On the hilly, green campus of Indiana University stands a half-completed $4.5 million football stadium. With its naked beams and bare backside, it looks like the Colosseum at Rome, and, like the Colosseum, it is involved in a decline and fall. Indiana has been thrown—or possibly has jumped—to the lions.
For four years, the National Collegiate Athletic Association has just decreed, the university may not take part in NCAA championship and bowl games or in NCAA-controlled television programs. This last will deprive Indiana of about $75,000 a year, no small amount for a school that financed its new stadium on a buy-now-pay-later basis.
The NCAA edict angered but did not dismay Indiana's jovial president, Herman Wells (left). Indiana boosters were less philosophical. "A pretty rough potshot!" cried one. "A raw deal!" said another. "A stab in the back!" The mildest word anyone used was "Inconceivable!"
Actually, the NCAA's position—inconceivable or not in Indiana—is clear: Indiana and its head football coach, Phil Dickens, practiced too much togetherness with potential footballers; money and expense-paid vacation trips home were promised, and athletes were nursed and coddled on campus. Ergo, Indiana is on probation, and that's that. There is no appeal.
May 15, 1960
It will surprise no realistic student of 20th century college football that beyond-the-rules recruiting goes on steadily and merrily, and not only in the Big Ten. The Southeastern Conference, for example, has been known on occasion to offer small county seats and castles in Bavaria to promising high school players. But within the Big Ten—most insiders agree—Indiana has played the fastest, the loosest and the bravest. The Hoosiers' bravery (some call it gall) may be seen in the fact that five of the six NCAA counts against the school go back to 1958, when Coach Dickens was already on probation for similar offenses against the commonweal.
Now that the NCAA has unleashed its thunderbolt, the reaction of Big Ten coaches and recruiters is most interesting for what it reveals by omission. Unspoken but clearly understood is the feeling that just about everybody is breaking the rules, but Indiana broke the rules badly, i.e., Indiana got caught.
Most of the people close to this situation are eager to talk, but few are willing to be quoted on the record. Explains a Chicago sportswriter and student of the Big Ten: "Whenever a new coach comes into the Big Ten, all other schools brace themselves for the jolt of his recruiting techniques. The reason is he has four years in which to produce a good team. His success depends largely on how well he recruits in his first year or so; those recruits will be the boys who will make or break his team four years later. Early in the 1950s Indiana hired Bernie Crimmins away from Notre Dame because he had been in charge of Notre Dame recruiting. But Crimmins recruited strictly according to the rules. His teams were unsuccessful and Dickens was brought in.
"Within a very short time there was talk among recruiters in Chicago of the jolting aggressiveness of Indiana's recruiting. This happened at a bad time. The Big Ten had just imposed its grant-in-aid rules, which demand that a parent pay as much of a boy's education as he could afford. The conference was under pressure to prove that the new system would work. That meant it had to crack down on violations to show it meant business. So it cracked down on Dickens in the summer of 1957 and ordered him suspended."
A recruiter from another Big Ten school says: "Let's face it. We all do a little bit for the kids on the side. You almost have to these days if the kid is any good at all. But it's the way that Indiana did it that hurts recruiters everywhere. There was no finesse; the recruiter would just approach the kid, tell him how much he was worth, whip out the bankroll and peel off the green. When I'd show up to see a prospect, the Indiana recruiter would be standing in the corner. 'Come over and see me after you finish talking,' he'd tell the kid. And the boy would smile and say to me, 'Well, I guess I'm lucky you came today. My price ought to go up a few bucks.' '
High-pressure recruiting has always been the norm in the Big Ten; it was Forest Evashevski's talent to build Iowa into a football power with an extensive recruiting program which never (well, hardly ever) crossed the bounds of propriety. Star football players are kept happy at other Big Ten schools in a myriad of extralegal ways. One angel meets the players in the locker room after a game, shakes hands all around and deposits bills ranging from $10 to $50 in eager, sweaty palms. At another school, football players receive unsigned envelopes in the Monday morning mail with their weekly honorarium enclosed. Many Big Ten football players are carried on the payrolls of industry at $40 or $50 weekly; sometimes they show up for "work," and sometimes they stay in bed.
But in one respect the pattern is fixed and time-honored: coaches and athletic assistants leave the actual passing of money and arranging of deals to well-fixed alumni, thus avoid any entangling alliances with players who might have a tendency to collect and tell. This, apparently, is a fundamental axiom which Indiana violated. Another Midwest recruiter says: "Indiana had to get caught because it didn't use any class. Most places the money goes to an alumnus and he gets in touch with the boy. That's a hard rap to make stick; the NCAA might catch the boy coming into school on a plane ticket bought by someone other than himself or his parents, but the kid could just tell them it came from a friend of his, and they couldn't prove otherwise. Indiana was dumb enough to buy the tickets for the kids themselves; some of their prospects showed them to me."
Ironically, this Indiana naiveté scared off some of the very prospects it wanted to corral. "The boys back off when you're not subtle with them," one Big Ten coach says. "A new suit, yes. Sixty-five dollars in cash, no. Look at the six players Indiana got rapped for. All of them must have been good football players to take the chance Indiana took, but only two of them showed up for school and one flunked out. That's a lot of trouble for one kid."
The NCAA's investigative machinery (one full-time man, one part-time) actually found Indiana guilty on these counts: an alumnus offered a student free vacation transportation between his home in New Jersey and Bloomington; an athletic representative offered a student the same travel pay, plus clothing, a $500 bonus and a monthly payoff; an alumnus and an assistant football coach offered a young Virginia player $800 cash plus a monthly stipend, plus medical attention for the boy's invalid father; and an assistant coach, using the alias of Dr. Palmer, offered a boy $100 plus free vacation transportation. In addition, the NCAA charged, two prospective student-athletes were roomed and boarded free for eight days by "friends of the university"—a Big Ten violation.
President Wells, a dedicated and respected educator who feels that athletics play a major role in college life and doesn't mind saying so, laid on an investigation of his own, concluded (to no one's surprise) that there was no basis for the NCAA action. Athletic Director Allen said, "To be perfectly honest and sincere, I don't think we violated any rules, and we were honest in our dealings with prospective athletes." And Coach Dickens declared: "It's a dad-burned shame.... I can honestly say that neither I nor any member of my staff have ever made any offer of any kind to any boy, or had knowledge of such offer. This is the gospel truth."
The whole state of Indiana, from Governor Harold Handley on down, had its ego geared to the great new athletic program under way at Indiana. A former president of the I.U. club of Indianapolis, Robert Freeman, took the predictable position that Indiana was the victim of a plot. "I think Dickens should be given a five-year contract right now, to run beyond this probation," Freeman said. "It looks as if his mistake was winning football games. Somebody just doesn't like to see Indiana win." Said I.U. graduate Nyle Benny: "It's inconceivable to me that the have-nots like us are the only ones violating the rules. Besides that, we're getting punished for players we didn't get." In Louisville, Harry Amon, president of an I.U. varsity club, sent wires demanding a congressional investigation of the NCAA, and threatened to take the NCAA to court.
"This NC—whatever it is—has taken a pretty rough potshot at I.U.," Governor Handley charged. "It looks like a pretty raw deal." Handley observed that the sins of the overzealous alumni were being visited upon the athletic program, an observation with which the NCAA could not agree. It found a smelly pattern, the NCAA pointed out, and the smelly pattern could be traced right back to Dickens and his staff.
A disturbing characterization of the problem—and one which conjures up all sorts of unpleasant questions about college football—came from one of Indiana's own recruiters. He noted that in 1959 alone, 117 prospective athletes agreed to go to Big Ten schools, then dropped out in favor of non-Big Ten schools after the deal had been signed, sealed and delivered. He cited the case of one boy who was all signed up, then quit to go to a Southwest Conference school. The boy's father explained: "I can't afford to pay his expenses to college when he can earn his expenses and maybe three or four times more." Says the Indiana recruiter with justifiable bitterness: "That's the type of thing the NCAA tolerates in raids by other schools against the Big Ten."
Another complaint of the Hoosiers is the way the NCAA investigates. Neither Indiana's accusers nor the players involved have been named. No one knows who blew the whistle on the school (but there is general agreement it was someone outside the Big Ten). Indiana has not been able to face its accusers; it has not been able to issue subpoenas or swear witnesses. As angry Harry Amon said in his telegram: "In our courts even the most calloused felon is entitled to face his accusers.... The NCAA follows asinine regulations.... " The NCAA is not unaware of the creakiness of its judicial procedures; it points out that it does the best it can with what it has.
A final complaint from Indiana is the blanket nature of the penalty. The basketball team faces decimation. Indiana has, in recent years, developed swimming teams the equal of any in the country. (There was diligent recruiting here, too.) Since the NCAA action, two star high school swimmers who were "locked up" by Indiana recruiters have telephoned Ohio State to seek admittance. They did not want to enter a school where they would be shut out of all NCAA championship competition for their entire college lives. Too bad, answers the NCAA. When a man goes to prison, his family is hurt, too, but the man still must go to prison.
The whole seething matter of Indiana and its indiscretions is far from settled. On May 18, the Big Ten athletic directors and faculty representatives meet in East Lansing, Mich., and the main item on the agenda will be what to do about Indiana. Some are betting that the Big Ten will demand Dickens' job, and that in return the NCAA will lift the probation. Others hint darkly of another deal: if Indiana will reverse its current anti-Rose Bowl stand, the Big Ten will go easy on Dickens and the university. One can only watch and wait and wonder; not all the firecrackers have gone off. The Big Ten made an investigation of the charges and may have some surprises of its own. So might Dickens. Little word has come from him, but he was overheard in the dressing room telling his assistants:
"Keep your opinions to yourself. All of us know we haven't done anything wrong, but anything you say now will sound like sour grapes. Our turn to talk will come later."
If Dickens and his recruiters should talk—and tell all they know and all they've seen about illegal recruiting elsewhere—the NCAA will have its work cut out for years.