(NNPA)—It is not in all collegiate sports. Wrestling, hockey, track, lacrosse, etc. are not activities that involve illegal payment activity to athletes. Football and basketball are the two sports that involve the infamous “slush funds”. Currently, schools like Auburn, USC and Ohio State are under suspension and/or investigation for transgressions involving student athletes and the athletic office. It appears to be just as rampant today as it was when I played football at the University of Wisconsin. It is sick and needs to be eradicated.
It evolved after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Schools could no longer discriminate against Black athletes. The smart coaches soon realized that not only was it the law, it made a lot of good sense. Black athletes can jump higher, run faster, and hit harder than White athletes. That is not a racial statement but a biological fact. You cannot win a conference title, national championship or enjoy television revenues without a good sampling of Black athletes. At the same time television was going national and ad revenue was becoming immense. College basketball and football have become big business—a $4 billion business. Those with the best coaches and best athletes will reap serious money, enough money to fund the other sports programs, build new stadiums and start notable endowments.
Recruiting great talent is paramount. Thus, enters the cheating. It was in full swing when colleges started recruiting me and my homies for football and basketball. Money handshakes, envelopes passed to us or our parents were becoming the norm back in the late 1960s. The predominance of schools did this and Arizona State University was probably the “slut” of them all. My cousin, an all American running back went there on a recruiting trip. He was not met at the Phoenix airport by a coach or athlete but by a prostitute driving a red corvette. She took him to a drive thru restaurant, got them burgers and milkshakes and then drove to a drive in theater. It was there in the passenger seat of the corvette that she took off her skirt and saddled his lap for wild sex. The next morning the assistant coach met him for breakfast and broke out a big smile and said “do you like the way ASU treats its athletes?”
We were having a ball—a different recruiting trip each weekend replete with cash money, big promises, cute chicks and notoriety by our local newspapers. The recruiting phase was the most fun. California, Colorado, Wisconsin, Arizona, etc. made a guy like me feel greatly wanted and special. I chose the Wisconsin Badgers and they took good care of me in many ways. My cousin decided to get real religious about this and resolved he would only go to a school that wasn’t trying to offer slush to him. He ended up going to Stanford. When he announced this to the Arizona State recruiter he was soon presented a Letter of Intent from ASU with 10 one hundred dollar bills next to it. $1,000 back in 1968 was a lot of money. Still, my cousin stood his ground and went to goody, goody Stanford. He became a collegiate all American and finished with his masters degree.
There were good honest coaches also. Sadly, they weren’t at the University of Wisconsin during this time. Ohio State had the great Woodrow “Woody” Hayes. He became terribly upset that Michigan St. was winning Big 10 titles and cheating at the same time. The image of poor Bubba Smith driving on campus with a new Buick Riviera and rumors of Coach Duffy Daugherty having a safe in his office for money distribution to his football greats was intolerable. Woody went after Michigan State. At the same time a Woody Hayes disciple, Bo Schembechler, became the coach of the University of Michigan. He won the Big 10 conference his rookie year, 1969, and he did it cleanly. After a football game, the players of both teams met and talked about the hometown, high school days with the friends from the other team. We asked the Michigan guys how did they like their new coach. They said, “He’s real good but he took away our slush.” What!!! We all thought that was terrible.
Today, college sports need more people like Woody Hayes and Bo. It has gotten out of hand and the big problem is that these athletes like my cousin and me come from poor families with little to no resources. When a financial situation arises, they can help out the family or themselves by athletic office or alumni intervention—financial discretions. Each basketball and football player should receive a salary. If they were paid $30-$40 thousand each year they wouldn’t be at the “trough” trying to get fast cash. That would probably end the cheating and the tolerance of what occurs today.
(Harry Alford is co-founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.)