A Washington State football player has told the Pacific 10 Conference that Jim Heckman, the son-in-law of Washington Coach Don James, tried to persuade him to renege on an oral commitment to sign with the Cougars two years ago.
Such activity is an apparent violation of NCAA rules, which prohibit boosters and other representatives of a university's athletic interests from contacting recruits.
The Washington State player, Singor Mobley of Tacoma, Wash., told The Times that Heckman took him to dinner and tried to persuade him to sign with Washington in the winter of 1991, shortly after Mobley had been quoted in published reports as saying he would sign with Washington State.
Mobley said he described his dealings with Heckman, publisher of a Seattle-based magazine devoted largely to Husky sports, for David Price, associate commissioner of the Pac-10, during a meeting on the Washington State campus two weeks ago. Mobley said he was contacted about the matter by Price.
A star running back and defensive back at Tacoma's Curtis High in 1990, Mobley was an honorable mention all-conference safety for Washington State as a sophomore last season, his first as a full-time starter for the Cougars. Mobley started all games this season, although he was put on probation before the Copper Bowl for delinquent traffic tickets and failure to appear in court.
The Pac-10 began investigating the Washington football program late last year as a result of published reports describing impropriety by Husky boosters and players.
Price, who is heading the investigation, declined comment on the case Friday.
Heckman is president of Sports-Image Inc., which publishes Sports Washington magazine. A former Washington student, he is married to James' youngest daughter, Jeni. They are separated.
Heckman declined to discuss the Mobley matter with The Times on Friday.
Mike Olson, editor of Sports Washington, said he had been told by Heckman to tell The Times: "He admits he's a Husky fan, and, in conversation, a Husky slant may come out. But the bottom line is he's working for a sports magazine."
The Times reported Jan. 23 that the Pac-10, as part of its investigation, is trying to determine whether Heckman attempted to persuade former Notre Dame linebacker Demetrius DuBose to transfer to Washington in 1990.
According to sources familiar with the matter, DuBose, a Seattle native, has informed the Pac-10 that Heckman told him that Washington would be a better place for him to play college football if he planned to settle in the Seattle area.
Mobley told The Times that Heckman used similar language during a meeting at The Keg, a Tacoma restaurant, in 1991. Mobley said that Heckman arranged the meeting after Mobley had announced that he planned to sign with Washington State.
"(Heckman) called me up and said, 'You made a mistake. I want to take you out for dinner. Let's discuss this,' " he said.
Mobley said Heckman picked him up at his home and drove him to the restaurant, where Heckman paid for the meal.
Recalling Heckman's remarks during the meeting, Mobley said:
"He was saying that the University of Washington program is a winning program. My high school team was a two-time state champion at the time, and he was saying, 'You don't want to go to a losing program. You still want to be with a winner.'
"And then he started saying, 'Business-wise, it's better to go to (Washington) because it's in the city. You have more (business) connections and all that.' "
Mobley said he had selected Washington State over Washington in part because the Cougars seemed more inclined to let him play defensive back instead of running back--a matter, he said, that Heckman also addressed during the dinner.
At the end of the meal, Mobley said, Heckman used a cellular phone to contact a person Mobley believed to be a Washington booster. Mobley said he was encouraged by Heckman to talk to the booster about playing defense at Washington. Mobley said he does not recall the booster's name.
"I was saying (to Heckman), 'Well, I'd rather play defense,' " he said. "Then he called an alum--I don't remember his name--as we were leaving The Keg. I talked to the guy, and he was saying stuff like, 'Yeah, I think you'd be a good defensive back. You should come to our school.' "
Mobley was profiled in Sports Washington in November of 1990 as the magazine's "Prepstar of the Month." The article was written by Olson.
Mobley said he was first contacted about the article by Heckman.
Then, on a Saturday, Mobley said, he and his father, Eugene Mobley, came to the magazine's office, where they met Heckman and were interviewed by Olson.
After the interview, Mobley said, he and his father went to breakfast at a coffee shop near Husky Stadium with Heckman. Mobley said that Heckman paid for the meal. After breakfast, Mobley said, the three went to that day's Husky game.
According to Mobley, Heckman pointed out during the game that Greg Lewis, the Huskies' tailback at the time, was a senior and that Mobley could replace him.