By now the sports world has become so inured to news about cheating in college athletics that it hardly notices when yet another school gets placed on NCAA probation. After all, 18 intercollegiate programs—ranging from SMU football to Eastern Washington basketball—are on probation at the moment. But Kansas basketball? The NCAA champions? Obviously it was no ordinary bust last week when the NCAA hit the Jayhawks with a three-year probation. Because of that action, for the first time ever, a reigning national collegiate basketball champion will be formally denied, even before the season begins, any chance of defending its title.
The recruiting violations that resulted in the probation occurred under former Kansas coach Larry Brown, who wasn't alone in expressing surprise that the penalties were so harsh. But what surprised some was that a program as prominent as Kansas's had been nailed. Arizona coach Lute Olson called the Kansas case "a warning signal: Either abide by the rules or get nailed."
The most serious violations cited by the NCAA occurred during a 10-day period in the summer of 1986, when a Memphis State player, Vincent Askew, was visiting Kansas with an eye toward transferring there. Askew never did .transfer from Memphis State, but during those 10 days, the NCAA determined, Brown—now the coach of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs—and others spent at least $1,244 on Askew in violation of NCAA rules.
There was money to buy plane tickets and clothes, money to pay an electric bill for Askew's grandmother and money for work Askew never did. The money came from Brown and from three other men whom the NCAA considered Kansas boosters.
November 14, 1988
Brown and the others involved offered explanations for each payment. They spoke of having acted, at least in a couple of instances, for humanitarian reasons. We don't cheat, they said. The kid needed help. Of course, the NCAA has heard that before, in other cases. So two years after opening its Kansas investigation, as a result of a tip from a "confidential informant," it ruled there would be no postseason play for the Jayhawks this season. Kansas also may not pay for recruits to visit its campus for one year and must forfeit one scholarship in 1989-90. The NCAA also ruled that the three boosters must dissociate themselves from Kansas's program. They have been identified by Brown as Mike Marshall, a former Jayhawk player who sometimes stayed at Brown's house; Jerry Collins, a former KU television producer who now works for the Spurs; and Ralph Light, the owner of a Kansas City construction company.
Still, the penalties could have been worse. According to the NCAA, the Jayhawks nearly got the so-called death penalty, meaning their basketball program would have been shut down. The NCAA can impose such a punishment if it finds two cases of major violations at a school within five years. Kansas almost became the second school—after SMU, whose football team was barred from competition for the 1987 season—to receive the death penalty, because it had been found guilty of serious violations in football in 1983.
Although the NCAA issued a 10-page statement about its case against the Jayhawk basketball program, SI has been able to add to that account:
•Brown told SI that in the summer of 1986 he had a telephone conversation with then Memphis State coach Dana Kirk in which Brown admitted having paid for a plane ticket for Askew, a violation of the NCAA's rules. Brown says that Kirk had told him he had been taping the call, and Brown concludes that Kirk is the informant referred to by the NCAA.
•Marshall, 26, spoke to NCAA investigators on at least four occasions, twice in the presence of an SI reporter. Marshall told investigators of his having given money to Askew and told them of involvement by Kansas coaches in some other—minor—infractions. Marshall was more forthcoming to his NCAA interrogators after they cut a deal with him. Marshall wants to be a coach, and he was worried that his chances of becoming one would be hurt if he were labeled a cheater. The NCAA promised to keep Marshall's identity and his involvement in the case secret from NCAA schools and from the public.
•Marshall has told SI that partly out of friendship for Danny Manning, who led the Jayhawks to last season's NCAA title and was the first player chosen in the 1988 NBA draft, he did not tell NCAA investigators about small loans he made to Manning. Marshall says he also lent money to other Kansas players. The loans, he says, usually ranged from $20 to $100. Under NCAA rules, such loans could have made Manning ineligible his last year at Kansas.
•The Jayhawks' probation means that Marshall has helped put two schools in trouble. The other was McNeese State in Lake Charles, La., whose basketball program is on probation for making improper payments to players. Neither the NCAA nor McNeese State has named the players, but Marshall, who played for the Cowboys in 1985-86 after transferring from Kansas, told SI that he had received thousands of dollars from McNeese boosters.
Askew, Brown and Marshall were all important figures in the NCAA's investigation of Kansas. Askew has since told reporters that he did receive improper payments from Kansas. Brown says he informed the NCAA that he had improperly given Askew $366 for a round-trip plane ticket from Kansas City to Memphis. Brown says he did so because Askew needed the ticket to visit his grandmother, who was sick.
Brown says it was this payment that he told Kirk about on the phone. He says he called Kirk to complain about the way Askew had treated some Kansas players during Askew's stay in Lawrence and to let Kirk know he no longer wanted Askew around. Brown mentioned that he had paid for a plane ticket, and it was then, he says, that Kirk—whose Memphis State team was on probation at the time because some players received excessive financial assistance—informed him that their conversation was being taped. David Berst, the NCAA's assistant executive director for enforcement, will not say whether its informant was Kirk, and Kirk didn't respond last week to written questions from SI. But Brown says that during the investigation, an NCAA official indicated to him that the NCAA had a transcript of Brown's telephone conversation with Kirk.
The NCAA also was told about the payments to Askew that were made by Marshall, who was so close to Brown that others at Kansas called him "Coach B's black son." Coach B concurs in that characterization. "Mike Marshall has been living off me," Brown said last week. "He adopted me years ago."
Marshall, a native of Shelbyville, Ky., played at Central Wyoming, a junior college, during the 1981-82 and '82-83 seasons. Then he transferred to Kansas, where he was a substitute guard, and later went on to McNeese State. From October '85 to March '86, while he was at McNeese, Marshall deposited a total of $15,515.44 at the Lakeside National Bank in Lake Charles, according to bank receipts he saved. Marshall said that some of the money came from a student loan but that most came from a variety of payments from McNeese boosters. Marshall still has a photo of himself showing off a check and wads of bills.
Marshall hoped to play in the NBA, and was drafted by Denver in the seventh round in 1986, but he was soon released. With Brown's encouragement he returned to Kansas, where he wanted to finish the requirements for his degree but didn't. It was during this time that Marshall broke NCAA rules.
On July 13, 1987, investigator Stephanie Sivak interviewed Marshall. According to Sivak's report, a copy of which was obtained by SI, Marshall admitted that he wired money to Askew's aunt and said it was to pay an electric bill for Askew's grandmother. Sivak's report said the sum was $250. Marshall would later correct that. It was $350. Marshall also admitted paying $183 for another plane ticket, to Kansas City, for Askew. Marshall told Sivak that Brown and assistant coach Alvin Gentry didn't know about these payments.
More than a year later, on Sept. 9, 1988, another NCAA investigator, Arthur McAfee III, went to New York to meet Marshall. An SI reporter was at the meeting. McAfee wanted to know where Marshall, who had little money of his own, had obtained the $533 he said he had spent on Askew. Did Brown or one of his assistants give it to Marshall?
While McAfee waited in the living room of attorney Hal Ginsburg's Upper West Side apartment, Marshall and Ginsburg huddled in another room.
I'm not going to tell him everything, Marshall said.
You don't have to tell him everything, Ginsburg said. But you'd better tell him enough so he doesn't think you're lying. The NCAA could hurt you.
The deal with the NCAA came out of this meeting. McAfee called his boss at the NCAA, assistant director of enforcement R. Daniel Beebe, who wrote Ginsburg to confirm the understanding. The letter promised that Marshall's "identity would not be made available to the public by the NCAA and would not be reported to NCAA member institutions that may inquire when he [Marshall] seeks employment."
On Sept. 14, Sivak met Marshall in Ginsburg's office. The SI reporter was again present. Marshall now said that Brown and Gentry did know about the plane ticket that he bought Askew and the money that he wired Askew's aunt. Marshall said he believed that Gentry was going to repay him for the ticket and that Gentry did. Gentry says he reimbursed Marshall. Marshall also said Gentry had assured him he would get back the $350 wired to Askew's aunt. Marshall said he never got it, and Gentry says he made no assurances about repayment.
Marshall didn't tell NCAA investigators about lending money to Jayhawk players. But he told SI he had made such loans and said the players usually paid the money back. When they didn't, he said, he had money of his own, some left over from McNeese State and some he received from Brown—$20 to $200 at a time—for running errands or watching Brown's house when Brown was out of town. Brown says that he knew of no loans to players by Marshall and that he never used Marshall or anybody else to funnel money to players.
Manning, through his agent, Ron Grinker, said Marshall sometimes loaned him money but that it was never much. Said Grinker, "Danny said that Mike had given him five or six or seven dollars on several occasions, and he always paid the money back."
For his part, Askew, who is trying out for the Albany Patroons of the Continental Basketball Association, told the Associated Press in Albany last week that he was sorry Kansas was penalized so severely. According to the AP, Askew said, "I feel that if you do good for a person, like Coach Brown did, I don't think you should be penalized. But I don't make the rules."
Marshall also said he is bothered by the rules, but added, "Bottom line, we cheated. The NCAA considers it cheating. But I have to wonder, Did they want to do this to justify what they do when they go after the big boys?..."
In college basketball, few schools come bigger than Kansas.