Arkansas assault case: program out of control

April 14, 1991|By Kevin B. Blackistone | Kevin B. Blackistone,Dallas Morning News

The stench first wafted across the Arkansas border Feb. 28, three days before the Razorbacks were to play their final Southwest Conference regular-season basketball game against Texas.

The university reported that its police and the Washington County prosecuting attorney's office were investigating an alleged on-campus sexual assault involving four members of its basketball team.

Eight days later, on the eve of the Razorbacks' opening game in the SWC tournament, the police investigation ended. A report was released. It identified the players involved as All-American Todd Day, reserve Roosevelt Wallace and redshirts Darrell Hawkins and Elmer Martin.

But the report also indicated that the woman who filed the complaint would not press charges.

Instead, the school's All-University Judicial Board would conduct its own private investigation and mete out punishment. And basketball coach Nolan Richardson, knowing that his players had acted improperly -- and probably immorally -- announced that Hawkins would be suspended for three games next season because he violated a dorm rule by allowing the woman into his room after visiting hours.

The school's judicial board reportedly completed its investigation Monday and notified the four players in question that they would be suspended for next year. The source of that information denied the report almost immediately after relaying it to an Arkansas Democrat reporter. But the newspaper stands by its story.

Something is rotten at Arkansas. But it is not the cloud of secrecy surrounding the investigation.

What is rotten at Arkansas is the iniquitous and callous manner in which it handled this affair. It is clear that for the Arkansas athletic department, it is more desirable to be a winner than to be just.

That is the only conclusion that can be drawn about an athletic program that turned a redshirt player into a fall guy for an incident that also involved a star athlete who was allowed to continue playing. All it took for Day not to suffer Hawkins' fate was that he averaged 20 points a game and could lead the Razorbacks back to the Final Four.

Richardson said he did not want to discipline his players until the final sentencing was in. Knowing their involvement, however, he should have done so immediately. Their actions may not have been illegal, but certainly they were abhorrent.

The four players admitted having sex with the woman but claimed she was a consenting adult. The police said the 34-year-old woman was legally drunk. The woman's attorney said the only reason she did not file a charge was that the prosecuting attorney said there was insufficient evidence.

The school -- Richardson, Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles and chancellor Dan Ferritor -- had a precedent for the right thing to do. Razorbacks football coach Lou Holtz left behind three starters in 1977 as his team left for the New Year's Day Orange Bowl game because of a nearly identical incident in a school athletic dormitory.

Similarly, Day and Wallace should not have played in the SWC or the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournaments last month. That was the right thing to do.

These, however, appear to be different times at Arkansas. Its athletic department appears to have lost control. Just check the blotter:

* Jan. 29: Linebacker Shannon Wright is charged with criminal trespassing and public intoxication and teammate Jerry Freese is charged with the latter.

* Dec. 14, 1990: Football players Scott Long, Ty Mason and Juju Harshaw plead guilty to breaking-and-entering charges and receive one-year suspended sentences.

* Dec. 11, 1990: Football player Patrick Crocker is arrested in Fort Smith on a charge of shoplifting.

* Oct. 20, 1990: Crocker and another football player, Kirk Collins, are arrested and charged with theft by deception of property.

And in the previous athletic year, Wright was charged with theft and assault, although the latter charge was dropped. Also, eight athletes, including five baseball players, a swimmer, a golfer and a basketball player, were implicated in illegal gambling on college football games.

Something is rotten in Fayetteville. But at least it is no longer the responsibility of the SWC to throw it out.

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