Are college athletics out of control?

September 14, 1995|By PHIL JACKMAN

The basis of college humor is poor taste. It has probably been that way since Harvard College opened its doors in 1636. That should have been taken into account last week when the student newspaper at the University of Nebraska ran a cartoon taking a shot at the off-the-field escapades of some of the football players.

Don't darken my practice field again, squeaky clean coach Tom Osborne decreed: "Attending our practices is a privilege, not a right."

Wait just a moment, Tommy, what's this "my" and "our" business? More than a few people, including the 1.6 million folks who inhabit the state, have always been under the impression that they were the true proprietors of the school, the facilities, the teams and everything else. Now you seem to be telling them that last year's national championship belongs to the athletic department.

Bad call, coach.

In case you haven't noticed, it has been some of the big names on the squad who have been grabbing the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Lawrence Phillips, for example, runs the football as well as anyone in the collegiate game and was a strong candidate for the Heisman Trophy.

After a couple of scrapes earlier got swept under the carpet, Phillips was hit with assault, trespassing and destruction of property charges earlier this week. The situation was such that police sent the female student involved in the incident out of state for her protection.

Wait, it gets worse: Riley Washington, a receiver, goes on trial next month for second-degree murder following a shooting incident in early August. Meanwhile, he's still practicing with the team.

Phillips' backup, Damon Benning, was arrested for misdemeanor assault recently and, like the first-stringer, is suspended until his case has been adjudicated. It's at this point you ask yourself, whatever happened to panty raids and streaking?

Until recent years, the likely perception has been that it was Oklahoma that had all the problems with its gridders showing up on police blotters and a star or two being hauled off to the slammer. The Cornhuskers have been more than a match for the rival Sooners.

A couple of weeks ago, when Florida opened its season, three prominent Gators were sitting out, two of them being accused of striking women, one his wife. The third, a highly touted freshman, was at the beginning of a six-game suspension for involvement in a barroom brawl.

Naturally, coaches always insist "these problems have been blown out of proportion." A Gators player added, "We didn't even know about it till y'all printed it. Y'all are some nosy folks."

At the end of this month, Virginia running back Charles Kirby faces trial for assault, battery and stalking. Meanwhile, he's playing special teams for the Cavaliers.

Last year, Baylor got rid of its women's basketball coach Pam Bowers after she reported academic cheating. She filed a $4 million lawsuit and got a handsome settlement out of court. Subsequently, an FBI investigation uncovered academic cheating, federal charges were filed and three assistant basketball coaches were convicted.

It triggered an investigation involving 70 former junior college athletes at 40 NCAA schools who took correspondent courses at Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God. It seems final examinations were being delivered to coaches prior to tests being taken by the students. Sanctions to follow.

Tennessee is punishing 31 scholarship athletes for their involvement in a $25,000 telephone credit card scandal and three football players from Southwest Missouri State have been indicted on federal cocaine charges. And let's not forget that with probation and sanctions hanging over Miami, a Hurricanes linebacker went out and assaulted a police officer and resisted arrest.

Everyone knows the surface is only being scratched by the woefully undermanned NCAA enforcement staff, and it doesn't help matters when a high-profile leader like Osborne attempts to keep all manner of misbehavior and corruption in-house.

College presidents, reclaim your athletic departments before they grab your office and turn it into a weight room.

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