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Outside the Lines:
NCAA - Toothless Watchdog?


Here's the transcript from Show 87 of weekly Outside The Lines - NCAA - Toothless Watchdog?

SUN., NOV. 25, 2001
Host: Mark Schwarz, ESPN.
Guests: Tom Yeager, chairman of the NCAA Committee on Infractions; and Rip Scherer, former coach of the University of Memphis.

Announcer - November 25, 2001.

Mark Schwarz, guest host - It's been 14 years since the NCAA handed down its version of capitol punishment. Since then, fewer schools have served hard time, but rules are still being broken.

Claude Bassett, former Kentucky recruiter - Obviously, the things that I did were wrong.

Schwarz - The NCAA, once an imposing symbol of enforcement, no longer scares everyone.

Tony Franklin, former Kentucky assistant coach - Is there an amazing fear of the NCAA? No. Because they don't have -- they don't have the power.

Chuck Smrt, former NCAA investigator - There was this myth that somehow we were the Gestapo or the Starr Chamber, and I think we're more of a paper tiger.

Schwarz - Now, the same organization that once crippled SMU is asking schools to police themselves.

Franklin - It'd be kind of like the police, you know, calling and saying, "Hey, Tony, you know, we hear you got some marijuana in the house. Would you look around and see if there is any and let us know? And, you know, then we'll come in and arrest you."

Schwarz - Today, on Outside The Lines, has the NCAA become a toothless watchdog?

Schwarz - In the coming weeks, the NCAA will likely announce sanctions against two southeastern conference football programs, Alabama and Kentucky. But recent history tells us their penalties will not be as severe as they once might have been. Little consolation to Hal Mumme, who was forced out as head coach at Kentucky after rules violations occurred on his watch.

Certainly the pressure to win hasn't disappeared, anything but. Not because schools no longer break the rules; investigators estimate that at least 10 percent of schools are cheating. So why are penalties down? It may just be that the NCAA is ill-equipped to enforce its own rules.'s Tom Farrey examines one case that illustrates that the NCAA needs schools to police themselves.

Tom Farrey, - Robstown, Texas is an old cotton-growing community just north of the Mexico border, where Claude Bassett, the central figure in the University of Kentucky football scandal, landed on his feet, sort of.

He's now head coach of a local high school team with just one win in its last 39 games.

Claude Bassett, former Kentucky recruiter - Hello? Can you hear me? This is Coach Bassett again.

Farrey - Bassett resigned as head of recruiting at Kentucky late last year amid charges of misconduct. In the months that followed, he was cited for breaking numerous NCAA rules - given improper gifts to prospects, including clothing and paying for hotel rooms, even writing papers for athletes. He also sent $1,400 in money orders to Memphis high school coach Tim Thompson, allegedly to steer players to Kentucky.

Bassett - I, you know, broke several rules. I've admitted to those rules. I think that we had a lot of success there, and I think we had enjoyed a great deal of success recruiting. Obviously, the things that I did were wrong, and I have admitted to them. I need to move on, so to speak. There's never been more pressure than ever, if you will, to win. And in order to win, you have to have quality athletes.

Farrey - When you first took the job, did anybody sit down and say, "Claude, we need you to cheat"?

Bassett - Oh, it probably deals more with, if you would, ego, than anything. You know, let's say Tom has taken a visit, and how'd he like it? And the Internet and all this, and it's all up and down and, well, he enjoyed it, and he responds to, you know, Allen Wallace, he responds to several different organizations and, you know, yeah, Kentucky is in my top three.

Then about a week, ten days, sometimes even before that, Tom decides he's going to, let's say, Mississippi State. All of the sudden, it became a crisis. Well, Claude, what are we going to do about it? What's wrong? What aren't we getting done? We've got the facilities, we've got these things. And that pressure, perhaps, well, it's evident I didn't hold up well under it.

Farrey - Claude Bassett cheated and lied, by his own admission, but did he end up here in this forgotten Texas town because he was the biggest cheater, or merely the sloppiest?

Franklin - The problem is flagrantly, publicly, taunting your cheating, which is what we were doing.

Farrey - Tony Franklin was the offensive coordinator at Kentucky, and the man who blew the whistle on Bassett.

Franklin - If you go back and you look at the $1,400 money order, how stupid, if you're going to be a guy who is going to cheat, to sit and yell at someone across a hall to come to you, give them $1,400 bucks and say, go send this to Tim Thompson at Melrose. I mean, that's -- to me, that's publicly flaunting the cheating.

Farrey - Bassett left a long paper trail. It's precisely the kind of evidence the NCAA needs to make a big case, a rarity in recent years.

In the four years leading up to the Kentucky case, the NCAA found what it considered major violations in just six Division A football programs, the lowest total for any four year period in its history.

Smrt - The enforcement staff is as good as the information it gets. The more direct information you get, the better off you are.

Farrey - Former NCAA investigator Chuck Smrt says cheaters have gotten more sophisticated over the years.

Smrt - ATM is a great potential way for a violation, because you never have to interact with the athlete. Money is put into an account, the athlete has an ATM card, and the athlete never sees the person. It has a limit, can't go back all the time, because there's only $300 or $400 or $800 or $1,000, whatever, going in each month. So, it eliminates some of the interaction.

That's an example of the information. If we don't -- if the athlete doesn't tell us, we're never going to get that.

There was this myth that somehow we had -- we were the Gestapo or the Starr Chamber, and I think we're more of a paper tiger.

Franklin - Is there an amazing fear of the NCAA? No, because they don't have -- they don't have the power.

Farrey - Do you think coaches, boosters, people cheat because they know the NCAA isn't going to catch them?

Franklin - I think that's their perception, is maybe they won't catch us. They can't really catch us. I can lie all the way through and it's no big deal. The system that they have in place right now doesn't work.

Farrey - There may also be a staffing issue. When the NCAA moved its headquarters from Kansas City to Indianapolis in 1999, two-thirds of its investigators resigned. But even when fully staffed, the NCAA only has 15 investigators to keep an eye on more than 970 schools.

Dirk Taitt, former NCAA investigator - I don't think that 15 is sufficient in my opinion.

Farrey - Dirk Taitt is a former NCAA investigator.

Taitt - If you have a major infractions case, where in an institutions program has ingrained systems to conceal and deceive and fight you, in terms of the actual investigative effort, that can take three of your most seasoned investigators on one case, by way of example.

Farrey - So, three out of the staff of 15 is quite a...

Taitt - Yeah, so if you have two or three of those cases going at once, you're not going to be able to devote those kind of resources. You're just not.

Farrey - In fact, a large portion of the cases that come before the NCAA are self-reported. It was Kentucky that notified the NCAA that rules might have been broken. And it was Kentucky, not the NCAA, that conducted the original investigation, with help from the FCC.

Franklin - It'd be kind of like the police, you know, calling and saying, "Hey, Tony, you know, we hear you got some marijuana in the house. Would you look around and see if there is any and let us know? And, you know, then we'll come in and arrest you." It doesn't quite seem to be the way it should work.

Farrey - There's no love lost between Bassett and Franklin, who turned Bassett in, but on this they agree - cheating is still common in some college football programs.

Bassett - There's the pressure to go to bowl games. There's the pressure to win the SEC East. There's the pressure to, you know, obviously now the thing we call the BCS. But to say that I was one lone crazy guy, no, I don't buy into that.

Franklin - Was he the only person who should be taking the fall? Absolutely not, and, you know, I make that point in my book. I said in the book that I felt like that Coach Mumme knew.

Farrey - Franklin implicates the leadership at Kentucky. He sites a conversation last December with Larry Ivy, Kentucky's athletic director.

Franklin - You know, we were talking about the Memphis situation and Mr. Ivy said to me, you know, "Every now and then you got to cheat to get a good player."

Larry Ivy, Kentucky Athletic Director - That is totally false. I had four meetings with Tony over a period of a month or so, a couple of months, but that was not -- that statement was never made by me, no.

Farrey - Could you have misunderstood what he was saying, there?

Franklin - No, absolutely not. There was no misunderstanding whatsoever in that.

Farrey - Ivy blames Franklin for not blowing the whistle earlier on Bassett so the school could nip the problem in the bud.

Ivy - No one came forward until it was very late in the game, and those are the people that I think need to be held accountable for not letting us know this earlier.

Taitt - Bottom-line, it all boils down, is the integrity of the system really lies with those who have a vested interest in it. Coaches know the game. They've got to choose to participate and take an interest in exposing those folks who they believe are cheating. Those folks who they may know on a friendship basis. It's tough. It's tough.

Farrey - The NCAA says, well, you know, we need coaches to pick up the phone and call us and give us real information, but that, that doesn't happen much, does it?

Franklin - I don't think you should pick it up and call and do anything, because I wouldn't want anyone to go through what I've been through the last few months.

Farrey - Franklin resigned at Kentucky shortly before the scandal erupted, citing differences with then head coach Hal Mumme.

Franklin is still out of a job.

Franklin - In this profession, you're much better known to be a cheater than you would be to be a rat, I'll say that. I think cheaters can get jobs a whole lot easier than a guy that's perceived to be a rat or a mole.

Schwarz - Tony Franklin mentioned his book in Tom Farrey's piece. It's called "Fourth Down and Life To Go." It hit the shelves last month. Since that time, Hal Mumme has said that while he may not have managed things well at Kentucky, he knows he did nothing wrong. Mumme could not be reached for comment.

Well, has the NCAA become a toothless watchdog? Few can better address than topic than Tom Yeager, who chairs the NCAA's committee on infractions. He joins us this morning from Richmond, Virginia. Also joining us, a man who was recruiting against Kentucky and Alabama and may have been directly effected by their misconduct. That's the former head coach at the University of Memphis, now an assistant at Kansas, Rip Scherer joins us from Lawrence. And, from Shreveport, Louisiana, Gary Roberts, professor of business and corporate law at Tulane University; Gary an expert on NCAA legal issues. Gentlemen, welcome.

And, Gary, I'll start with you. Is former NCAA investigator Chuck Smrt right? Has the NCAA become a paper tiger?

Gary Roberts, Tulane University - Well, that's probably an overstatement. I think its enforcement activities are very random. I think that the general conclusion that there's a lot of cheating going on out there that isn't caught is probably correct. Cheating in recruiting, cheating in keeping athletes eligible. I think it's rampant, and the NCAA simply doesn't have the capability to detect those problems. And when they can detect them, they can't prove them in many instances. You've got to have an athlete almost turn state's evidence.

One of the key bywords I think among coaches is keep your athletes happy, because if somebody you've helped slip through the system gets mad at you or you cut them or you don't treat them the way they like, they could run to the NCAA. But short of that happening, it's very rare that we catch somebody cheating. So, I think the general conclusion is correct, that a lot goes on that they don't catch.

Schwarz - Gary, you say the NCAA can't prove things. Tom, what about that? Even your own membership has expressed concern that you have only 15 investigators to monitor 970 schools. Can 15 investigators do that kind of monumental task?

Tom Yeager, NCAA Infractions Committee Chairman - Well, I think, you know, you really need to focus the problem on Division I and that's what we're talking about here, and there's 330 Division I institutions. If you accept the 10 percent figure that was given about people, that's maybe 30 institutions at any one time that are in some process of violations.

You know, obviously David Price from the NCAA would be a better gauge about the number of staff that's needed. I can tell you that the committee's agenda for the upcoming hearings is full, and we believe that there seems to be a reasonable opportunity to assign investigators to get on the major cases in a reasonable amount of time, and we have not heard from the member institutions that there is a staffing issue.

Schwarz - Let's look at a chart, Tom, of major NCAA infractions dating back to the 1960s. Now, clearly, the height of enforcement was during the '80s. Major cases. Tom, is there really less cheating, or is the NCAA not detecting it as often and punishing it as harshly?

Yeager - Well, I think the major thing, a major focus that has happened, probably, in the last ten years or so is the institutions own compliance efforts. Division I institutions have sometimes three, four, five full-time employees simply on compliance. So, I think what you're seeing is the cases have changed. You're looking at -- they're being cut off much earlier at the pass, they're being detected much earlier.

You know, if you look at, you know, the numbers, and I think it is indicative of the much greater efforts that the institutions are putting on their programs. The message that's coming from the presidents about zero-tolerance for any rules violations. The coaches that you cited, you know, in the lead in video, you know, it's a long way from where they're at right now from the FCC where they were not so long ago.

And, so, that the stakes have gone up. There's been a much clearer message sent on campus that cheating will not be tolerated, and that when there are people on board that can cut off these, you know, large cases very early in the system, you don't have the full blown problems that you may have had in the past.

Schwarz - All right, we've got two cases alive right now, two possibly big ones. Rip, how critical is it to all the schools, all the potential cheaters, that the NCAA comes down hard on Alabama and on Kentucky, two schools that may have hurt you in Memphis?

Rip Scherer, former Memphis recruiter - Well, I think that it is important that the crime fits the -- or that the punishment fits the crime, and sometimes, recently, I think that we've seen a little bit of a lessening in that. I think that when you go into a prospects home, the one of the -- the two things they want to know is what bowl games is your program affiliated with, is your conference affiliated with?

And, you know, how many times were you on TV last year? And we seem to see a lessening of those two punishments handed out more -- it seems to be scholarship oriented, which I think programs can work their way around if they have a good walk-on program, a good system of getting walk-ons.

But the one point I would disagree with is I think coaches want this -- want the recruiting process to be a clean process for the most part. And to kind of characterize the coaching profession as one where this is rampant, I think that maybe that was so 20, 30 years ago, but I think that's changed dramatically.

Schwarz - Well, in your opinion, Rip, which happens more frequently nowadays, coaches getting run off because they're not beating the guys that are cheating, like yourself, or coaches being forced out because they are cheating?

Scherer - Well, I don't think, again, I don't think that there's that many coaches who are cheating or that know that cheating is going on in their program. And I think when they do, they take action, and I think Hal Mumme, from my perspective, took action when he found out what was going on at his program.

I think we want this business to be a clean business, but it is unfortunately. Sometimes you become the victim of that, but you know, I look at my situation in Memphis and I didn't win enough games, that's the bottom-line. Whether those prospects would have impacted my career, you know, who knows.

Schwarz - One of those prospects ironically is there right now, Albert Means. All right, Rip. More with Rip Scherer, Tom Yeager, and Gary Roberts. When we come back, we'll also examine what impact this towel-chewing coach had on the NCAA losing some of its bite.

Schwarz - It would seem that the cost of cheating has plummeted since 1987, when SMU received the death penalty. In the late '80s, cheaters were frequently banned from bowl games and television appearances. The trend persisted in the early '90s. But in the past six years, not one Division A football program has been banned from television, and the only bowl ban was voluntary.

Instead, the NCAA has leaned more towards scholarship reductions.

Roy Kramer, SEC commissioner - A scholarship sanction, a serious scholarship sanction, can have an enormous impact on a program. Certainly more than a post-season, for instance, type of sanction. So, I think it's a very appropriate philosophical change that took place. Now, that doesn't mean it's complete, but certainly it has changed.

Schwarz - Now, even if the NCAA is looking to punish schools by taking away scholarships, it has actually made fewer sweeping scholarship reductions in the last six years than it made in the previous six; in fact, only once since '96 has a school surrendered more than 15 scholarships.

Now, I guess the question is, Rip, we heard Roy Kramer say schools are hurt more by losing scholarships. How many scholarships will schools need to lose before they're really hurt? Miami lost 31 a few years ago, and they're probably the best football program in the country.

Scherer - Well, as I said earlier, you can work your way around those scholarships, especially if you're one of those elite programs who can attract quality walk-ons and after two years, you know, you can put those walk-ons on scholarship and they don't count against your initial numbers. And those 31 scholarships are spread over -- it sounds like a big number, but they're spread over a large period of time, so that the actual impact of those may not be quite as significant as those numbers may appear.

Schwarz - Tom, do you agree that scholarships really would hurt a school more immediately than losing a bowl or a television appearance? When a kid gets excited coming to school, he doesn't care if the school has 81 scholarships, does he?

Yeager - Well, but I think the point you miss, and you mention here about Miami now being the number one team in the country, you know. For the last couple of years they were not, and I think you were -- at that point, they were feeling the effects of the scholarship cuts.

And, you know, there's no one penalty that's particularly limited to any particular case. I mean, if you look at scholarship cuts, and then when you get into serious systematic issues, and you look at post-season ban, we're talking a lot about football and, you know, obviously we're talking not only about football, but also in basketball cases, which the committee also hears, we've imposed a post-season ban. And arguably, taking somebody's basketball team out of the NCAA tournament is every bit as much a penalty as potentially taking out a bowl opportunity.

Schwarz - Gary, now, of course, the conferences negotiate their own television contracts. Now, we have the Bowl Alliance. Is it any coincidence in your mind that we've stopped seeing television and bowl bans since the BCS alliance and since the conferences negotiate their own TV?

Roberts - Well, I think you're hinting at a critical point here, and that is that the money in college athletics has grown to such huge proportions that there is every incentive up and down the system not to jeopardize that revenue stream.

And I would disagree with my two colleagues who are on the show a little bit. I think we would all like to think that presidents are telling people that they've got to run a clean program, and I think we would like to think that compliance offices are being more diligent, but human nature being what it is, when the stakes are as high as they are in the system, to think that people are just, you know, following the rules diligently and are, and are living with zero-tolerance policies when there are tens of millions of dollars at stake -- the bowl champion series, the team that makes one of those bowl games earns over $13 million for that one appearance for their conference.

And I think that throughout the system, people are very hesitant to impose those kinds of penalties on any institution. It just isn't realistic. I think that there is probably a lot more cheating going on than we would like to think, and it's not just recruiting. I mean, that's one aspect of it, but it's -- like what happened at Minnesota a couple of years ago, when we found athletes having somebody else write term papers for them. I can't prove it, but my sense and the sense of a lot of other faculty athletic reps around the system is that that is very widespread, and the NCAA is going to be hesitant to do much about that, I think, unless it just becomes blatant.

Schwarz - Yeah, Tom, why would the NCAA and its schools, which makes up the NCAA, be motivated to catch cheaters? I mean, you have $325 million operating budget this year. You could spend a good portion of that on catching cheaters if you wanted to.

Yeager - Well, but I think you start from the point that institutions of higher education mean to exclude -- exude the interest of integrity. And there is a self-interest on the part of the institution in making sure that their programs, their athletic programs, represents the university very well.

You know, I can tell you that we're not shying away from the imposition of a post-season ban. If the violations that are found are appropriate, that ban will be imposed and it has been many times. If you look back over the two years immediately following the imposition of the death penalty, there were 12 major infractions cases. In the last two years, there's been three.

So, that -- we think there has been a change in the climate. But, yes, there's huge pressures, and there will be a certain percentage in any industry that will go out and violate the rules to get ahead, and that's unfortunate. But that's also the way it is in any aspect of human nature.

Schwarz - Alabama and Kentucky, next on the docket. We should know how the NCAA rules within a few weeks. Tom Yeager, thank you very much. Gary Roberts, Rip Scherer, the same.

Thanks for getting up with us this morning. And we will have more when we come back about today's topic. You can learn a little bit more after our break.

Schwarz - If you want to learn more about this topic, check out Tom Farrey's three-day series which begins Tuesday at And if you'd like to weigh in on our show, the address for the on-line Outside The Lines is, for more on today's topics and our library of streaming video. Our e-mail address is

Schwarz - That's our program for this week. If you missed any of it, you can catch the re-air at 1:00 on ESPN2. Please join us again next Sunday morning, 9:30; Bob Ley returns to this chair.

Next, from the ESPN Zone in Times Square - "The Sports Reporters."

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Has the NCAA become kinder and gentler? ESPN's Mark Schwarz details.

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