Ranking the 10 Biggest Falls from Grace in College Basketball History
Stories about coaches and athletes falling from grace are always sad.
When the details surface, the influences of greed, desperation and fear have usually ravaged lives, devastated careers and altered hoops history.
“What could have been” becomes “what never will be.”
Here are the 10 biggest falls from grace in college basketball history.
These are stories of con artists and cover-ups, deception and dishonesty, all in the world of big-time college hoops.
10. Todd Bozeman: University of California
In the late-1980s, Todd Bozeman was more than a rising star in the college basketball coaching ranks. He was a fireball rocketing from being a high school assistant in 1986 to being a 29-year-old head coach at California in 1993.
Known as an extraordinary recruiter, Bozeman helped pull in one nationally-ranked class after another.
His success at Berkeley was immediate. He took the Bears to the Sweet 16 in 1993, the year that he was named interim coach.
However, as quickly as he ascended, Bozeman also made a steady plummet. Wanting to stoke the flames of his early success, he did everything to make sure he was pulling in elite talent.
The Chicago Tribune’s Stephen Nidetz reported that In order to secure Jelani Gardner, a top point guard, Bozeman paid “Gardner’s family $15,000 each year he played for the Bears."
Because of Bozeman’s wrongdoing, Cal was placed on probation for three years.
Nidetz added that:
The NCAA banned the Bears from postseason play the next season, reduced Cal's scholarships by two for the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 seasons and forced Cal to retroactively forfeit 28 victories in the 1994-95 and 1995-96 seasons.
On a personal level, Bozeman was not only fired but, as the New York Times’ Jere Longman said:
The N.C.A.A. imposed an eight-year show-cause ban, meaning that any university wanting Bozeman had to show just cause why he should be hired.
No one knows what would have happened to Bozeman's coaching career if he had not decided to make the prohibited payment.
Ten years after being relieved of his duties at Cal, Bozeman was hired at Morgan State, where he has compiled a 128-100 record in seven seasons.
9. St. Bonaventure: 2002-03
When NBA star Bob Lanier attended the St Bonaventure (1967-1970), the Bonnies made it to the NCAA tournament twice, including the 1970 Final Four.
Most recently in 2012, riding the talents of Andrew Nicholson, they made another NCAA appearance.
But, in 2002, Jan Van Breda Kolff, the head coach at the time, was trying to move the program ahead.
He recruited a junior college transfer named Jamil Terrell. Instead of having the mandatory associate’s degree, Terrell only held a welder’s certificate, making him ineligible to play.
However, the story just begins here.
Terrell, through a sequence of back-room dealings, was allowed to play in the 2002-03 season. The cover-up not only involved the basketball program, but also the school’s athletic director, Gothard Lane, and the school’s president, Robert Wickenheiser.
The following details of the story were outlined in USA Today’s St. Bonaventure Scandal Timeline:
During the season, Lane intervened on Terrell’s behalf with the school’s vice president of academic affairs in order to keep him eligible.
At this time the board of trustees investigated Terrell’s eligibility. After the NCAA determined that he did not meet eligibility standards, the school declared him ineligible.
The team decided to not play its final two regular season games.
But USA Today’s Jill Lieber described what turned this story from troubling to tragic. The school’s chairman of the board of trustees, Bill Swan, out of embarrassment for his role in the scandal, took his own life.
Sports disgraces are sad, but people committing suicide over them is devastating.
8. Minnesota Academic Fraud: 1999
On March 10, 1999, The St. Paul Pioneer Press’ George Dohrmann went public with news that the University of Minnesota's men’s basketball program was involved in a widespread case of academic fraud. At the forefront of the scam was Minnesota’s head coach Clem Haskins.
The cheating was all-encompassing. Former office manager of the academic counseling unit, Jan Gangelhoff, had created and composed over 400 papers for assorted players from 1993 to 1998.
Dohrmann reported that:
Gangelhoff said she often had different players turn in the same paper for different classes, or she used excerpts from one paper in another. An analysis of the documents provided to the Pioneer Press revealed seven instances of duplication, including one paper that Gangelhoff said was turned in by three different players for three different classes.
The Athens Banner Herald noted that a university investigation also uncovered that
Haskins gave up to $200 in cash directly to three athletes, and that he arranged a standing hotel discount for parents of athletes even though he had been cited by the NCAA for a similar violation at Western Kentucky.
The impact on the program was massive. ABC News John Akers conveyed that
The Minnesota men’s basketball program was placed on four years’ probation and stripped of five scholarships
Ultimately, Haskins, Athletic Director Mark Dienhart, and several others involved in the deception were all fired.
For all practical purposes, any University of Minnesota basketball accomplishment from 1993 to 1999 was abandoned.
7. Arizona State: 1994
Arizona State's basketball program has existed outside of the national spotlight for most of the past five decades. Since 1963, the Sun Devils’ have only appeared in the NCAA tournament 10 times.
Maybe that’s why a point shaving scheme seemed like it could work. If not too many people were paying much attention to what happened in their games, then nobody would get too suspicious, right?
Sports Illustrated reported that Stevin “Hedake” Smith and Isaac Burton were paid off to miss shots and keep games close in 1994 so that Benny Silman, an ASU student, and a small group of bookmakers could bet on those rigged games.
The SI report also stated that
Smith, the Sun Devils' No. 2 all-time leading scorer, agreed to fix the four games for $20,000 a game, in part to erase a reported $10,000 gambling debt to Silman, according to Smith and Silman's plea agreements. Smith also admitted to recruiting Burton to take part in the scheme; Burton was paid $4,300 for helping fix two games.
Smith and Burton served time in prison for their part in this failed plot.
6. Boston College: 1978-79
Once college basketball games start, all the possibilities of scandal go out the window, right?
In the 1978-79 season, Boston College became the focus of a point shaving scandal that centered around three players who hooked up with four gamblers.
Sports Illustrated’s Ben Glicksman reported that
Rick Kuhn, Jim Sweeney and Joe Streater teamed up with the Perla brothers (Rocco and Tony), Paul Mazzei and Henry Hill to fix the outcome of nine 1978-79 Eagles' basketball games. Players were asked to fail to cover the spread, and rewarded with $2,500 for each successful result.
However, the scheme unraveled when Hill confessed to everything when he was arrested on six drug-related conspiracy charges
Kuhn, Mazzei and Tony Perla were each sentenced to 10-years behind bars.
Deephousepage.com's Mike Bridge added that Kuhn’s decade prison term was “The stiffest penalty ever given to an athlete in a point shaving case.”
5. Southwest Louisiana: 1973-75
The basketball program at Southwest Louisiana went from gaining headlines for a successful 1972-73 season to an embarrassing muddle of breaches and improper benefits.
The Ragin’ Cajuns coaching staff committed multiple recruiting violations and doled out illegitimate financial benefits. In order to help players be eligible to play, the school forged various transcripts and academic documents.
Wikipedia's Death Penalty site details that Southwest Louisiana was guilty of over 125 violations.
Yahoo! Sports’ Mark Paul indicated that USL lost their basketball program for the 1973-74 and 1974-75 seasons.
This is the only time in NCAA history that a multi-year season cancellation has been imposed.
The NCAA deemed that the violations were so serious that it initially considered removing Southwestern Louisiana from the NCAA altogether. Instead, they choose to deny the school its voting privileges until 1977.
4. Dana Kirk: Memphis State (1985-86)
Dana Kirk was a successful college basketball coach at VCU (1976-79) and Memphis State (1979-86).
In his last five seasons at MSU, the Tigers made it to the Sweet 16 three consecutive times and to the 1985 Final Four.
Unfortunately, none of those accomplishments still exist anymore. The Memphis Commercial Appeal’s Dan Wolken reported that each had to be vacated after it was found out that Kirk
was indicted by a federal grand jury on 11 counts of tax evasion, filing false income tax returns, mail fraud and obstruction of justice…Keith Lee, the leading scorer on the Tigers' Final Four team, testified that he had received $40,000 in illegal payoffs from Kirk.
Kirk was convicted on five counts of tax evasion and intimidating witnesses. He served four months in a federal minimum-security prison in Montgomery, Ala
ESPN’s Greg Garber detailed additional violations:
Kirk and his assistants cut corners and abused their power. Only six of Kirk's 60 four-year scholarship players earned degrees, including just two of 12 on the 1984-85 roster. Some of the most talented players wound up driving luxury cars supplied by boosters. Government witnesses testified in his 1988 trial that, among other things, Kirk accepted money from boosters for players, sought kickbacks from tournament promoters and sold game tickets for up to five times their face value.
Kirk was forced to leave after the 1985-86 season and the NCAA eventually slapped a two-year probation and a one-year postseason ban on Memphis State and forced the school to return nearly $1 million in tournament earnings.
After Kirk served his time, he moved back to Memphis and was oddly treated by many as royalty and hosted his own local sports talk radio show.
3. Fab Five: Early 1990's
Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson made up Michigan’s Fab Five, one of the most hyped recruiting classes in college hoops history.
They were not just all publicity and no performance. They reached the 1992 and 1993 NCAA championship games as freshmen and sophomores.
Unfortunately, all that success was sullied because of a series of violations and payoffs relating to an individual Michigan booster, Ed Martin.
ESPN’s Andy Katz recounted that
Martin was indicted (in March 2003) on charges of running an illegal gambling operation and laundering some of the profits of more than $600,000 to four Michigan players during the 1990s. According to published reports in Detroit from the indictment, Martin loaned former Wolverines Chris Webber $280,000 from 1988-93, Robert Traylor $160,000 from 1993-1998, Maurice Taylor $105,000 from 1994-1997, and Louis Bullock $71,000 from 1996-1999.
As a result, Michigan was stripped of their accomplishments over this time, placed on probation for four years and banned from 2004 post-season play. The New York Times’ Danny Hakim described the sordidness of such a disregard for collegiate standards, by quoting an NCCA official:
This is one of the three or four most egregious violations of N.C.A.A. bylaws in the history of the association,'' said Thomas E. Yeager, chairman of the association's infractions committee, calling the team's success while those players were at Michigan ''a sham.''
2. Point Shaving in the 1940's-50's
The most wide-ranging college basketball point shaving scheme took place over 60 years ago.
Unlike most of the other con-jobs that involved a few players from a single school, the scam that was pulled off in the late 1940’s and into the 1950’s involved 32 players from seven schools affecting 86 games.
ESPN’s Joe Goldstein recounted that
Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp had claimed his team was untouchable: "They couldn't reach my boys with a ten-foot pole." He was wrong. The NCAA suspended the Kentucky basketball program for the 1952-53 season.
Kentucky’s Dale Barnstable, Ralph Beard, and Alex Groza were some of the most high-profile players involved in the game-fixing.
These were not mediocre players from sketchy schools. They were quality players who had played in the Olympics, the NIT and NCAA tournament.
1. Baylor: 2005
In a span of two-years (June 2003 to June 2005), Baylor basketball imploded.
The complete and total collapse took place through a series of events chronicled by ESPN:
A Baylor player, Patrick Dennehy, was reported missing in June 2003. One month later, Carlton Dotson, another Baylor player, was charged with Dennehy’s murder.
On the same day, Dennehy's girlfriend, Jessica De La Rosa, “Called the NCAA enforcement staff to report violations in the Baylor men's basketball program.”
The school began to conduct an internal investigation into improper payments made to Baylor basketball players.
Head coach Dave Bliss and athletic director Tom Stanton “Resigned after investigators found that Bliss improperly paid tuition for Dennehy and another player and that staffers did not report players' failed drug tests.”
A week after Bliss’ resignation, assistant coach Abar Rouse turned over tapes he privately made two weeks earlier, in which Bliss told “Assistant coaches and players to lie and say Dennehy had been dealing drugs to pay for school.”
Shortly after Dotson was sent to prison for 35 years, the NCAA announced that Baylor was placed on probation until 2010 and that they could only play a Big 12 schedule for the 2005-06 season.
The troubling impact of this sleazy sequence is underscored by the fact that Baylor is a faith-based university.
"Fall from grace" is a true and precise description of what happened on campus in Waco.