Football Penalties Trigger Debate
Fans say Huskies treated too harshly; issue shows need for better monitoring
SEATTLE — AT the Ram Cafe and Sports Bar near the University of Washington's Husky Stadium, there is little joy for football fans as the season opener nears.
"It will be 10 years before the program is [back] to where it is right now," laments patron Greg Decker.
"This is as near to the death penalty as you can come," adds Jeff Paradise, the cafe's manager.
The cause of their concern: the double blow this week of heavy penalties against the Huskies for rule violations and the loss of head coach Don James, who has won more games than any other Pacific 10 Conference coach ever in his 19 years with the Huskies. He resigned in protest on Sunday, the day the sanctions were announced. The Pac 10 is the only conference that conducts its own compliance investigations.
In a city where football reins supreme among college spectator sports, thousands of fans are stunned.
The penalties, criticized in the local press as the "harshest ever" against a Pac-10 school, include: two years on probation; a ban on competing in postseason bowl games for two years; loss of TV revenues for 1993; a limit of 15 first-year football scholarships for two years; and cutting the allowable number of paid recruiting visits in football from 70 to 35 this year and 40 next year.
The penalties also render three current players ineligible. But since the violations involved few current players and none of the coaches, many fans say the penalties are extreme.
The Pac 10 is "punishing the people who got to the scene of the accident," Mr. Decker says, referring to coaches and current and future players.
The violations mostly involved ties between University of Washington players and "boosters" not employed by the university who support the football program in various ways.
The presidents and chancellors of the Pac 10 Conference unanimously found the University guilty of 15 violations in six areas: (1) an improper loan of $50,000 to quarterback Billy Joe Hobert, now with the Los Angeles Raiders; (2) free meals and excessive wages provided to student athletes by boosters; (3) improper employment of students by boosters; (4) improper recruiting inducements by boosters; (5) improper recruiting contracts by boosters; and (6) improper use of meal expenses by student hosts during
official recruiting visits.
The penalties and the lengthy investigation leading up to it have heightened awareness of the need to better monitor players and boosters. "The boosters are overzealous in their wanting to have a great team," Mr. Paradise says. The university has already disassociated itself from four boosters involved in the violations. Though he agrees with Decker that the wrong people are being punished, Paradise says the University had to be hit with some punishment for the numerous violations over a long period.
The university "was made an example of by the Pac 10," Paradise adds. He says a similar effort should go into investigating practices at other schools, perhaps using the estimated $1.4 million in television revenue that the University will lose.
Coach James's reputation for integrity remained untarnished throughout the investigation, he said "I can no longer coach in a conference that treats its members, its coaches, and their players so unfairly."