Pacific Coast football teams have not really been swallowed up by oil slicks or sucked into the San Andreas Fault. They are alive, if not wholly well, in California, Oregon and Washington. But those who compare the Pacific Eight with, say, the Catonsville Nine, are not being entirely hyperbolic. This has not been a happy season for college football in the Far West.
The Coast teams have been regularly receiving their intersectional lumps, resulting in a conspicuous absence from the Top Ten rankings for much of the season. They have only USC's 28-14 astonishment of Notre Dame and Oregon State's 24-18 upset of Arizona State for genuine solace. But then, as UCLA's star-crossed Pepper Rodgers has rationalized: "What's a strong conference anyway? Two, maybe three real good teams and a lot of also-rans. We just don't have those real good teams this year." They certainly meet the rest of the requirements.
It is true that Coast fans have been spoiled in recent years. Over a five-year stretch from 1965 through 1969, either USC or UCLA was ranked among the top five teams in the nation, with USC finishing first, second and third in '67, '68 and '69. Of the last 10 Heisman Trophy winners, five have been from the Pacific Coast—Oregon State's Terry Baker ('62), USC's Mike Garrett ('65), UCLA's Gary Beban ('67), USC's O. J. Simpson ('68) and Stanford's Jim Plunkett ('70). And for 50 years the Coast has been favored with some of the nation's most glamorous teams—Southern California's Thundering Herd, California's Wonder and Thunder teams, Stanford's Vow and Wow Boys, Pappy Waldorf's Deep Freeze powerhouses at Berkeley 20 years ago, USC's Wild Bunch and on and on.
So maybe a slump of some sort was due. Off the record to date, it seems to have arrived. Take the season's opening day, Sept. 11; in seven games against representative opponents, Cal lost to Arkansas 51-20, Oregon lost to Nebraska 34-7, Washington State lost to Kansas 34-0, Oregon State lost to Georgia 56-25, USC lost to Alabama 17-10 and UCLA lost to Pittsburgh 29-25. Stanford was the only winner, 19-0 over Missouri. That is six losses and one win, 221 points for the outsiders and 106 for the Pacific Eight. Is that any way to open a football season?
November 15, 1971
The conference has settled down since that calamitous beginning, winning five of the last six against outside opponents, but the overall intersectional record is not in keeping with recent tradition. Against major nonconference opponents the Pacific Eight has 14 wins and 15 losses. It is one for four against the Big Eight, and it is two for 11 against the Top 20.
The conference's biggest disappointment has been its perennial favorite, USC. In the preseason polls John McKay's Trojans were rated as one of the nation's best. They promptly lost four of their first six games and sank from sight. The Notre Dame upset did turn their season around, and they have now won three in succession, but it is too little, too late. The Trojans are now playing the unfamiliar role of spoiler, as witness Saturday's 30-20 victory over Washington State which dropped the surprising Cougars out of Rose Bowl contention.
Stanford will go to the Rose Bowl once more, but the 1971 team is hardly as flashy as last year's. Consistency and a capacity for muddling through seem to be its biggest assets, although, as in the Duke game, it can be woefully bad on occasion. The Indians lost 9-3 and, as Coach John Ralston has put it, "We could still be playing and I don't think we'd be across the goal line yet." Stanford does have another good quarterback in Don Bunce, but he is no Plunkett, and the Indians will be hard pressed to win again in Pasadena.
Washington, with an improved running game and a less effective Sonny Sixkiller, has not lost a nonconference game, but it quickly scratched itself from the Rose Bowl race by losing to Stanford and Oregon. The Northwest teams are actually more exciting than the California teams in this peculiar season. With Sixkiller throwing and Washington State's Bernard Jackson and Oregon's Bobby Moore running, the Northwest easily has the outstanding players.
California has had an interesting season, but certainly not a happy one. It is, in fact, a nonseason. Because the university has elected to play a halfback, Isaac Curtis, and a tight end, Larry Brumsey, who are considered to be ineligible by the NCAA, none of Cal's conference games count in the standings. Even if the Bears were good enough, they could not play in the Rose Bowl. San Francisco papers have taken to calling the Pacific Eight the Pacific Seven, subtracting Cal. An alleged clerical error brought the school to grief in the Curtis-Brumsey matter. Neither boy was informed he was required to take the so-called 1.6 examination in order to compete for the university. Curtis had completed a freshman football season and a varsity track season by the time the NCAA uncovered the oversight. Cal's 1970 NCAA track championship was taken away from it, and Curtis was declared ineligible. But the university decided to punish itself, instead of Curtis, for the error and is now appealing the case. Two lawsuits have also been filed from the outside on Curtis' behalf.
But even Berkeley's considerable problems pale in comparison with those of its sister institution, UCLA. The Bruins have lost seven games this year under new Coach Rodgers, partly because they have no outstanding quarterback, partly because the team has been riddled with injuries, but mostly because of a man who is not even in uniform, James McAlister. And that is a sad story all its own.
On the evening of June 2, 1970 McAlister and two of his football teammates at Blair High School in Pasadena, Kermit Johnson and Eugene Jones, reported for a special exam at Santa Monica College that would determine their eligibility for college athletics. That, in a way, it did. It also led to some grave consequences and a continuing mystery.
Johnson and Jones were then rated by college football scouts as outstanding prospects. McAlister (SI, May 17, 1971) was simply the sort of athlete who appears once in a generation. He had averaged nearly 10 yards each time he carried the football in his senior year at Blair, and he was already a world-class long jumper, potentially both an All-America football player and an Olympic track champion.
All three boys were to enter UCLA under the Educational Opportunity Program, which provides that normal admission requirements may be waived for a small percentage of students—usually of minority races—who, though unqualified by their high school records, are considered to have the potential to do college work. It has been unfairly claimed that the program is used as a device for slipping black athletes, such as these three, past the admission barriers. Actually, of the 1,900 EOP students at UCLA, only 15 are athletes.
McAlister, Johnson and Jones could enter school through EOP, but, in order to participate in sports and be eligible for athletic grants-in-aid, they were required to take one of two qualifying examinations. The results, when tabulated with either their high school grades or class standing (whichever is higher), would "predict" their capability of maintaining a 1.6—or C-minus—grade average in college. Those who fail to "predict" must remain ineligible for at least a year or until they can establish they are capable of 1.6 work. The intent of this National Collegiate Athletic Association regulation is to eliminate the double academic standard traditionally enjoyed by U.S. college athletes.
In May of 1970 McAlister had taken the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Now, on this June night, he was to take the American College Testing Program—or ACT—examination. Actually, he and his friends had attempted to take this test on April 25, a regularly scheduled National Test Date. They were turned away because they had forgotten to bring their test-center admission blanks. When Dr. Robert Bell, then an assistant to UCLA Athletic Director J. D. Morgan, learned of this, he immediately telephoned ACT headquarters in Iowa City, Iowa to arrange for another test. There he reached Mrs. Billie Norris, an ACT administrator. Bell, who is now an assistant Athletic Director at the University of Wisconsin, said he identified himself to Mrs. Norris as a representative of the UCLA athletic department; Mrs. Norris recalls only that he "mentioned something about scholarships."
Bell had hoped to have the tests considered a part of the April 25 examination, so he asked for an early date. NCAA rules require that athletes be tested only on National Test Dates, but the next of these was not until July, and the athletic department was anxious to establish McAlister's eligibility as soon as possible.
Mrs. Norris said a makeup test could be taken if it were convenient with Dr. Arthur Verge, a Santa Monica College counselor and history instructor who is the ACT supervisor in that area. Verge, ironically, was the same administrator who had rejected the three boys on the original testing date. He was unaware then, he says, that he was banishing a celebrity of McAlister's distinction but had been subjected to "a lot of kidding" from his faculty colleagues since. Verge readily agreed to a second test. Such makeup examinations are not uncommon, and by now he was aware he was dealing with no ordinary incoming freshman. He was unaware, however, of the NCAA rule about National Test Dates.
The actual testing did not take place for another five weeks because Verge could not locate the examination papers mailed from Iowa City. He finally found them in the campus bookstore receiving room some two weeks after they were sent. His own mailbox, it appeared, had been too small for them. "I found them," Verge finally wrote ACT headquarters. "I goofed." Bell, even more anxious by now, decided to reassure himself that all was in order on the night of the testing. He said he drove to Santa Monica, satisfied himself that McAlister and the others were there, thanked Verge for troubling himself and drove off before the testing began.
Verge does not remember seeing Bell that night, but his memory of the evening is not all that precise. He does recall that the test was given in the college president's conference room. The three boys sat two chairs apart, and one—McAlister, he thinks—seemed to be concentrating harder than the others. Verge used an electric timer to clock the various sections of the test—English, 40 minutes; math usage, 50; social studies reading, 35; natural science reading, 35; and personal questions not part of the scoring, 20 minutes. He placed the completed tests in prepackaged envelopes and mailed them that very evening. He did not, he says, look at the test papers before, during or after the examination. He says he was the only person in the room with the boys during the three-hour session and that he himself never left it.
The test results, when tabulated in Iowa City, showed that McAlister had scored high enough to "predict"; Jones and Johnson had not. In accordance with NCAA rules, they did not participate in freshman sports. McAlister was the star of the 1970 UCLA freshman football team, and he set a university record for the long jump of 26 feet 6½ inches. This spring, he competed on the varsity track team and in spring football gained 170 yards in the final intrasquad game. With help from EOP tutorial and counseling services, he also maintained a C+ academic average.
In June, however, McAlister was preparing to board the bus that would take the UCLA track team to the airport for the flight to the national championships in Seattle when he was stopped by his coach, Jim Bush. He was taken to Athletic Director Morgan's office and told that he was ineligible to compete in the meet. McAlister stood stunned for a moment, then he rushed from the room and slammed his fist into a wall.
What had gone wrong?
The NCAA had begun its investigation of McAlister's eligibility last March after receiving a tip. From whom? The NCAA refuses to say. But the NCAA did rule that in taking the test on June 2 McAlister had violated the National Test Date regulation established the previous January. In the first four years of the 1.6 rule, the NCAA Council had discovered that athletes had been taking the tests under conditions entirely too congenial to them, sometimes even with coaches present. The January rule required them to be tested with ordinary student candidates under properly administered conditions. The new rule was to be hard and fast with no exceptions. UCLA was in clear violation.
In order to appeal the Council's conclusion, the school had to declare McAlister ineligible immediately. The appeal was to be based on the athletic department's contention that it had adhered to the intent, if not the letter, of the regulation. McAlister and the other students had been deprived of taking the regulation test because of a technicality. The makeup examination was given by an authorized supervisor—the same one in fact who gave the regulation test. The appeal was rejected in August. McAlister was ordered to sit out a full year of varsity competition, his eligibility to be restored in time for the 1972 football season.
But there was a darker side to the matter. The investigation continued, and on Oct. 27 the NCAA Council further declared that UCLA should receive a year's probation—although without further penalty. The new evidence was startling, for it now appeared the university had not merely committed a technical error. The Council charged that one of its athletic recruiters had arranged for someone to cosign a note for $1,767.12 which enabled McAlister to purchase a car. This was considered an improper inducement, although UCLA protested the transaction was made after McAlister had signed his letter of intent to enroll there. But most damaging of all was the Council's conclusion that the June 2 test papers had been mysteriously altered.
There were 63 erasures on McAlister's test, the NCAA said, 65 on Jones' and 38 on Johnson's. Of McAlister's 63 erasures, 49 resulted in correct answers to the mostly multiple-choice questions. In the social studies section alone, there were 26 erasures, 25 of them to correct answers. The NCAA points out that when an erasure is made, chances are only one in four that the change will become correct. After consulting with the ACT service, NCAA investigators concluded that it would be impossible, "even for a superior student," to make that many erasures in the time allotted for the examination.
"We have rather incontestable evidence that these tests were tampered with," said Tom Hansen, assistant to Executive Director Walter Byers. "Either the tests were improperly administered or the alterations were made by someone other than the young men. Either they were improperly handled in Iowa City or tampered with before they got there."
Dr. Oluf Davidsen, in charge of ACT's Program Operations, says that for his part, the chances of the tests being changed in Iowa City were "one in a billion," because they are machine scored.
That, it would seem, leaves Dr. Verge. While the NCAA says it is making no specific charges against anyone, Verge appears to be the only person who could have tampered (or permitted tampering) with the exams. ("That conclusion is unwarranted and not to the point in question," argues the NCAA. "We have confidence in the ACT National Test Date administration....") Astonishingly, the NCAA has charged UCLA with the burden of investigating what is, by implication at least, its own crime.
As for Verge, he feels that he has been damaged by innuendo.
"The NCAA has gotten a lot of hell over this thing," he says. "I think they're just trying to get themselves off the hook. They're looking for a fall guy. Look, if anyone was going to cheat on these exams, it would be easier to do it on a National Test Date when there are 300 people in the room. I was the only one there that night, and I didn't see any cheating." Says Dr. Davidsen, "There is no reason to doubt that Dr. Verge did anything other than follow our normal procedure."
Verge says further he does not consider the number of erasures all that unusual, particularly for black students who were nervous and unsure of themselves. "The test," he said, "is white."
Bell, for his part, objects to his being described in news stories after the Council's decision as "an unnamed assistant to the athletic director, no longer with the university."
"I left the university for what I thought was a better job," he said. "Not, as that sounds, as the result of the investigation. I merely arranged for the boys to be tested. I have no knowledge of anything else. You don't think I'd be foolish enough to jeopardize my career over something like this."
The fact remains that without the erasures, McAlister would not have had a qualifying score under the 1.6 rule. According to Assistant NCAA Executive Director Warren Brown, McAlister did not score high enough in his May SAT exam, and the ACT exam without erasures would have placed him at a comparable level.
No matter what the outcome, UCLA now finds itself enmeshed in a scandal reminiscent of a more cynical age in college football. And, saddest of all, its finest athlete sits disconsolately on the sidelines.