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Taking One For The Team

June 09, 2003
June 09, 2003

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June 9, 2003

Track And Field
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Taking One For The Team

When the 65-year-old track and field coach at Fresno State was
told in April that his men's teams were about to be eliminated to
save money, he did not holler, "This is an outrage! I'm suing!"

This is an article from the June 9, 2003 issue Original Layout

And he did not roar, "It's Title IX's fault! I'm suing!"

And he did not bellow, "This is age discrimination! I'm suing!"

No, what Bob Fraley said was, "How 'bout if I work for free?"

When the smelling salts brought Fresno State athletic director
Scott Johnson back to consciousness, he pulled out a calculator.
Fraley was costing the school $95,000 a year in salary plus about
$20,000 in benefits, which added up to about 40% of the men's
outdoor track budget. "That would work!" Johnson said.

And so it is that in three weeks Fraley and his wife of 44 years,
Elaine, will begin living on his retirement pension. It'll mean a
lot less stopping for ice cream. "Heck, I could do with a lot
less of it," he says, patting his belly. And it'll mean a lot
more of what he and Elaine call her "cheap and disgusting"
dinners--the kind she made when they were just starting out and
having three kids--like kraut and weenies, and mashed potatoes
covered in tuna gravy. "Actually," she says, "they're Bob's
favorites."

They won't be getting rid of Bob's eight-year-old Saturn. Or
Elaine's 16-year-old Chevy station wagon. And they won't be
moving out of the tiny campus condo that they've lived in for 20
years.

And what was the reaction around town and among his peers to this
most selfless of deeds? Praise? Hosannas? A statue on campus,
perhaps?

In some circles, venom.

"A bunch of people said I was dumb," says Fraley, whose outdoor
track program lives, but the men's indoor team, which he coached,
plus the men's cross-country team were axed. "I was told by one
pretty good coach, 'That's a very poor example to set. Now people
are going to expect us all to work for nothing.'"

Elaine was whiffing the same smell. "I guess some people think we
were trying to make them look bad," she says. "Why they feel that
way is beyond me."

The better question is, Why would a man want to take zip for a
job that takes 75 hours a week during the season and that he'd
been getting paid to do at Fresno State for 23 years?

"Simple," says Fraley, who is a 1960 Fresno grad and has been a
track coach for 43 years. "I grew up a field-worker. My dad made
50 cents a day picking cotton in the San Joaquin Valley. I never
thought I'd get to teach, never thought I'd get to coach, never
thought I'd have an NCAA champion, never thought I'd get to see
the world. This university has done more for me than I could ever
pay back. But I can do this--and I want to."

Besides, in a way, Fraley did it for selfish reasons. "Without
track and field," says Elaine, "I'm afraid he might just lie on
the couch and shrivel up. How many people do you know who get up
and hate going to work? Not Bob. For 43 years he's loved his job.
And that's worth all the money in the world."

So Bob will go on coaching track and field as well as or better
than almost anybody living--he's had 44 All-Americas and five
individual national champions--and Elaine will go on working as
the deejay at the wild-music-and-muscle concerts/parties/mosh
pits that are track meets at Fresno State. Why should all that
die over a dang pay stub?

Fraley wasn't about to let it happen, so he saved a program with
a proud history and the athletic dreams of what will be hundreds
of college kids. "We're just ecstatic that he would do this,"
says assistant coach Chris Campbell, "but we're just a little
concerned for the welfare of him and his wife."

"Phhhbbbttt," says Elaine. "We'll be fine. When you help people,
you rarely end up getting screwed."

They don't feel screwed by Title IX, either. "We're not in the
mess 'cause of Title IX," Fraley says. "We're in this mess 'cause
of excesses by the other sports."

Excesses? What excesses? Well, Fresno State is in the peculiar
position of paying its former basketball coach, the outlaw Jerry
Tarkanian, $120,000 a year to do nothing while paying Fraley
nothing to do everything. (Do you know how many javelins a
$120,000 consulting fee would buy?) And one of the school's
former statisticians says he was paid $1,500 by the basketball
team's academic adviser to write 17 term papers for athletes in
2000. Other than that, no excesses at all.

Oh, if you're thinking, 'Hell, I light my cigars with
hundred-dollar bills. Why don't I just help the Fraleys?' Don't
bother. Other people have already tried. They've sent the Fraleys
money and gifts. The Fraleys won't use them for themselves.
Anything he's gotten out of this, Bob has put into the program.

"See, the Bible says you're not supposed to make a big deal out
of something like this anyway," he says of the attention he's
gotten. "I kinda feel bad about it."

You should, Bob. You ought to feel cheap and disgusting.

And wonderful.

B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER

If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to
reilly@siletters.com.

Why would a man want to take zip for a job that he'd been getting
paid to do at Fresno State for 23 years?