Penalties Are Defended by Members of '77 Board


Arthur Reynolds, 75, and semi-retired after 15 years as dean of the graduate school at the University of Northern Colorado, hasn't served on the NCAA Committee on Infractions in 12 years.

He long ago destroyed his boxes of notes from the cases the committee handled while he was on it--security reasons, he says.

But last Friday, a Federal Express package from the NCAA arrived at his Greeley, Colo., home bearing news guaranteed to cause flashbacks.

The package contained the current Committee on Infractions' report on its recent review of the NCAA's 1977 infractions case against the University of Nevada Las Vegas basketball program, the case that sparked UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian's 13-year court battle with the NCAA.

In deciding to bar the Rebels from the next NCAA tournament, the committee has stirred up a hornet's nest in Las Vegas, where Tarkanian and school officials have branded the penalty too severe and announced plans to appeal the ruling to the NCAA Council.

But in making such a decision, the committee has stood up for the thinking of Reynolds and the four other men who, while serving on the committee in 1977, ordered UNLV to suspend Tarkanian.

"Just because there has been 13 years of litigation instituted by the head coach, I do not see why you have to say, 'Let bygones be bygones,' or, 'These kids (current UNLV players) were 7 or 8 years old when all this happened,' "said Reynolds, who was chairman of the Committee on Infractions in 1977. "I hate to think that's how you can ease out of a penalty, by going to court. In regular cases of civil or criminal action, so often if you let enough time lapse, people forget the details. I'm glad they (the current committee) didn't let that happen."

Harry Cross, a former University of Washington law professor who also served on the committee in 1977, said he is sympathetic toward those who say the current committee's ruling unfairly penalizes players who were in elementary school when the case was first heard. But he said he sees no way around such a situation.

"It's a difficult thing, but, according to the NCAA structure, if violations are (documented), an institution has to respond," he said. "I suppose that, in some respects, even the fastest response impacts on athletes who weren't much involved. This (last Friday's ruling) is just an aggravated instance of that. The reaction from current (UNLV) athletes I see in the paper is understandable. But I don't see any way to avoid what has happened."

Asked if he feels vindicated by the current committee's action, Cross said: "Yes. . . . The current action, which, in a sense, showed that something more needed to be done, was reassuring."

Indeed, no NCAA infractions case can match the '77 UNLV case for contentiousness.

After more than 26 hours of hearings, the Committee on Infractions placed UNLV on two years' probation with sanctions that included no appearances in postseason competition or on television for two years. In addition, the NCAA ordered UNLV to suspend Tarkanian for two years or "show cause" why additional penalties should not be imposed on the school.

Of the 38 violations cited by the NCAA, 10 involved Tarkanian directly. The most serious dealt with Tarkanian's role in trying to encourage a key source for the NCAA, a former UNLV player named Jeep Kelley, to lie to NCAA investigators.

Believing that the NCAA used questionable tactics and that he successfully refuted the charges, Tarkanian obtained injunctions in District Court in Las Vegas preventing UNLV from taking any action against him.

As these events unfolded, members of the Committee on Infractions were caught in a spotlight they normally would have shunned. They were called before a Congressional subcommittee that looked into NCAA enforcement procedures, and they were called to testify in court in the Tarkanian case.

None of the men who served on that committee remain active in NCAA affairs. Still, wounds linger from the UNLV case.

One committee member from that era, John Sawyer, a retired Wake Forest University math professor, did not want to talk about the case when contacted by The Times this week. "To be perfectly frank, I've had some unfortunate experiences going public in the past," he said. Pressed on the matter, he said, "Some lawyers have called me--lawyers from Las Vegas."

The case eventually was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled, 5-4, in favor of the NCAA in December of 1988. And last March, both sides agreed to a lower court order that allowed Tarkanian's injunction against UNLV to stand but lifted an injunction against the NCAA, allowing the current Committee on Infractions to rule on the 1977 "show cause" order.

The committee based part of its justification for banning the Rebels from postseason play--a move that, if upheld, would prevent them from defending their national championship--on the fact that the order to suspend Tarkanian was central to the '77 penalty, a notion that Reynolds strongly endorses.

"We did feel a major thing was to get that coach out of his head coaching position, completely and in all ways, for a period of two years," he said. "The other (penalties) were routine types of things. But we felt the head coach's participation (in the alleged improprieties) were so serious and direct that it was appropriate to tell the university to sever its relationship with that head coach or else 'show cause' why additional penalties shouldn't be assessed."

As for Tarkanian's view that the facts didn't support the charges against him, Reynolds said: "The Jeep Kelley thing, there was much controversy over the contact between that student-athlete and the coach. But from the data the committee reviewed, we felt there had been an attempt to hide data on the part of the coach."

Said Cross: "I've never been unhappy with what happened at Las Vegas. I thought the appraisal of how Coach Tarkanian conducted himself by the committee was sound."

Nonetheless, Cross, 77, and in retirement in Seattle, admitted that he felt a twinge of cynicism when he opened his Federal Express package from the NCAA last Friday and read the current committee's decision on the '77 case.

"I thought, 'This seems reasonable, "' he said. "But I also thought, 'How are they going to make it work this time?' "

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World