Southern Methodist University's board of governors turned to the Methodist Church Wednesday to determine the truth in a mushrooming scandal over payments to football players that extends to the Texas governor's office.
William Hutchison, chairman of the SMU board of governors, called the emergency meeting of the board to discuss Gov. Bill Clements' disclosure Tuesday that board members knew of improper payments to SMU football players and voted to phase them out while the school was on a probation imposed by the National Collegiate Athletic Assn.
The board passed a resolution saying in part: "Resolved further that the President of the College of Bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church is hereby requested to immediately appoint an external committee to investigate and report to the board of trustees and publicly the accuracy (of statements)" regarding the football scandal.
Clements was chairman of the board of governors until January, when he was sworn in as the state's governor.
Hutchison and the current board members denied they authorized the payments.
Because of the payments, the NCAA decided last month to cancel the SMU football program this year and to impose additional sanctions that make competitive football at SMU unlikely well into the 1990s.
The sanctions were imposed after the resignation of several key figures at the university, including President L. Donald Shields, football Coach Bobby Collins and Athletic Director Bob Hitch.
David Berst, the NCAA's director of enforcement, said he may have had the "wrong people" in mind when the NCAA suspended SMU. Berst said he was surprised by Clements' admitted involvement in payments to SMU football players.
The NCAA investigation never turned up any evidence that Clements was involved in approving the payoffs.
"Surprise is the primary reaction," Berst said. "We had thought and believed and the investigator for the university thought we had the whole story and the right story. But we had the wrong people who were assuming responsibility for the plan to continue payments."
Clements' admission touched off waves of protest and shock on the SMU campus. The student body president was authorized by the student senate to investigate the possibility of a lawsuit to be filed "against all responsible parties and individuals for injury incurred upon the student body."
Interim President Dr. William Stallcup demanded the resignation of any board members who were aware of continuing payments to players.
Dr. Leroy Howe, president of the SMU faculty senate, said that Clements' comments reflected a "violation of trust at a high level that may end up fracturing the (SMU) community."