THE YEAR THE HEISMAN TROPHY WENT TO A PRO
In the nine months since he last carried the football for Nebraska, 1983 Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier has repeatedly denied rumors that he violated NCAA eligibility rules during his final season as a Cornhusker. Now Rozier has changed his tune. In a taped interview with SI's Bill Brubaker, Rozier says he breached NCAA rules by signing with an agent and accepting money from him during the 1983 college season. He also says that before Nebraska was upset 31-30 by Miami in the Orange Bowl game that decided the national championship, he improperly entered into a contract with the Pittsburgh Maulers, the USFL team for which he played last spring. In other words, college football's 1983 player of the year was, by the NCAA's definition of the word, a pro.
Under NCAA rules, Rozier could have come to terms with an agent or a pro team only after the Orange Bowl, which ended shortly after midnight last Jan. 3. In the days following that game, Rozier and his agent, Mike Trope, insisted that they'd not yet made a deal with the Maulers. The club said the same thing. However, on Jan. 9, Pittsburgh announced it had signed Rozier to a contract 16 hours after the bowl's final gun. The change in stories raised eyebrows, and a troubling question arose: How could Rozier possibly have settled on an agent and worked out a pro contract so quickly after the game?
The answer, Rozier told Brubaker, is that he didn't. Rozier said that in August 1983, before Nebraska's first game of the season, he'd signed a contract with Los Angeles agent Bruce Marks, who then paid him $600 a month during the season—$2,400 in all. Marks is an associate of Trope's, although Rozier said he didn't know that at the time. According to Rozier, Marks approached him and offered him money. The amount, Rozier continued, "was up to me. [He] said, 'Whatever you want.' I [wouldn't] have to pay it back. I didn't want to get in anything above my head. I said, 'Maybe something like $600 every month.' " Rozier said he signed with Marks, after which the payments began. "Nobody ever offered me nothing in my life, so [I thought] I might as well take it," he said. "Guys want to live comfortable. They don't want to live in no shack. They want a nice car."
October 21, 1984
Rozier said his deal with the Maulers was completed "a couple of days" before the Orange Bowl, during a meeting at the Fontainebleau Hilton in Miami Beach with, among others, Marks and Mauler general manager George Heddleston. "We just sat down and went over the contract," Rozier said. "It sounded good to me. Three million dollars for three years." It was only after the bowl game, Rozier added, that Trope appeared on the scene and took over as his agent.
SI was told by another source that Rozier indeed received money last season from an agent and reached an oral agreement with the Maulers before the Orange Bowl. Marks declined to comment on whether he gave Rozier money but said Rozier "never signed anything as far as I was concerned." Trope refused to discuss his dealings with Rozier. Heddleston at first denied meeting Rozier before the bowl. Advised that Rozier had told of such a meeting, Heddleston then said he'd spoken to him in a hallway at the Fontainebleau just to introduce himself. Nebraska coach Tom Osborne disclaimed knowledge of any early contact between Rozier and agents or pro teams.
Trope has previously admitted giving money to other players with college eligibility remaining. Several of his former clients have confirmed this, including New York Jets wide receiver Wesley Walker, who two weeks ago told SI's Jill Lieber that he took money from Trope while playing at Cal. Trope has said he has no moral qualms about making such payments because NCAA rules barring them are unrealistic and possibly unconstitutional. Many observers agree that given the financial opportunities and complexities college athletes face they should be free to engage agents openly.
But the rules say otherwise, and Rozier's actions, as a consequence, caused damage. The NCAA doesn't penalize colleges unless they knew their players signed with agents or pro teams, but Rozier's negotiations with the Maulers couldn't have helped his concentration before the Orange Bowl. Also, Osborne has complained that whispers about improprieties involving Rozier have hurt Nebraska's recruiting. New York's Downtown Athletic Club says it wouldn't ask a Heisman winner to return his trophy—"It's the same as, how can you impeach a President after he's out of office?" says a club official—but the club can only be embarrassed by Rozier's acknowledged wrongdoing.
The one most shamed is Rozier himself. He says he decided to come clean in hopes that younger athletes can learn from his transgressions, which obliged him to sneak and lie and made him worry about creating "bad pub" for his team. Reflecting on his actions, he says, "You make a lot of money and things ain't as smooth as everybody thinks it is. Sometimes it even causes problems."
"GENERATING THE WILL...."
Rozier's disclosures came in the wake of NCAA executive director Walter Byers's suggestion in SI that some schools are so indifferent to abuses in their athletic programs that they should consider creating an "open division," in which they'd compete on a semiprofessional basis (SCORECARD, Sept. 17). Last week Byers told The New York Times that reaction to the proposal had been so negative that he's now calling instead for tougher penalties for rules infractions—which may have been the reform the crafty Byers had in mind all along. To underscore the need for tougher measures, Byers said some college athletes have received $20,000 or more a year from boosters, a figure that makes the $2,400 Rozier said he got from an agent seem piddling.
But some colleges apparently want neither an open division nor beefed-up enforcement. Dr. John Ryan, president of Indiana University and chairman of the 44-member President's Commission formed by the NCAA last January, told the Times, "I'm not ready to do something about the problem like jacking up the penalties. It's not how hard you come down, but generating the will to purge athletics of the practices and people not consistent with the values of the institution. There is no sense shutting down a bank because the president is embezzling money."
Ryan seems to be holding out hope that the colleges might voluntarily clean up their acts. But that would require that he and other university presidents take unaccustomed action to ease the enormous pressures to win that encourage cheating. They'd also have to address the contradiction at the root of much of the wrongdoing in college athletics, namely, that going for big bucks is O.K. for TV networks, coaches and schools, but not for the athletes who put on the show.
GAUCHE MOVE, JACQUES
Before an exhibition game against the Quebec Nordiques, Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Lemaire decided to try Guy Lafleur, a right wing for most of his 13-year NHL career, at left wing. The 33-year-old Lafleur, whose brilliance has dimmed in recent seasons, played superbly, scoring a goal, hitting the post on two shots and being robbed on yet another shot. After the Canadiens' 4-3 win, Lemaire was remarking on how well Lafleur had performed at his new position, when a spoilsport noted that in fact Lafleur had pretty much ignored the switch and gotten off all his shots from his accustomed right lane.
Lemaire replied, "Does that mean I have to change him back to right wing? All I know is that when he played right wing, he was hardly getting any shots."
That evoked a bemused comment from the Montreal Gazette's Red Fisher, who wrote, "Good point, Jacques. Now all you have to do is put a right-winger on the left-winger Lafleur's line who spends most of his time on the left side."
FINE, BUT WHAT WERE THE SCORES?
It's not unusual to hear sports lingo in the political arena, but last week's presidential and vice-presidential debates brought forth a veritable torrent. The White House claimed that Ronald Reagan was "still the champ" because Walter Mondale failed to achieve the "knockout" he supposedly needed in their Louisville confrontation. The President tried to dismiss the event as "a little sparring." New York Governor Mario Cuomo gave Mondale all 15 rounds. Geraldine Ferraro extolled her running mate as "the new heavyweight debater of the world—Fighting Fritz Mondale," and before Ferraro's encounter with George Bush, Dan Rather of CBS asked, "Can the Democrats throw a one-two punch?"
Baseball was not ignored. The New York Post conjoined diamond and ring with the headline LOUISVILLE SLUGGERS, followed by the subhead TOE-TO-TOE IN ROUND 1. Mondale was hailed as the Louisville Slugger by Ohio Governor Richard F. Celeste, while the Chicago Tribune reported REAGAN ADMITS HE WAS NO LOUISVILLE SLUGGER IN FIRST DEBATE. The Washington Post's David Broder said that both Reagan and the Cubs "suffered late-inning letdowns." A Reagan aide conceded that after the President dusted off his "There you go again" line, Mondale "hit that one out of the ball park." On the other hand, a Bush official said his man "hit the very long ball" against Ferraro.
Football? The consensus was that whereas Mondale won one against the Gipper, Bush won one for the Gipper.
Basketball? Syndicated columnist George F. Will accused Reagan of emulating teams that "dribble around in circles, stalling to kill the clock."
Even arm wrestling got a call from Reagan, who challenged Mondale to a match. Then there was Bush's assertion that he'd "tried to kick a little ass" against Ferraro. Bush called that "an old Texas football expression." After Ferraro's campaign manager, John Sasso, objected to the comment, a Bush spokesman said dismissively, "Sasso probably never played sports."
BROWN IS BACK
Forget all that fuss about the Cubs going 39 years without playing in the World Series. Until the Padres came along, no team with even a touch of brown in their uniforms had appeared in a Series since the St. Louis Browns did so in 1944. That's 40 years. Talk about a drought.
THEY SAID IT
•Harold Weston Jr., Madison Square Garden matchmaker, explaining why his weekly boxing shows were moved from Friday night to Thursday night: "It gives the fighters one less day to pull out."
•John Durham, football coach at Keystone Oaks High in Pittsburgh, bemoaning an opponent's two-point conversion off a fake kick: "I told my players, 'Watch the fake,' and that's what they did. They watched the fake."