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The Inside Track | COMMENTARY

Can Things Get Worse in College Athletics?

August 24, 2003|Laura Vecsey | Baltimore Sun

Patrick Dennehy and Carlton Dotson were Baylor University teammates. They were friends. Now Dennehy is dead and Dotson is in a Kent County jail after a Maryland judge this week granted a 60-day stay of extradition to Texas, where the death penalty is always an option.

Friends and teammates, now separated by two bullets plugged into the side of Dennehy's head and murder charges for Dotson. These facts alone make this one of the saddest stories you'll ever read, at least on the sports pages.

Not that Division I athletics isn't a place where increasingly more stories are spawned about people flailing in a duplicitous, if not corrupt, culture -- one ruled by winning and TV deals.

Of course, charges like these rankle NCAA President Myles Brand. In June, Brand addressed a conference of athletic directors of Division I schools and lamented their plight.

"When a columnist talks about the size of budgets or the cost of tickets, we need to be ready with the number of student-athletes who are provided the opportunity to play sports and what it costs to put a student-athlete on the field or court," he said.

As if columnists invented Baylor University -- or all the other stuff.

You've got coaches fighting recruiting battles by stuffing money into sneakers. Not that the Maryland football program is guilty of anything more than having an over-eager assistant on board. Now the Terps are on probation, the price of running an up-and-coming NCAA power.

You've got conferences waging takeovers to fatten TV contracts. Not that five schools in the Big East didn't file a lawsuit to try to stop the Atlantic Coast Conference from destroying the Big East.

And then there's this breaking news out of Buffalo, N.Y., where Thursday the board chairman at Atlantic 10 basketball school St. Bonaventure reportedly committed suicide. William Swan, a banking chief executive who helped the Bonnies through an eligibility scandal, had been "despondent over issues that had occurred as a result of his positions" at the university, state police told the Associated Press.

How despondent is Baylor President Robert Sloan over the murder and mayhem that went down on his watch? Not enough to cancel the season for the men's basketball team, which may be getting a new coach but might not have players, now that the NCAA will allow them to transfer without having to sit out a season. No wonder Baylor faculty leaders are calling for a vote of no-confidence on Sloan.

The Baptist school is in shambles, and it's little wonder. What has happened at Baylor ranks as the worst thing ever to take place in college athletics.

Not worst as in terrible. Those things would be the unimaginable death of Len Bias or the sudden collapse of Hank Gathers. That would be the plane crash that killed those Oklahoma State players or the Texas A&M bonfire that killed those Aggie fans.

Not worst as in bullying or sadistic. That would be Bob Knight accosting his son on the sideline, choking another Indiana player during a practice or generally running a program based on fear and terror. That would be Jackie Sherrill cutting off the testicles of a bull in front of his Mississippi State football team to "prepare" it for the big game against Texas.

Not even worst as in cheating or turning a blind eye. That would be Jerry Tarkanian at UNLV and Fresno State or Jim Harrick at UCLA, Rhode Island and Georgia.

The stuff that went down at Baylor is light years worse than Washington's Rick Neuheisel lying to the NCAA about gambling or Iowa State's Larry Eustachy kissing coeds or Alabama firing Mike Price for being a drunk.

Turns out those stupid human tricks and ill-advised forays into the gray area of NCAA rules were merely buffoonish warm-up acts. At Baylor, it was evil.

Listen to the words of Dave Bliss. They tell the worst story ever in college athletics.

"What we've got to create here is drugs," Bliss said in secret tapes a Baylor assistant turned over to university investigators.

"Dennehy is never going to refute what we say ....If there's any way that we can even create the perception of the fact that Pat may have been a (drug) dealer ... that can save us."

Once Dennehy was reported missing and then dead and once Dotson was charged with murder, Bliss could turn his attention on the real victim. Himself. With NCAA violations to cover up, Bliss schemed up a satanic dose of salvation to explain away improper payments for Dennehy.

A check with the NCAA revealed that Brand is not planning to address the Baylor situation publicly. The only thing the NCAA would say is that it granted the still-living and non-incarcerated players the freedom to transfer.

"It's definitely a rare occurrence (to allow every player on a team to transfer) because of the number and the situation that the athletes and institution was under. This was really a different situation," said NCAA spokesman Jeff Howard.

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