Cal Lutheran Still Living in the Past

It was thousands of miles from here and several thousand years ago that, according to legend, ancient kings, unhappy with a message, would slay the messenger.

The practice, however, is apparently not dead. It happened just last week, as a matter of fact, at Cal Lutheran University.

The message: Academic requirements should be relaxed for athletic scholarships if the goal is to produce a winning program.

The messenger: Bill Redell, assistant to CLU President Jerry H. Miller.

The result: Redell's dismissal.

That ought to solve the problem. Cal Lutheran administrators, as soon as they brush off all the sand they've accumulated while their heads were buried, ought to be signing star athletes right and left.

Once upon a time, there was no problem attracting star athletes to Cal Lutheran. The school excelled in such sports as track and field, baseball and golf.

But football was always king.

Year after year, Cal Lutheran produced nationally ranked NAIA football teams. In 1971, the Kingsmen won an NAIA championship in football. They usually reached the playoffs, sometimes losing no more than a game or two in a season. Cal Lutheran products like Hank Bauer, Brian Kelley and several others went on to play pro ball, quite an achievement for a small school playing in the shadow of giants such as UCLA and USC.

Coach Bob Shoup talked about making his school the Notre Dame of the West. The Kingsmen were big fish in a little pond and they loved it, compiling a record of 166-54-6 from 1961 to 1984.

Then they decided there were bigger fish to fry. If they could beat up the Azusa Pacifics and the Whittiers of the world, why not a Portland State or a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo?.

CLU joined the NCAA and began playing at the Division II level as a member of the Western Football Conference.

The results have been disastrous. Now the Kingsmen are the little fish in a bigger pond and they are getting eaten alive. They have won only two conference games in three seasons.

Does the problem lie in recruiting?

The way it stands now, to receive an athletic scholarship, a freshman entering Cal Lutheran must have a 3.0 grade-point average or a 2.75 GPA and a score of at least 1,000 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. In contrast, a student receiving an academic scholarship must have a 3.35 GPA and a 1,000 score. The requirements for entering Cal Lutheran without any scholarship are a 2.5 GPA and an 800 on the SAT.

What Redell was suggesting was that the school be allowed to give athletic scholarships to those who qualified to enter the school. In other words, a 2.75 or a 2.5 GPA and an 800 SAT score would suffice.

That would put CLU on an equal footing with other schools in its conference. It still would keep Cal Lutheran well above the NCAA minimum GPA requirement of 2.0.

Knowing more money was needed, CLU officials hired Redell as a fund-raiser. Redell, the head football coach at Crespi High, had coached in the now-defunct United States Football League. He had spent years as an executive with an insurance company, so he also knew something about handling money.

Redell studied the situation and revealed his conclusions in a written report to Miller.

He insists he never advocated permanently lowering academic standards. His plan was to bring the requirements for athletes down to the level of those for non-athletes for a period of time. This would enable the school to become more competitive athletically, and then it could build the requirements back up.

He was shot down by administrators living in the past, people who somehow imagine that the Kingsmen can take on bigger and bigger opponents without adding a bigger budget or a bigger pool of incoming freshmen from which to choose.

It just won't work. CLU is not the Notre Dame of the West and never will be. This is not the 1930s when a Knute Rockne could recruit players from all over by appealing to their Catholicism. Athletes go to Notre Dame today for the same reason they go anywhere else: for a free ride.

It's plain and simple. If people start waving scholarship money at athletes, they're going to listen. No pay, no play.

Do administrators think athletes are going to be attracted by the pretty uniforms, or the imposing structure of Mount Clef Stadium? The Mount Clef bleachers might be a better description.

Now, there's nothing wrong with that if you want to have a small-college program. Cal Lutheran football on a Saturday afternoon has long had a charm that could never be duplicated at a higher level.

No one says Cal Lutheran has to compete at a higher level. It could go back to being a very successful NAIA school, keep its academic standards and save money.

The school can go either way. But it can't have it both ways.

Like it or not, that's the message.

Regardless of the messenger.

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