, a grand jury is sitting, listening to people tell what they know and when they knew it. Not only about Bias -- he has since become the vehicle we're all taking this crazy ride on -- but about anything and everything that sits under the Terrapins' shell. An elected prosecutor with another race to run and, suddenly, silken shoes to run it on, is doing his duty as he sees it, and isn't at all shy about turning the lights on when he does it.
Every night on the news you can see the subpoenaed, taking their small, nervous steps toward the courtroom, ducking inside apprehensively like kids called to the principal's office. If you don't want to wait for the nightly news, turn on the TV at noon and see it live; hear it on the radio or read about it in the newspaper. One of the things Maryland recruiters choose to sell is the school's proximity to Washington, D.C., the nation's capital, the most important city in the world. If you make news in this city you can expect it to be reported. They built this city on news. It's news when the finest college basketball player in the country fills himself so full of cocaine that his heart shudders and stops. Something like that gets you coverage. Coverage in this city is a 24-hour-a-day deal. Coverage like that gets you a grand jury.
The past is all prologue. This thing in Upper Marlboro, this is it. This is the lighting of the fuse that could lead to the big ka-boom!
How much dirt would be enough dirt to make the University of Maryland shut down its revenue-producing sports long enough to dig out from under? There are differences between Maryland and the two schools that most recently terminated their basketball programs, San Francisco and Tulane; for one, they are private schools and consequently not bound by the same kind of financial and political pressures of a state-run public school. It would be more difficult for Maryland to put its moneymakers on the shelf. But every day in every way it seems a bit less unthinkable.
What an uncomfortable time this has to be for the biggest names in Maryland athletics: Lefty Driesell, Bobby Ross and Dick Dull. How deep would the scandal have to cut for one, two or all three to lose their jobs? In what direction has Driesell taken the basketball program? Has Dull been a strong, effective manager? During the past month, neither Driesell nor Dull has appeared to be in control of his troops. Events, spiraling as they are, have overtaken them. Each new day brings another revelation that embarrasses them. Seams unravel and the stuffing continues to tumble out. How far would the pile have to spread to reach Ross, too?
Yesterday, a recent football walk-on was indicted for conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Add known drug use to the list of academic fraud, credit card fraud, drug-testing fraud and whatever other frauds have been perpetrated in the name of big-time college athletics.
There may be reason to suspect most other big-time athletic programs of the same frauds and corruptions that have occurred at Maryland, and perhaps they should be investigated, too. Maryland certainly has no franchise on transgression. But suspicion is not probable cause. Len Bias died at Maryland, and the shock and horror of that has given a prosecutor and a grand jury probable cause to open all the doors and windows and see what the wind blows up.