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Investigating Huskies Not Easy : Scandal: Pac-10's Price interviewed 225 while building his case against Washington.

August 24, 1993|ELLIOTT ALMOND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Last winter, David Price of the Pacific 10 Conference was reeling as allegations against the University of Washington's football program were leveled almost daily.

Within a month, stories broke about $50,000 in unsecured loans to starting quarterback Billy Joe Hobert and boosters paying athletes thousands of dollars for little or no work, and giving cash inducements.

During that time, a Washington football player was arrested in a high-profile drug bust, which only added to the negative perception of Husky football.

Price, the conference's associate commissioner, launched an investigation against what at times were difficult odds. Many individuals were unwilling to talk because of the publicity generated by stories in the Los Angeles Times and Seattle Times.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 25, 1993 Home Edition Sports Part C Page 9 Column 4 Sports Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Washington investigation--A story in Tuesday's editions quoted Pac-10 investigator David Price as saying that five conference schools were on probation in 1979. The year was actually 1980.

But those reports alone were not enough to charge the school with serious NCAA rules infractions. What Price needed was evidence that a pattern of serious violations occurred within the NCAA's four-year statute of limitations.

"We had to have a hook because if it had stopped more than four years ago, we couldn't touch it," Price said Monday, a day after the conference put Washington on two years' probation.

Shortly after the sanctions were announced, Coach Don James resigned in protest of what he characterized as unfair treatment by the conference.

As the lead investigator on the case, Price made a sweep through the Pac-10 schools to talk to every football player recruited by Washington.

His exhaustive approach resulted in charges that implicated Washington boosters within the allowed period of time. One of the most striking involved an allegation that Seattle businessman Herb Mead had offered to adopt Johnnie Morton, a USC senior receiver, when Morton was recruited by the Huskies in 1989.

Another involved Jim Heckman, James' former son-in-law, who encouraged Demetrius DuBose to renege on his oral commitment to Notre Dame and instead enroll at Washington, also in 1989. Price also found evidence that Heckman encouraged DuBose to transfer to Washington when the Irish star worked for him a year later.

Another charge involved the distribution of money to student hosts for meal expenses for recruits. The conference found that the university demonstrated a lack of institutional control over the cash.

That charge was deemed one of the most serious by the Pac-10 Council, which meted out harsh penalties last weekend after judging the case. Washington was banned from postseason bowl games for two years, will not receive a projected $1.4 million in television revenue this season and lost as many as 20 football scholarships over the next two academic years.

Although some of the charges stemmed from allegations made by former players who were disgruntled with the program, Price took all claims seriously. He tried to tape every significant interview, even though he talked to more than 225 people.

"The fact some players were unhappy doesn't make what they say incorrect," Price said. "We don't discount it. We attempt to corroborate it through independent resources."

Some of the most potentially damaging information was not included in the Washington case because of obstacles in the system. Investigators do not have subpoena power to encourage individuals to speak. Students or employees of member institutions are required to cooperate, but there is no guarantee they will. Officials do not have the ability to charge perjury if someone lies to them.

Furthermore, some witnesses told The Times that Washington boosters tried to persuade them to either recant or change their stories when talking to conference officials.

One former Husky who cooperated with Price later signed a contradictory statement prepared by a booster's attorney, Price said. That statement gave a positive portrayal of the booster and discredited the player's revealing interview with the conference.

Another former player who provided information seemed to exaggerate claims of abuse. Price argued with him at length to get to the truth, and eventually discounted many of the player's allegations.

Price, 51, has spent almost 13 years monitoring Pac-10 schools since he left the Missouri Valley Conference, where he was commissioner from 1979-81. When he joined the conference, he was told to be aggressive in enforcement proceedings.

Although lacking investigative skills at the time, Price was familiar with the rule book. While working for the NCAA as an assistant in the public relations department in 1963, Price had published the first NCAA Manual. It was four pages.

Now Price is an anomaly among conference administrators. In the complex structure of NCAA enforcement procedures, he is the only conference official who handles major infraction cases without help from the national governing body.

Price, who was a junior college journalism student before studying public relations at the University of Oklahoma, has earned a reputation as a serious enforcer of NCAA rules.

He has handled some of the conference's major scandals, including those at Arizona State, USC, UCLA and the Oregon schools.

The Washington case has been his most exhaustive; Price said it would have taken NCAA investigators about two years to complete their work. He did it in seven months.

"In 1979, (the Pac-10) had five different schools on probation," Price said, referring to USC, UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona State.

Fortunately for the conference, Washington won the football title and the Rose Bowl berth.

The Huskies were one of the clean programs back then.

Times staff writer Danny Robbins contributed to this story.

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