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Price Is New Star of NCAA Law

Administration: Former Pac-10 director of enforcement takes similar position with national organization.

August 04, 1998|GREG SANDOVAL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

David Price has worked as the Pacific 10's beat cop for 18 years, poking, probing, digging and delving into the affairs of athletic departments, ensuring that schools play by the rules.

Now, he patrols the nation.

Price, the Pac-10's director of enforcement, was hired last week by the NCAA to enforce its rules for almost 1,000 member schools.

When he takes over as the NCAA's vice president of enforcement and student-athlete reinstatement next month, Price will have the power to topple athletic programs, erase championships, bar teams from bowl games and tournaments and alter coaches' and athletes' careers if he finds they violated NCAA rules.

"Those things can happen," Price, 55, said Monday. "But they're definitely not the kind of things we want. We hope to avoid those situations."

Price said he does not intend to upset the relative calm the NCAA is enjoying now. NCAA officials said there are three or four major scandals a year on average. And more than ever before, schools are turning themselves in when they catch violations.

In Price, the NCAA is getting an administrator with a reputation as a bulldog investigator.

Every school in the Pac-10 has been penalized or sanctioned as a result of Price's investigations.

The biggest and most publicized was an intensive seven-month probe of the Washington football team in 1993.

The school's boosters were accused of numerous infractions, and Price conducted more than 200 interviews.

Price found that Husky boosters made improper loans to players, offered cash inducements and even offered to adopt one athlete if he attended Washington.

Washington was put on two years' probation and banned from bowl competition. Longtime coach Don James resigned in protest.

"I was sad about that," Price said of James' resignation. "He's a legend in the Washington area. But you can't worry about the consequences when you start. I want to be as compassionate as I can, but I also understand that I have a set of rules to enforce."

Price is no heavy-handed inquisitor. His tact and his toughness got him the job, NCAA President Cedric Dempsey said.

"Even in emotional and volatile situations, he maintains a calm," Dempsey said. "He always is respectful of the people he's investigating and understands the athletes' lives and the temptations they face."

USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett said he hasn't always agreed with Price but that he trusts him.

"He's a fair man," Garrett said. "[When he's investigating] he doesn't get into manipulation or make it personal."

According to Pac-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen, Price's ability to keep things light in tense situations is the key to his success.

"I think it's his sense of humor that makes him a good investigator," Hansen said. "He can disarm anyone with it. He's so intelligent. People tell him things they might not normally talk about."

His sense of humor helped Price through the Washington case.

On the day the penalties against the Huskies were announced, the Pac-10 office in Walnut Creek, Calif., received hundreds of letters accusing Price of lying and being biased against Washington. One fan sent him a box of screws, indicating what he thought Price was doing to his beloved school.

"I used the screws to fix my backyard wall," Price said. "I thought something positive should be done with them."

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