Maryland dropped the ball, fumbling Scarbath opportunity

John Steadman

October 10, 1990|By John Steadman

WHEN FRIENDS and fellow alumni assess the contributions of Jack Scarbath to the University of Maryland, there's resentment over the way he has been treated . . . passed over twice as athletic director for men lacking his stature, dignity, accomplishments and ability.

But last Saturday, when Andy Geiger, the new athletic director, was sitting in the press box at Byrd Stadium for the first time, he had Scarbath and Gene Corrigan, the commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference, at his side. It was as if someone wanted Scarbath there to signal all is right with the traumatized world of the battered Terrapins.

Maybe it was a genuine offer of good will, to have one of Maryland's most famous former football players in the company of the incoming AD but it smacked of a cheap political ploy. Being in Scarbath's company would, in a way, grant Geiger instant acceptability; an unspoken endorsement by one of the most popular figures in Maryland sports history.

The reaction among some former teammates of Scarbath is he was being used as a token of the past to bridge to the present and make it appear Geiger's appointment had his personal stamp of approval. Scarbath, of course, was an applicant for the position and would have been ideal.

That he didn't get the appointment is a sad reflection on Maryland. Scarbath, according to Terrapin Club members, has been responsible some years in raising more than $5 million for scholarships. And Dick Dull, a former athletic director, told of the time he had a budget problem and turned to Scarbath, who, in a matter of minutes, showed how to save $180,000.

Since Dr. William Kirwan, president of Maryland, is from someplace else, he can't be expected to understand what Scarbath meant to the school, of the effort he put in working behind the scenes to solve problems and of his standout term on the Board of Regents.

The odd twist is Scarbath was once offered the job and, to his regret, had to decline. It was his for the taking, after Jim Kehoe retired the first time. But Scarbath's privately owned business needed continuing attention and he wasn't free to accept. Then, with Maryland in trouble, even before the NCAA probe, he applied when the vacancy for athletic director opened.

But the men approving the selection, former chancellor John Slaughter, along with Kirwan, turned to Lew Perkins, who came from Wichita State. Now Maryland has another import in Geiger, who spent almost 12 years at Stanford.

There's no intent to demean Geiger, because he's not responsible for ignoring Scarbath's kindness, decency, integrity, love of the school, and, who, by dint of personal sacrifice, assisted all Maryland causes. He was behind the scenes, raising money for athletics and having personal access to some of the most important leaders in the state.

In retrospect, the handling of Scarbath notifies alumni, especially those in the Baltimore area, where he has so many admirers, that his dedication didn't count for much. If this shows how Maryland feels about one of its own, then thanks but no thanks.

Sam Lacy, sports editor of the Baltimore Afro-American, whose career and deeds will be highlighted in a forthcoming Sports Illustrated story, was in solid support of Scarbath. "I served with him on several committees," said Lacy, "and found him to be deeply sincere and having empathy for his fellow man. In my opinion, he would have been a highly effective leader because of his knowledge and the respect he has earned over a long period of time."

Kirwan wasn't around when Scarbath was leading Maryland to national prominence on the football field as an All-America quarterback and runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 1952. So his knowledge of him as an athlete can be excused but certainly the rookie president at Maryland only needs to ask questions among the alumni to find out about the extraordinary qualities of Scarbath as a business leader and citizen.

How it concluded means Maryland again becomes the loser, which is regrettable. As Jack was consoled by Elmer Wingate, a former Maryland end, over what transpired, he merely said, "I guess they didn't want what I had to offer . . . but it's still our school." When the university rejected Scarbath, it showed no more sensitivity or feeling than if it picked up an old practice football and kicked the air out of it. From the standpoint of leadership, and you only need to check the record, Maryland can't get out of its own way.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.