‘It was just a bunch of kids playing big people’s games. I don’t think you can pass it off as a pure college prank, but it had the aura of gamesmanship. I don’t think they understood the seriousness of it.’
--Mike Fawer, an attorney representing Gary B. Kranz
Midday interlude. Kids are playing softball on a makeshift field in front of Monroe Hall, a high-rise dormitory at Tulane University. It is the usual springtime foolery, with most of the best hits coming from the kibitzers drinking beer and sunning themselves on the patios that ring the dorm.
The kibitzers pass, however, on the joke otherwise current at all official and unofficial campus sporting events--you pull out a $20 bill, wave it under someone’s nose and ask him if he would throw the game.
They pass because Clyde Eads and Jon Johnson, two of the players involved in the Tulane basketball scandal, a scandal in which points were shaved and a game was thrown, a scandal which destroyed a program and may yet destroy some lives, reside in Monroe Hall.
A stranger asks one of the players where Eads lives and the game all but shuts down. Nobody wants to say. Is the stranger a cop? A lawyer? A reporter? Most of the kids look down or look away. The stranger asks again and somebody says, “Sixth floor,” and the game resumes.
On the sixth floor, Clyde Eads turns down the Bruce Springsteen record on the stereo before answering the knock on his door, finds a reporter outside and says, “I’m not supposed to say anything, but, what the hell, come on in and have a beer.”
Eads, a friend says, is the campus teddy bear. He’s as big as a bear and friendly as a pup and doesn’t have a very good notion--even now--of how to say no. The case was broken when an attorney, at the behest of the district attorney, persuaded Eads to accept immunity for his crimes and tell the whole sordid story.
Eads has been advised by his attorney not to discuss the case further, but he says he might reconsider for a cover story in Rolling Stone. That’s Eads, the game-thrower, the program-wrecker. His next goal in life, he says, is to move to California and learn how to surf.
He went home to Tampa, Fla., the day before Tulane President Eamon Kelly announced on April 4 that in the wake of the scandal the basketball program would be disbanded--the cancer removed even if it meant killing the patient.
“I saw it on the Tom Brokaw news,” Eads says. “I couldn’t believe it. I never dreamed something like this could happen . . .
“This whole thing has been blown out of proportion,” he finally says.
You see, he doesn’t understand. Never has.
New Orleans is a town not unaccustomed to sticky-sweet smell of scandal. If the governor isn’t under indictment, then there’s a voodoo-ritual murder at the Hyatt. This is the town that gave us Bourbon Street, Mardi Gras and bacchanalia unknown to Middle America. This is a town, after all, whose greatest hero is Jean Lafitte, a pirate.
But when the story broke last month that five Tulane players had taken $23,000 to shave points in two basketball games, even scandal-loving New Orleans was stunned. And the scandal grew, it seemed, with each passing day. Cocaine was said to be central to the scandal. And beyond the illegalities were grievous violations of NCAA rules.
John (Hot Rod) Williams, Tulane’s star player and an alleged participant in the point-shaving scheme, told prosecutors he had received $10,000 in a shoebox to attend Tulane and that he had received weekly payments of as much as $100 since. Coach Ned Fowler and two of his assistants, Mike Richardson and Max Pfeifer, though not involved in the point-shaving, were forced to resign. Hindman Wall, the athletic director, also resigned. The basketball program was disbanded, apparently forever. “Permanent is permanent,” President Kelly said.
And Sports Illustrated later reported that Williams, who has pleaded innocent to all charges, was admitted to Tulane with a Scholastic Aptitude Test score of 470, only 70 points above the minimum and nearly 700 points below the Tulane median score.
All this at Tulane, a school that had never even been to the NCAA basketball tournament, a school with a high academic standing and one thought to be, if nothing else, clean.
“I felt shock, disbelief, humiliation and a sense of tragedy,” said Lawrence Powell, a Tulane associate professor of history, who was named by Kelly to chair a select committee to investigate the affair.
“We know it’s true,” said a freshman who lives a few doors from Eads. “We know it’s true, but we still can’t believe it.”
What is truly unbelievable is how it happened. There was no mob involvement, no grown men offering cocaine candy to young, easily influenced basketball players. This was an inside job. This was a case where, according to reports from the district attorney’s office, three Tulane students, one-time fraternity brothers from upper-class Northeast suburbs, figured a way to make money. They went to Eads and Johnson, who involved three other players, including Williams. Two accused bookmakers are also charged, but their alleged involvement is apparently peripheral.
“It was just a bunch of kids playing big people’s games,” said Mike Fawer, an attorney representing Gary B. Kranz, 21, who faces charges of distributing cocaine and of sports bribery. “I don’t think you can pass it off as a pure college prank, but it had the aura of gamesmanship. I don’t think they understood the seriousness of it.”
Certainly, they weren’t pros. The news was soon all over town; no one seemed able to keep quiet. One of the students went to Las Vegas to place bets and, according to a professional gambler there, didn’t even know how the system worked.
Kirk Saulny, the lone Tulane assistant who didn’t resign, heard rumors of point shaving from a coach in Atlanta three weeks before the case broke. He reported what he had learned to Kelly, who advised the FBI.
Edward F. (Ned) Kohnke IV, an attorney with close ties to Tulane, heard the rumors from his brother Doug, who said a friend of his had been told by one of the players, Bobby Thompson, that the fix was on.
“It was all over the streets,” said Kohnke, who went to the district attorney, Harry Connick, with what he had heard. Kohnke offered to approach Eads, whom he knew, to see what could be learned.
“It’s not that Clyde is remorseless,” Kohnke said. “It’s just that he and the others don’t fathom what they’ve done. They don’t understand that they’ve destroyed a program that was more than 40 years in the making, a program that some people live and die for. They don’t understand what they’ve done to themselves, how they’ll never be the same.
“This is a true tragedy, one it will take a long time for us to get over.”
There was no conspiracy beyond the Tulane campus. The drug connection may have been overplayed. And there is, apparently, no nationwide network of point-shaving intrigue. It’s one school and a few kids. But, of course, it has happened before--most recently at Boston College in 1981--and it will probably happen again.
And, of course, there is much more to this story than point-shaving. What happened at Tulane is a microcosm of all that is wrong with college athletics today.
“The point-shaving is the lesser offense,” said Henry Mason, a Tulane professor of political science. “What is more disturbing is the betting by students, the payments made to athletes by coaches and boosters and the academic deficiencies of the athletes.
“The faculty must now look at the football program. We don’t expect to find point-shaving there, but there is no reason to believe the other vices don’t occur there.”
Or that they don’t occur regularly at many, perhaps most, other schools.
It began with cocaine. Eads was looking for a connection, and, according to the story he told the district attorney, he was introduced to Gary Kranz, a Tulane student. Eads later introduced Kranz to Johnson. And Kranz introduced the athletes to Mark Olensky and David Rothenberg.
Tulane, a well respected private institution, traditionally attracts many students from the East. Kranz is from New Rochelle, N.Y., Olensky from Fair Lawn, N.J., and Rothenberg from Wilton, Conn. They met as freshmen while at Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity and became fast friends.
They were far from poor--two of them drove BMWs--and all, according to the prosecution, dabbled in cocaine. Olensy’s father, William, is associated with a New York tout sheet called Tipps, according to prosecutors.
This is the case the prosecution will present:
Kranz wanted some basketball gear, and Johnson got him eight pairs of shorts, two sweat shirts, one pair of sweat pants, one Tulane team jersey, one warmup suit and a pair of sneakers in exchange for a half of gram of cocaine.
About two weeks later, on Feb. 2, the day of the Southern Mississipi game, Kranz approached Eads about shaving points that night. Eads went to Johnson, and the players, both senior forwards, told Kranz that it couldn’t be done without Williams’ involvement. They talked it over with Williams, the senior center, and sophomore guard David Dominique, and an agreement was made. Later, reserve guard Bobby Thompson was brought in.
Tulane was favored by 10 1/2 points, and what the players had to do was ensure that Tulane does not win by more than 10. There was little time to get much money down, but they did bet around $7,000.
Tulane won by a point, 64-63.
Williams, Eads and Johnson eached received $900, Dominique and Thompson $400.
“Dominique didn’t want to risk it again,” Kohnke said. “But the others wanted to. Clyde just went along.”
The next time was to be Feb. 16 against Virginia Tech, but Dominique was stalling. Finally, the players agreed to throw their Feb. 20 game against Memphis State, a seven-point favorite.
The players received $13,500, with $4,500 going to Williams. Olensky and Rothenberg collected $34,000 to wager while Kranz was in Florida with his parents. They had to spread the money around--$18,000 at 10 different sports books in Las Vegas, $10,000 with a bookie in Birmingham and $6,000 in New Orleans.
Meanwhile, Thompson allegedly went to Roland Ruiz, 48, a convicted gambler, and told him he could arrange to shave points against Memphis State, neglecting to tell him that the fix was already on. Double dipping, they call it. Ruiz and Craig Bourgeois are charged with paying Thompson $6,000. Both have pleaded innocent.
But the game was not going according to plan. Sometimes, it’s harder not to play hard, and Tulane was leading by seven points at the half. The players involved had a private meeting about what to do. Quickly, Tulane fell behind and lost by 11, 60-49.
There was talk about throwing the Louisville game, but the players wouldn’t go along. So, it was ended.
Or so it seemed.
Eads was stunned when Kohnke picked him up at school one day and told him the district attorney knew what was going on and that he had better cooperate.
Kohnke: “I told him, ‘Clyde, we know you fixed the Memphis State game. We know how you did it. We know who did it. Now don’t talk to me like I’m stupid. I’m prepared to offer you immunity. If you don’t want to accept it, we’ll give it to someone else. Bobby Thompson has already blabbed. I can go to him.’
“Clyde wanted to know if Johnson could get immunity, too. I told him he could. We didn’t know anything about the Southern Miss game at the time. Clyde went to the D.A.'s office and told the entire story. J.J. (Johnson) followed him, and soon the story was out.”
Johnson and Eads were given immunity. Thompson pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit sports bribery and is cooperating with the prosecution. Rothenberg pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy.
Kranz and Olensky, who both face drug charges as well as bribery charges, have pleaded innocent. So have Williams and Dominique.
“The only thing I’ve read about him (Williams) is what drug addicts have said about him,” said Mike Green, a Chicago attorney who is one of five representing Williams.
But, according to reports, the prosecutors have a videotape of Williams confessing his involvement.
Kranz’s attorney, Mike Fawer, calls the cocaine charges against his client ridiculous. But when asked if Kranz had nothing to do with the point shaving, Fawer said, “It would be foolish to say that.”
There are some questions yet to be answered. One of them is simple: Why?
Kohnke has one answer.
“They were supposed to win the Southern Miss game and they did,” he said. “And they were supposed to lose to Memphis State and they did. I don’t think they thought they were doing anything wrong.”
And, of course, the money. Obviously, they did it for the money.
But the one who certainly shouldn’t have, the one who had the most to lose, was John Williams. Last season, he was the Metro Conference Player of the Year. He was invited to the Olympic tryout camp. The 6-9 center figured to be a late first-round pick in the upcoming National Basketball Assn. draft.
Now, if he is convicted, his NBA career and a contract that would probably have netted him several hundred thousand dollars will be a broken dream.
His attorneys will probably say he is a victim of the system. They might base their defense on the fact that Williams had received money to come to Tulane, more money to play at Tulane, and that he wasn’t able to discern the moral difference.
Certainly, there is some accountability.
Williams comes from the small Louisiana town of Sorrento. At St. Amant High, he was a poor students and graduated 182nd in a class of 261. According to Sports Illustrated, he had no plans to attend college and didn’t take his SATs until August 21, 1981, weeks before enrolling at Tulane.
How does a subpar student with 470 on his SATs get into Tulane where the mean score is 1121?
And how does he stay in school?
Sports Illustrated said that his grade-point average was only slightly below 2.0, but that his classes included volleyball, weight training, soccer, beginning gymnastics, archery, first aid and CPR, beginning racquetball and driver education. He failed the same psychology course three times. He also failed beginning golf.
Professor Mason said the faculty was always assured that standards for athletes, while lower, were not much different than those of the greater student body.
“We stupidly, naively, accepted what they said,” Mason said. “Obviously, that was not the case. Williams was obviously not a college student of any kind. . . . We want to know how that can happen.”
It is easier to figure why Williams needed money.
The trailer in which Barbara Colar, the woman who raised Williams, lives burned down last year. She needed money to buy a new one. Williams has an illegitimate son. He had no money.
Kent McWilliams, an oilman who has given millions of dollars to Tulane, has told several reporters that Fowler admitted giving money to Williams.
McWilliams said Fowler told him, “I gave John money because he had a baby, his house had burned down and he was penniless. How can I look a boy in the face without a dime in his pocket and say, ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t help you.’ In my case, I did the right thing, but it turned out wrong.”
Tulane is uptown New Orleans, removed from the French Quarter and Bourbon Street by more simple geography. This is old-money New Orleans with mansions and pillars and Southern gentility. Tulane does not welcome scandal.
If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere.
There is anger here. There is a strong feeling in some quarters that the district attorney, Harry Connick, went too far in investigating NCAA-related offenses that had nothing to do with point shaving.
Connick, who some say has political aspirations, may have lost some votes uptown.
“I warned Harry this would hurt him politically,” Kohnke said.
There is anger among some alumni that the basketball program was disbanded. But President Kelly said he had no real choice.
“The test is whether you respond with integrity and refuse to wink at unacceptable behavior,” Kelly said. “I have tried to respond with integrity.”
If Tulane, less than a sports powerhouse, is cheating, then who isn’t?
What coaches across America must fear most is subpoena power. UCLA football player Billy Don Jackson is sent to jail and it is learned that he is functionally illiterate. North Carolina State basketball player Chris Washburn steals a stereo and we learn that he scored 470 on his SATs, the same as John Williams.
Presidents of NCAA-member universities are meeting here in June to discuss the growing scandal that envelops so much of college athletics.
The Atlantic Coast Conference has asked that newspapers in its region no longer carry odds on college games.
“The silver lining, if you can call it that, is that people see something is wrong, very wrong,” Professor Powell said. “The problem is, what do you do about it?”