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MIKE DOWNEY

Too-Harsh Penalties Don't Fit the Crimes

August 23, 1993|MIKE DOWNEY

The punishment meted out against the University of Washington's football program that led to the resignation of an outstanding coach and upstanding man, Don James, is grotesquely inappropriate, entirely unnecessary in its harshness and is more embarrassing to the Pacific 10 Conference than the various crimes of which Washington was found guilty.

Flagged for illegal motion, the Huskies have been penalized 100 yards.

Insanity.

The Pac-10 did more than throw the book at Washington; it threw the whole shelf. Two years of probation and banishment from bowl games, drastically diminished TV-rights revenues and severely reduced scholarship availability? This is the kind of crackdown necessitated by horrendous or repeat offenders, not by an estimable university that cooperated fully with the conference's investigation.

While certainly a school is responsible in a buck-stops-here way for monitoring--or not monitoring--the outside activities of overzealous boosters, in no way did Washington faculty members actively engage in either loans to student-athletes or in any kind of cover-up thereafter. What Washington did indeed required disciplinary action, but not this much discipline. This is tantamount to corporal punishment for throwing spitballs.

The Pac-10 has chased off the dean of conference coaches, a man who has seen 18 other coaches come, go and--in the cases of Bill Walsh and John Robinson--even return to other member schools.

On the drizzly Seattle day 19 months ago that Don James discovered that his team had been certified No. 1 in the country by a poll of college football's coaches and made unofficial national champion--Jan. 2, 1992, two days after his 60th birthday--he was so touched that he said: "It's a great day in the life of a football coach."

Sunday was not.

After 16 consecutive winning seasons, James stepped down Sunday, steeped in probationary disgrace. No wonder Washington's distinguished athletic director, Barbara Hedges, said she was "shocked and stunned" after the Pac-10's verdict was passed down. Not only had she no recourse with the NCAA in having the penalties lessened, but now she had lost her formidable coach, 12 days before the season opener.

Did Washington do wrong? You bet your sweet life Washington did wrong. There were two dozen allegations of NCAA rules violations against the university and very few of them were contested by the school. They ranged from illegal loans and jobs given to players, some even before their actual enrollment, to other lesser infractions that the university itself investigated with "no stone unturned," to quote Hedges.

Washington's own in-house investigation uncovered a $50,000 loan from a booster to a quarterback, a fact that even a Pac-10 "compliance committee" acknowledged Sunday in saying that school officials were found to be totally unaware that this outrageous financial aid had occurred.

While it is doubtful that the university would have blown the whistle on itself had its violations not been elsewhere exposed--rare is the campus that polices itself until after the fact--at least some benefit of the doubt could have been afforded a school that was only indirectly guilty in its wrongdoing and had every intention of weeding out the wrongdoers, one by one.

Washington had been so ordered as recently as Saturday, and was in the process of obeying when the hammer came down again, harder.

Gone, ineligible, could be excellent players such as senior tailback Beno Bryant, whose self-confidence was great going into this season. In the school's new media guide, the question is posed: "Who is the offensive player that will surprise people in 1993?" Bryant's reply is: "Me."

Joe Kralik, a flanker, also could be off the team. Kralik's father is an administrator in the Tacoma school system. Joe is a criminology major. Now he has been implicated in the Husky recruiting scandal, as has defensive lineman D'Marco Farr of San Pablo, Calif. Farr had been counting on another crack at a player he refers to only as "The Blue Blur At Michigan," Tyrone Wheatley, who rushed for 235 yards against Washington in the Rose Bowl.

He won't get the chance. Neither will the great Don James, who has won more bowl games than any coach except Bear Bryant, Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden. In a half-serious listing of college football's top three coaches, Sports Illustrated named: "1. Don James, Washington. 2. Don James, Washington. 3. Don James, Washington."

He and his wife, Carol, have a favorite song, "Always," the tune that accompanied the romance between Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright in the film "Pride of the Yankees." It was their intent to stick together that way and it was Don's intent to be thought of as Washington's football coach that way, always.

As of today, though, Don James is no longer football coach for the University of Washington, and that is a crime. A football program that needed its wrist slapped has just been knocked down and kicked.

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