It was almost certainly the most historic meeting ever convened
in the shadow of Knuckles, the sports bar in Chicago's Hyatt
Regency O'Hare. But it remains to be seen if last week's college
basketball coaches' summit--at which more than 300 men's Division
I head coaches agreed to draft a professional code of
ethics--really was, as NCAA president Myles Brand called it, "a
dramatically important day." For the moment, at least, the pacts
signed in Geneva, Potsdam and Yalta will remain uneclipsed by
this, the 2003 Knuckles Accord.

Still, the coaches were right to be concerned about their
collective reputation after a year of extraordinary
headlines--about academic fraud, a murder investigation and a
coed party. "It ain't long before college coaches become extinct,
if we don't do something," said former Georgetown coach John
Thompson, standing in the hotel lobby. Alas, as he spoke,
Thompson was not wearing, as one might have hoped, a Hyatt towel
draped over one shoulder.

Even so, it was surreal to see so many famous and
not-quite-famous faces in one place, like a wall at Sardi's
sprung to life. Wayne Morgan, the new coach at Iowa State, still
looked wind-whipped by the media sandstorm of last spring, when
his predecessor, Larry Eustachy, was forced out after attending
the aforementioned party. "For those first two months," Morgan
said softly, "it was like standing behind a palm tree in a
hurricane."

Indeed, the accumulated weight of such scandals necessitated this
meeting, an exercise in expiating the sins of others. "The amount
of negative publicity," sighed Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, "has
had its effect." And so attendance at the one-day convention,
called by the board of directors of the National Association of
Basketball Coaches, was mandatory. An unexcused absence was
punishable by the forfeiture of one's Final Four tickets.
Naturally, having been summoned to the woodshed, most coaches
were eager to exit it as quickly as possible--and to go unnoticed
in doing so. They fled Ballroom A at the end of the day as if
from a porno theater set afire, swishing past the press in nylon
sweatsuits or knotted-up in neckties.

Still you had to admire the sheer cordiality of their brush-offs,
from the self-deprecation of Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins ("They
will have a press conference and explain things more eloquently
than I can") to the Zen koan offered by North Carolina coach Roy
Williams, who stared three kilometers past this reporter before
stating preemptively, "Let's see if we can grab a cab, Bob!"

And with that, the coaches piled into other coaches: waiting
buses whose destination placards in the windshields said neither
O'HARE nor AIRPORT nor CHARTER but--and this was perfect in its
cryptic congeniality--HAVE A NICE DAY.

For the meeting was among other things an exercise in public
relations, designed to send the message that Texas coach Rick
Barnes expressed on his way out the door: "As coaches, we've had
some problems. But as a whole we want to do the right thing."

Those coaches who did not immediately bolt for the airport were
rewarded. They got to savor the delicious irony of having
sportswriters interrogate them on standards of professional
conduct. "Maybe our code of ethics can be used in other
professions, so that unnamed sources wouldn't be used as the
basis for articles," suggested Krzyzewski. "Maybe we can have you
join the party. The media shouldn't just be watching the game but
be part of it."

"It's a small percentage of the public, and a small percentage of
the media, who think that [all coaches are unethical]," added
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. "I mean, a writer for The New York
Times made up his stories. And that's a pretty prestigious paper.
Do I think, If it's happening there, it's happening at every
paper in the country?"

Nevertheless, each coach did leave the meeting with a mandate: to
tailor a formal code of ethics for his program. The NCAA, for its
part, promised to examine a few of its more ridiculous rules.
"Georgia Tech had a player pass away," Brand said in a spasm of
self-flagellation, "and if you follow the rule closely and
blindly, they can't replace that player. Now, c'mon, that doesn't
make a lot of sense."

When Brand was president of Indiana University, he fired Bob
Knight. But if Brand was anticipating an awkward ascent in one of
the Hyatt's klieg-lit glass elevators, it never happened, for
Knight was a no-show at Knuckles. And it's true that when all was
said and done, more was said than done. But there was value in
simply showing up. "It's something that was needed, to heighten
awareness," said Kentucky coach Tubby Smith. "I expect our
players and staff to look up to me as an example of what you can
do if you do things the right away."

Having said that, he knew that most codes of ethics can be
summarized in half a sentence, four words that Smith recited
before catching a cab himself: "Knowing right from wrong."

B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER

The college hoops coaches' summit on ethics was an exercise in
expiating sins--and in public relations.

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