Since Len Bias' cocaine-induced death, the University of Maryland athletic program has nearly collapsed, following a trend of hiring successful, respected coaches and athletic directors and bringing out their worst.
Maryland is reeling from another blow to its downward spiraling athletic program Friday, when the NCAA announced it would not lessen severe sanctions levied against the university in May.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 8, 1990 Home Edition Sports Part C Page 11 Column 4 Sports Desk 2 inches; 56 words Type of Material: Correction
Maryland--A caption running with the University of Maryland story in Tuesday's editions incorrectly said that Lefty Driesell, then Terrapin basketball coach, told his players to clean the dormitory room in which Len Bias had died of a cocaine overdose. A grand jury investigation in 1986 was unable to verify that accusation and neither Driesell nor any of his players or coaching staff was charged.
The ruling was the most recent episode of a saga that has seen the resignation of two basketball coaches, two athletic directors and a president, and that has left the university with a projected budget deficit of $2.6 million for the upcoming academic year.
Before Bias' death, Maryland was considered one of the top athletic programs in the country, producing nationally competitive teams and showcasing such athletic talents as Boomer Esiason, Buck Williams, Adrian Branch, John Lucas, Renaldo Nehemiah and Ferrell Edmunds.
Since then, the Terrapins have been a case study in ongoing mismanagement that was brought to a head in March when the university was sanctioned by the NCAA for a lack of institutional control over its athletic program.
A yearlong NCAA investigation into allegations of basketball recruiting violations and other improprieties found the university in violation of 13 NCAA rules, the most serious of which included scalping complimentary Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament tickets, giving greatly discounted clothing to recruits and giving a loan and transportation to a former player who was trying to regain his eligibility.
For that, the NCAA put the basketball program on three years' probation; prohibited postseason play through the 1991-92 season; prohibited television appearances during the 1990-91 season, effectively eliminating the Terrapins from the ACC tournament; and ordered the forfeiture of $361,000 for their participation in the 1988 NCAA tournament. The NCAA also ordered a reduction in the number of scholarships from 15 to 13 through the 1991-92 season.
"The sanctions went way beyond what they should have been, given our total cooperation, our absence of any violation in the past and the fact that everyone named in the charges had left the institution," said Maryland President Dr. William Kirwan. "They sent the wrong message.
"In fact, I've gotten some calls (from other schools) on that very point. They've asked if they should cooperate (in NCAA investigations) to the extent that we did. I can understand why it would give other schools some pause.
"The alternative is to hire an expensive lawyer and cut off communication (with the NCAA) and treat it as a totally adversarial relationship."
Despite their recent problems, Maryland administrators are saying that last week's denial of the appeal marks the turning of a page in the school's history, that the university now can begin to put its problems behind it.
Maryland has pitched the same "new leaf" idea after every hiring or resignation over the last four years.
The NCAA is conducting another investigation of Maryland, this one concerning the report that basketball Coach Gary Williams observed a practice before the official Oct. 15 starting date last season.
The jury is still out on Maryland, and may be for some time.
Charles G. (Lefty) Driesell coached Maryland basketball for 17 years, and in his final seasons at Maryland was able to successfully recruit Len Bias, who went on to become one of college basketball's great players. Someone said, "Watch Len Bias play once, love him forever."
At 6-feet-8, Bias was an indomitable ball of energy, capable of carrying a team single-handedly. Drive the lane, slam dunks, double-pump fakes, sink three-pointers--Bias could do it all. His presence alone gave his Terrapins an advantage, since the opposition would surely have to double- or triple-team him.
The 22-year-old Bias was selected by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the 1986 NBA draft, then came to a handshake agreement on a $1.6-million, five-year endorsement contract with Reebok shoes the next morning.
Bias returned to College Park from Boston that night for a private party at his dormitory.
Teammates Terry Long and David Gregg and friend Brian Tribble met Bias at his dormitory on the South side of the campus at about 3 a.m. Shortly afterword, the group began snorting cocaine.
Long and Gregg said later that they warned Bias not to snort too much, but that he didn't listen.
A few hours later, Bias had a seizure, dropped to the floor, lost consciousness and regained it. Then he had a second seizure and still another. Long tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but it didn't work.
At 6:32 a.m., Tribble called 911, and at 8:50 a.m., on June 19, 1986, Bias was pronounced dead.
An autopsy later determined that cocaine had interrupted the electrical activity to Bias' brain, ending the flow of signals to the heart and causing it to stop beating.