DALLAS — They used to say Texas had only two sports: football and spring football. Now they talk about a third: football recruiting. The competition is fierce, and the cheating in the Southwest Conference is broad. Pundits say it comes as little surprise that a Texas football scandal would somehow wend its way to the governor's mansion.
When the latest allegations of football violations surfaced at much-penalized Southern Methodist University, Bill Clements, chairman of the school's board of governors, said he was "tired of all this monkey business" and determined to get to the bottom of it.
Last week, he did.
Clements, a millionaire oilman elected governor of Texas in November, admitted he approved some of that "monkey business"--continuing cash payments to student athletes while SMU was already on probation.
The revelation was only the latest in a series of scandals gripping the Southwest Conference, and football in Texas.
King Football, lifeblood of small-town talk and big-city bragging rights in the Lone Star State, is being sacked.
"I cannot comprehend what's happening," said Frank Broyles, Arkansas athletic director and SWC veteran. "The governor's statement blew my mind. I'm not capable of plotting the future (of the SWC). If this is not a serious threat, I don't know what is."
Last month, SMU became the first school to be slapped with a version of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn.'s "death penalty." Its once-potent football program was suspended for 1987 and limited to only seven road games in 1988. Penalties on scholarships and other sanctions last through 1990. The punishment came a week before Clements' disclosure.
Texas Tech was placed on a one-year probation last Tuesday for 13 football violations. Texas Christian was placed on a three-year probation last year after the school disclosed a booster network providing payments to football players.
Houston, Texas and Texas A&M all are under NCAA or in-house investigations of their football programs, and Baylor's basketball program is on probation.
Among the eight Texas schools in the nine-member SWC--dubbed by some as "Sure We Cheat"--only weak-sister Rice has escaped suspicion.
Some say the concentration of eight major colleges in the same state heightens the competition for high school stars and pushes boosters to try to out-bid each other.
"If you go to the large businesses, corporations or law firms in the big cities, you'll find people from five, six, seven (SWC) institutions. The feelings get intense. If you lose, you've got to face the other guy all year," said SWC President Michael T. Johnson, a law professor at Houston.
Financial pressures have grown on schools, Johnson said. The battered oil economy has hurt donations, athletic programs have gotten more costly to run, scholarships are more expensive and attendance is down. It's gotten harder and harder for small schools to compete against giants in the SWC, he said.
"Some institutions face pressure to win, but some may be facing the possibility that if they don't win, they're going to shut down the athletic program," Johnson said.
Only California comes close to the number of football powers in Texas, and the Pacific 10 Conference has only four California schools.
Legendary University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal says cheating by boosters was one of the things that drove him out of coaching.
"In my mind," Royal said, "I thought it was going to get worse, and I believe it's gotten worse."
Broyles: "I don't think you've seen the end of this yet. Nothing is as much fun as it used to be, especially at my age. Football is not simple anymore.
"I think Darrell and I both said we coached in the bloom of the times," he said.
In 1985, illegal payments to players drew SMU one of the NCAA's harshest penalties ever--its sixth probation since 1958 and its third since 1981--but the school continued the payments while under sanctions.
The NCAA said 13 SMU players received illicit monthly payments totaling $61,000 and ending just last December. Clements said last week he and some other members of the board of governors made a "considered judgment decision" to continue the payments because of a "moral obligation" to players.
Reaction on a campus that already had seen its president, athletic director and football coach resign was swift.
The Faculy Senate denounced Clements. The Student Senate voted 19-5 to pursue legal action against those responsible for the mishandling of the football program, including Clements.
"Students feel the worth of their degree is being undermined," said student body President Trevor Pearlman.
A group of vice presidents and deans issued a statement deploring the decision to continue payments and calling for the resignations from the university of those involved. Clements resigned from the SMU board before being sworn in as governor in January.