Read part three of the four-part series in Illinisports latest Through the Trifocals for">
Read part three of the four-part series in Illinisports latest Through the Trifocals for">

Through the Trifocals

Illinisports continues his series on "Why Illinois Can't Cheat" with this column on the effects of the Slush Fund on the Illini basketball team. <br><br> Read part three of the four-part series in Illinisports latest <i>Through the Trifocals</i> for

The Slush Fund of 1966 had a devastating impact on both football and basketball at Illinois. We discussed the long-term impact on the football team last week. But please realize that problems with the basketball team were occurring simultaneously. I have separated them into two columns for convenience, but each one impacts the other, especially in terms of Illinois' image with the NCAA, Big 10 and general public.

The basketball team was actually the first to feel the brunt of sanctions caused by the Slush Fund. The 1966-67 Illini team was one of the elite teams in college basketball, and they had defeated Kentucky 98-97 at Kentucky in early December of 1966. Then, in a shocking development just two days before Christmas while the team awaited its Chicago Stadium game with California, three fifths of the starting lineup were declared ineligible. The darkness that fell over the program that day would be felt for many years to come.

Richard Jones, Ron Dunlap and Steve Kuberski would never again play for Illinois, and Harry Combes and his assistant Howie Braun would be forced to resign at the end of the season. And yet, in a thrilling reversal of fortune, a rag-tag team of leftovers mounted an inspired, even Herculean, effort to defeat Cal that evening, 97-87. Holdover starter Jim Dawson assumed a major scoring load from that point on, but the real surprise spark that night was Dave Scholz.

Scholz had seen only token action in the first five games of the season. But here he was shooting quick turn around jumpshots over the confused Cal Bears center and scoring like an All-Star. It gave temporary hope to Illini fans that we were not completely destroyed by the Slush Fund. It propelled Scholz to a three year career culminated by an all-time scoring record, and it gave impetus to a Big 10 MVP award for Dawson.

Of course, you can't lose three star players, two of whom would eventually play pro ball, and expect to keep winning. Eventually, reality set in, and the Illini finished with a 12-12 record and a seventh place finish in the Big 10. This was certainly a far cry from what was expected at the beginning of the year, but it could have been much worse.

Once all the debris cleared, Illinois found itself with a new athletic director and new head basketball coach. Gene Vance was hired to be Athletic Director. Vance was the handsome, athletic and charming star of Whiz Kid fame, and he had many friends and admirers around the state. He was asked to right the ship and guide us back to respectability. Of course, no person could have been handed a more difficult task as the entire Athletic Association was in a shambles.

Vance hired Harv Schmidt to replace Harry Combes as head basketball coach. Originally from Kankakee, Harv was the slender 6'-6" star Illini forward and captain of the 1956-57 team. He was a loyal Illini, a main criterion at the time, and he came highly recommended as both a coach and recruiter. Of course, he had never been a head coach before, having most recently served as an assistant at New Mexico, but he was the best we could do under the circumstances.

He may have lacked experience, but he made up for it with intelligence, determination and an aggressive style. While he didn't necessarily want to run and gun like his former coach and predecessor Harry Combes, he preferred an uptempo offensive style. More importantly, and in quite a contrast from Combes, he believed in the importance of an aggressive, overplaying defense that could frustrate opponents and create turnovers and easy baskets. If Harv had his way, he would hold his opponent scoreless while his team scored 100 points.

Harv was ambitious, a hard-driving Type A personality who practically lived on cigarettes and antacids. He paid close attention to detail and scouted opponents to learn ways of shutting down their offenses. He would spend much time going over every possible opponent play so his players could anticipate what was happening and prevent it. This contrasted sharply from his predecessor, who spent most of each practice perfecting the fast break and appeared to care little about defense. As long as the players were willing to listen and learn, Schmidt could teach them to compete favorably against most anybody.

Schmidt's first team had mostly youngsters and walk-ons. No one expected Illinois to win a game, but through guts and determination, the 1967-68 team began to surprise even the experts. In just their second game of the season, the Illini took on superstar Elvin Hayes and the nationally ranked Houston Cougars at the Assembly Hall.

Randy Crews, an All-American 6'-5" scoring guard while at Bradley Bourbonnais, became a defensive stopper in just his second varsity game as a sophomore. Taking on the 6'-9" Hayes, Randy held his own with intelligence, strength, knowledge of his opponent imparted by Schmidt, and a cleverness about how to charm referees. Forced to use a slow-down style to keep the game close, the Illini stayed with the Cougars the whole game before finally succumbing 54-46. It was a remarkable achievement, and it started a wave of enthusiasm toward Harv Schmidt.

In their next game, the Illini took on a quality Brigham Young team with Finnish star Kari Nimmo. Also 6'-9", Nimmo used a whole series of special plays designed to free him for open shots. Randy Crews had been specially prepared for these plays, and it was hilarious watching the frustration in Nimmo's face as he would run to his spots, only to find Crews waiting for him there. The Illini won by eight points, and you would have thought we had just won the National Championship. Fans gave Schmidt and the team a standing ovation.

Along the way, the Illini that year defeated such teams as Georgia Tech, Texas El Paso, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Iowa and Michigan. They wilted late in the Big 10 season to finish with an 11-13 mark and a second straight 7th place Big 10 ranking. But Illini fans were beginning the tradition of giving Harv Schmidt a standing ovation every time he entered the Assembly Hall. After all, Harv appeared capable of defying Nature itself to give new hope to a team and school devastated just one year previously.

Harv had already shown signs of being an excellent recruiter as well. On the freshman team that year were Greg Jackson, Fred Miller, Rick Howat and Bob Windmiller. Jackson was a scoring center with a large body and appetite to match, Miller was an undersized forward with unlimited endurance and quick moves around the basket, Howat was a slender sharp shooter, and Windmiller had competent point guard skills. As sophomores, they combined with returnees Dave Scholz, Randy Crews, future New York Knick draft pick Mike Price, Alabama transfer Jodie Harrison, Dennis Pace and walk-on Les Busboom to form a special team for the 1968-69 season.

Schmidt and his Illini won their first ten games that season. Perhaps the single biggest win occurred December 21, 1968 as they stopped the Houston Cougars' 60 game home winning streak, 97-84. Elvin Hayes had left for the NBA by then, but Houston was still loaded. And the game was played in a cracker box gym that was not friendly to visitors. The Illini, just two days short of two years after the blackness of the original Slush Fund announcement, were back in business.

By the time of the Big 10 game at Purdue on January 7, 1969, Illinois was ranked 4th in the nation in one poll and 5th in the other. Unfortunately, Purdue had scoring sensation Rick Mount on its side. The first high school player ever to adorn the front cover of "Sports Illustrated", the Lebanon, Indiana product had an uncanny ability to swish shots from anywhere on the court, including while falling out of bounds. He single handedly beat Illinois that night.

Illinois finished with a 19-5 record that year and were ranked 20th in the nation. They were 9-5 in the Big 10, good for second place behind Purdue. Since only one conference team could play in the NCAA tournament and there was no NIT tournament option, the Illini team had little to play for after it became obvious we couldn't catch Purdue.

Looking back, it is hard to believe that the high-flying days preceding that Purdue game were the peak of Harv Schmidt's career at Illinois. After all, he seemed to have the world by the tail and was destined for greatness. Unfortunately, Schmidt could delay but not stop the energy pushing hard against us beginning with the Slush Fund. Schmidt's strength of will forced the Illini mightily against the current, but ultimately the effort was as futile as the Dutch boy trying to plug holes in the dike with his fingers. Little by little, things began to change for the worse.

Several situations contributed to Harv Schmidt's demise, and most were not of his doing. For one thing, perspectives were changing in the country. Protests and unrest replaced the idyllic naivety of the post WWII era. Young people were rebelling against authority and the extreme social restrictions placed upon them by more conservative elders. Blacks, led by Martin Luther King, were rising up to demand equal rights under the law. And the lies and corruption surrounding the Vietnam War were causing all sorts of negative reactions among many of all ages. It was a difficult time.

Harv Schmidt was a disciplinarian. He demanded great attention to detail and worked his players hard. He was fair and considerate of their needs, but he expected much from them and set a good example by working as hard as he expected his players to work. But he had a difficult time adapting to the changing values of some of his players. His style reminded them of all they were rebelling against. Some of them simply didn't want to be told what to do by someone who represented the past. It is tough to coach, teach or parent under these circumstances.

Secondly, black people were remembering all the mistreatment they had endured since the slave days and were openly demanding change. Some factions within the University of Illinois, and portions of the surrounding community, had not always shown great tolerance and acceptance of black people, and some of that intolerance began to haunt our present.

For example, the coach and some of the players on the 1954 Chicago DuSable high school team were upset about their treatment in Champaign-Urbana during the State Tournament held in Huff Gym that year. They proceeded to complain about this to anyone who would listen. And the later academic failures of Chicago Public Leaguers Bernie Mills and Darius "Pete" Cunningham also created resentment. The DuSable coach and others of like mind worked openly to steer black athletes away from the University of Illinois, and their influence has continued to have an impact to this day.

Harv successfully recruited a number of black players, including Greg Jackson, Nick Weatherspoon, Nick Connor, Alvin O'Neal, Billy Morris and Kris Berymon. For reasons unknown to me but probably relating more to personality conflicts than skin color, Harv began to get the reputation as one who couldn't get along with black players. If one or more of these players accused him of racism, I never heard this stated publicly. But the rumors got so bad that, by his last couple of years at the school, he was unable to recruit a single black player. I believe at least some of this was a bad rap, but it hurt us terribly nonetheless.

Of course, we were still in the throes of the Slush Fund, and many people still distrusted us and/or wished to see us fail. I have no doubt that Harv's early success was a major threat to the security of his coaching peers in the Big 10. Whether they or their administrations did anything to besmirch his reputation or that of the university is speculative at best. But given past tendencies, it would be uncharacteristic for long-term successful universities to sit back and allow some other program to rise up and gain an upper hand on them. Negative recruiting and innuendo have always been tools to help some schools gain advantage over others and were undoubtedly used against us.

There was also a fomenting rebellion on the part of some high school basketball coaches in Illinois. When Illinois went looking for a head coach following the Slush Fund, some high school coaches believed this was their opportunity to obtain a college job despite their lack of experience or qualifications. These coaches complained openly when one from their ranks was not hired. They became even more organized and negative when Harv Schmidt was not replaced by a high school coach in 1974. In response to their perceived slight, they worked openly to divert top high school players away from Illinois. I have never understood the logic of how a vengeful person who is willing to damage the institution he wanted to lead could ever believe himself worthy of that leadership.

There was one other main problem. The same wealthy and influential alumni and fans who deserted the UI football program like rats from a sinking ship gravitated to basketball. After all, Gene Vance was basketball and had difficulty saying "no" to his friends. And Harv Schmidt was young and ambitious, and he appreciated any help he could get. So these citizens began to provide energy, time and money to build the basketball program using similar methods to what they had always done for football.

Some of this was good. It was good to see the basketball program succeed when the football team was suffering so badly. It was good for our egos and our budgets. Unfortunately, some of the same attitudes about cheating began to crop up again despite all the recent memories about the Slush Fund. I was never privy to the secret details, but Illinois eventually ran afoul of the NCAA again. It seems that some of the players were given gifts beyond what is allowed.

I don't know how much Harv Schmidt knew about it. After all, some people are so eager to gain influence and be a part of some "inner circle" that they might take a player or two aside and give him things without anyone organizing the activity. And I do know that one short-term assistant coach made some decisions without consulting Schmidt personally. But ultimately, Schmidt was responsible for the whole program and must accept part of the blame for what happened.

Gene Vance was replaced in 1972 by Cecil Coleman because Athletic Association finances were deeply in the red. Coleman's task was to use strict accounting methods to get athletic department finances back in order. He was also required to stand up to and restrict the activities of the pushy alums who continuously ran us afoul of the NCAA. He was just the man for that task.

However, to many athletes, coaches, alumni and fans, Cecil Coleman was like a stepdad brought into a family of teenagers and asked to bring discipline and parenting to the family. In other words, every act of frugality by Coleman brought anger and hostility. Every attempt to corral out-of-control behaviors brought resentment. Teenagers who have been given excessive freedom before they are mature enough to handle it always resist substitute parenting, and that is how some members of the Illini family acted as well. Thus, Cecil Coleman made some enemies, sacrificing friendships for the long-term needs of the University. It was a necessary and valuable sacrifice, in my opinion.

When it became obvious that Harv Schmidt was failing, Coleman fired him and replaced him with Gene "Clean Gene" Bartow prior to the 1974-75 season. Not only had Bartow been within an eyelash of beating National Champion UCLA and John Wooden in the NCAA tournament, he had played with mostly black players and was known for running a clean program. The last aspect was especially important as Coleman needed to keep the UI in good graces with the NCAA.

Unfortunately, Bartow was a better coach with great talent than with mediocre talent. Yes, he and top assistant Tony Yates were successfully able to recruit three black players, All-American Audie Matthews of Chicago Heights Bloom and Junior College Chicagoans Nate Williams and Mike Washington. This was a major breakthrough after Illinois had failed to recruit any blacks in previous years.

But Bartow was unfamiliar with losing and openly frustrated by the myriad problems facing the Illini as described above. And he seemed incapable of adapting his style to fit the type of players he inherited. Bartow was not the only one who was pleasantly surprised when John Wooden recommended him to become UCLA's new head coach after just one year at Illinois.

Thus, Coleman was faced with hiring a new head basketball coach two years in a row. Again looking to find someone who could run a clean program and still win, Coleman hired the unknown Lou Henson. Actually, Lou Henson was already respected as a head coach by the coaching fraternity, but he has always had a highly unusual inability to attract attention and credibility from the general public. He has always been underappreciated and misunderstood, and he still isn't considered a likely Hall of Famer even though he is presently just a few wins away from 800 for his career.

Still, Henson was just the man for Illinois. Lou is the type of coach who is accustomed to hard work to overcome adversity. And there has never been more adversity for him than in his first few years at Illinois. But even he had second thoughts once he got to Illinois and found out in how bad a shape we really were. Minimal black recruiting. Open rebellion among many high school coaches. Limited attendance and support. A conference full of top programs and coaches (Purdue had beaten us 13 straight times, and new coach Bobby Knight at Indiana had won his first six against us, as examples). And recruiting restrictions remaining from Harv Schmidt's run-in with the NCAA.

Illinois was restricted by the NCAA with only three scholarships to award each of Henson's first two years. And Henson was only able to use two of them his first year, second-list players Larry Lubin and Ken Ferdinand, because all the top players refused even to consider us. Rebuilding took on new meaning as Henson literally had to start from scratch.

To give you an idea of how tough it was, Lou went on Larry Stewart's postgame radio show on WDWS one game to ask fans to help the team with out-of-bounds plays. Since he couldn't get the players to line up in a straight line, he asked the fans to yell "straight line" whenever that happened. This comment drew laughter and warmed the heart of fans, but he really needed the help.

The media many years later referred to Henson as someone who was a great recruiter but mediocre bench coach, but the truth was the exact opposite. Coach Henson had a great ability to teach during practice and to strategize during a game. I remember a quote from Mike Washington, who had played one year each for Bartow and Henson. He said that Henson was by far the best coach for whom he had ever played. This is an accurate compliment, although it also says something about Henson's immediate predecessor.

But Henson's main problem, at least in my opinion, was that he did not have the special charisma that would attract young players to him, ala Bill Self. And he felt it necessary to maintain a professional distance from his players, believing he could not maintain discipline and respect nor gain immediate compliance from players who were his friends. Thus, he was not perceived as a player's coach. Even the compliments from long-time NBA star Eddie Johnson about how Lou Henson's tough love helped him become a total player did little to sway recruits toward our coach.

So Henson needed to work long and hard to develop relationships with recruits, their coaches and families, to keep pace with his more charismatic, quotable or photogenic competitors. It simply took him a number of years to improve Illinois' reputation within the state and nationally. It took much patience and perseverence for Henson to break down all the barriers to success. He also had to recruit creatively.

For example, on at least five occasions he recruited two players from the same school the same year. It is possible that, in at least some of these cases, he may have needed to recruit a "sidekick" in order to recruit the star. Henson recruited a guard (I believe his name was Cletis Hubbard) to join star big man James Griffin from Fort Worth Dunbar at Illinois, for instance. Other duos he recruited included Efrem Winters and Reggie Woodward from Chicago Martin Luther King, Nick Anderson and Ervin Small from Chicago Simeon, and Bryant Notree and Kevin Turner from Chicago Simeon.

The decade of the 1970's had begun on a high note as Harv Schmidt's team was extremely popular and highly rated. People literally camped outside the Assembly Hall in below zero temperatures in the winter of 1970 to secure tickets for the next season. And it ended on a high note as Lou Henson's 1978-79 Illini team won its first 15 games, culminated by a triumphant 57-55 victory over Magic Johnson's future NCAA champion Michigan State Spartans. Had we won our next game against Ohio State, and we should have, we would have been ranked 1st in the country. But in between 1970 and 1979, there were precious few memorable moments.

Henson's hard work, dedication and tremendous love of basketball propelled him to a great career at Illinois. It is not the purpose of this column to discuss his career highlights. Rather, we must limit discussion to the Slush Fund aftermath. Unfortunately, even after Henson overcame all the initial negativity and problems and developed Illinois into a perennial Big 10 and national contender, new problems cropped up that became more magnified and ultimately hurt us simply because our reputation had preceeded us.

Illinois was not being accused of recruiting violations during the first few years of Lou Henson's regime because other schools were openly stealing the state of Illinois' best players for themselves. Problems started, however, when Lou finally developed the program to the point he could compete with those other schools for the top talent. In particular, Bobby Knight had had complete success taking any Illinois player he wanted, including Quinn Buckner, Isaih Thomas, Jim Crews, Jim Wisman, Glen Grunwald and Derek Holcomb (who later preferred to play at Illinois without benefit of a scholarship). But he was not at all happy when Providence St. Mel All-American Lowell Hamilton chose Illinois prior to the 1986 season.

Knight turned Illinois into the NCAA because of its recruitment of Hamilton. Lowell's mother had taken a job in a company owned by an Illinois alum, so Knight accused Henson of arranging the job in return for Hamilton's commitment. The NCAA found the Illini innocent of the charges, but that didn't end the incident. Showing his true Scorpionic nature, Knight continued to backstab Illinois by telling anyone who would listen that Illinois cheated for recruits.

Whether the charges were true or not, Illinois supporters saw Knight's behavior as a childish tantrum at his first recruiting loss in the state of Illinois. But those who chose to believe Knight redeveloped their distrust of Illinois, and this belief in our guilt hurt us mightily a couple of years later when Iowa and Notre Dame representatives conspired to get Illinois into major trouble with the NCAA.

Illinois was coming off its best year ever under Lou Henson (the "Flying Illini") in 1989 when it received a commitment from Illinois' Mr. Basketball Deon Thomas of Chicago Simeon. Unfortunately, the University of Iowa wanted Thomas badly, and their assistant coach Bruce Pearl made arrangements to create evidence that would incriminate Illinois in a major recruiting scandal. He even prepared a written statement that his goal in this endeavor was to get Thomas to attend Iowa once Thomas was prohibited from attending Illinois as part of Illinois' penalty for cheating.

Receiving support and encouragement from his head coach Tom Davis and at least the one administrator who loaned him the tape recording equipment, Pearl proceeded to create a phone recording of a communication in which Thomas appeared to admit being offered money and a vehicle to attend Illinois.

It is beyond the scope of this column to provide total detail of the whole sorry episode, but a few facts need to be mentioned. At first, Illinois behaved like the dutiful son by hiring NCAA lawyer Mike Slive to defend them. It had become the NCAA's pattern to use Slive to go into an accused school, find evidence to incriminate that school, and then negotiate with their representatives on how they could penalize themselves (usually including the firing of the coaches involved). The idea was that the NCAA would become much more punative and accuse the offending school of "lack of institutional control" if it showed an unwillingness to submit to self-imposed sanctions. It was Slive's job to save them from this terrible fate.

And when Slive, now commissioner of the SEC, read the transcript of the Thomas tape, he was convinced of Illinois' guilt and recommended severe penalties. He became even more certain of the veracity of Iowa's claims when coach Digger Phelps and star center LaPhonso Ellis of Notre Dame accused Illinois of illegalities in Ellis' recruitment. But as Illinois Chancellor Morton Weir and Athletic Director John Mackovic continued to study the case, doubt crept into their minds.

Here is some of what they discovered:
1. While the transcript appeared to incriminate Thomas, there was evidence of gaps in the tape, indicating the possibility of deletions or creative splicing.

2. The tape recording itself was vague. It showed an obvious attempt by Pearl to lead Thomas to agree with a predetermined conclusion, and Thomas' assertion that he was just agreeing with Pearl as if it were a joke could not be disproved. Certainly, Thomas never volunteered nor directly stated that he was offered or given anything on the tape.

3. An investigation of LaPhonso Ellis' claims proved to be totally incorrect. Even a member of his own family said the claims were untrue. Eventually, Ellis publicly admitted to lying about the episode. One must wonder why he made the claims in the first place and whether his coach or anyone else made Ellis lie. Was there a conspiracy to incriminate Illinois for some self-serving reason? Did Bobby Knight's earlier "whisper campaign" against Illinois influence Digger Phelps' attitude toward Illinois, or did Phelps wish to damage Illinois for some personal reason?

4. Iowa paid for a friend of Deon Thomas to visit the Iowa campus for the purpose of getting him to help recruit Thomas to Iowa. Was this student, Reynoldo Kyles, thus a representative of Iowa's athletic interest and therefore ineligible to be involved in recruiting?

5. Deon Thomas' grandmother said it was Iowa who offered her a new residence if Deon would attend Iowa, and that Illinois made no illegal offers. By the way, at no time did the NCAA follow up on recommendations to investigate either Iowa or Notre Dame for possible violations.

These and other contradictory findings caused Weir and Mackovic to fire Mike Slive and hire their own lawyers instead. They knew they were on shaky ground with the NCAA, so they ran the risk of penalties approaching a "Death Penalty" if they could not prove Illinois' innocence to the NCAA's satisfation. Given the lessons learned by Illinois from earlier run-ins with the NCAA and their diligent efforts to comply with NCAA guidelines, including the hiring of people of integrity like Weir and Mackovic, Illinois would never have gone to the extreme of firing Slive unless they were 100% sure of their findings.

It must be understood that the NCAA has or at least had back then several support staff who just happen to have graduated from Iowa, and it was graduates of Iowa and Notre Dame who were assigned the task of investigating Illinois. Walter Byers had been the first head of the NCAA, and he ruled it like a dictator. He had a soft spot in his heart for the University of Iowa because it had accepted him in its school when he had problems at another school. Thus, it is likely that his good feelings for Iowa caused him to hire Iowa people whenever feasible. I have no proof, but I will always wonder if that strong representation helped influence the NCAA enforcement staff to support Iowa and Bruce Pearl's version of events.

Regardless, NCAA representatives were less than friendly when Mort Weir and John Mackovic entered their meeting to discuss the Illinois case. Weir and Mackovic engaged in the heroic and potentially scary effort of trying to defend Illinois without stepping on the NCAA's toes. I will always admire and respect their efforts even though they are both humble and try to minimize their roles. But the NCAA wanted to hang Illinois, and here we were trying to prove that all the major charges against us were bogus.

Ultimately, a lengthy and costly investigation found a few minor problems, including assistant coach Jimmy Collins giving Deon Thomas $10.00 late one night for a pizza after he had already been prevented from playing on the team or eating with the team due to the accusations involving him. When the NCAA announced its findings for the public, it admitted that all the major charges brought by Iowa and Notre Dame could not be proven to be true. But, in a statement showing immense bias against Illinois, the NCAA spokesman stated that, even though Illinois was not proven guilty, they were convinced that Illinois was guilty anyway.

Illinois was given penalties for "lack of institutional control". This conclusion was likely the result of our past reputation as a cheater, our decision to protest the NCAA's conclusions, and our desire to retain head coach Henson and assistant Collins, the one primarily involved in Deon Thomas' recruitment. The actual penalties were not that severe, but the image it portrayed to the general public was quite devastating. And the lengthy investigation, as it always does, proved to be the biggest punishment of all because it prevented successful recruiting while in progress. We lost any chance for top players like Juwan Howard and Cuonzo Martin directly because of uncertainties relating to this case.

We also lost more good will with the NCAA simply by standing up to them and embarrassing them publicly. Byers was long gone by the time of this investigation, but the NCAA still must function with the threat of an iron hand because it is a voluntary organization and cannot force schools to comply legally with their rules and guidelines. Anyone who serves to weaken their power may become their enemy.

This public embarrassment was magnified further when a dedicated woman named Jo Miller organized a group of Illini fans and began to publicize the NCAA's dubious investigative and decision-making behaviors. They worked tirelessly for an extended period of time to remind the whole nation that "Illinois was found innocent and punished anyway". Over time, more and more people started to listen. As a result, the NCAA has been much more fair in their investigations but much less successful in applying harsh penalties to those schools who break their rules. It has even appeared to reverse itself in this regard, letting some schools off with minimal penalties for acts far more major than anything Illinois has ever done.

Again, Illinois is forced to tread carefully regarding NCAA rules because there is strong likelihood the NCAA will remember past episodes and not look kindly on us if we fail again. I believe this is one major reason why Jimmy Collins was not considered for head coach when Henson retired in 1996. After all, the NCAA probably still believes Collins was guilty, and it will be eager to believe anyone trying to make a case against him in the future. The NCAA never rested in its quest to penalize former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, and it is feared they would behave the same toward Collins. Perhaps that is untrue, but I don't believe we wanted to take that chance.

Many people benefitted from the Deon Thomas episode, but not us. Lou Henson tried mightily to make Illinois back into a winner, and he had winning seasons every year thereafter except 1991-1992. But all the problems coupled with advancing age and the dirty recruiting that caused recruits to believe Henson would soon retire, forced Henson to retire. Lon Kruger, another coach with a strong reputation for honesty and integrity, was hired to replace him, and he compiled a fine 81-48 record with one Big 10 Championship in four years before accepting a job as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA.

Kruger was replaced by Bill Self, who had great success for three years before leaving for the University of Kansas. He had much going for him, and he left too soon for most Illini fans. However, even in that short span of time, he and assistant coach Billy Gillispie accumulated more than 20 "minor" recruiting infractions that our ever-alert Compliance Office discovered and self-reported to the NCAA.

Whether there was any conscious effort by Self and Gillespie to cheat is unknown. After all, most schools and coaches are unaware of all the complexities of NCAA guidelines. Perhaps they had never before undergone the extensive scrutiny required now at Illinois. Regardless, they probably have more freedom now at Kansas and Texas A and M, respectively, than they had at Illinois. Such is the nature of the Illinois situation.

Bruce Weber is now the head coach at Illinois. He has been given a strong requirement to follow all NCAA guidelines and submit to the advice of the Compliance Office at all times. The recent minor violations were a renewed reminder of how important it is for Illinois to remain vigilant and prevent all cheating, even if it means sacrificing some recruiting success. We simply have no other choice.

Next week's column will try to synthesize the past three columns and outline where Illinois must go from here.

Go Illini!

Corrections and additions from last week's column:
1. Jim Valek is from Joliet and coached football at LaSalle-Peru.

2. Neale Stoner's first name was misspelled, and in one instance Vance Redfern's last name was misspelled.

3. The Elton-Delton fiasco occurred in the winter of 1982 and caused the football team to be on probation during the 1984 season. Another later series of recruiting violations during the Mike White years including the Hart Lee Dykes episode led to a second set of new penalties and brought White's ultimate demise.

4. A credible source who had access to newspaper articles at the time says there were rumors of rampant cheating by numerous Big 10 members prior to 1966. The Big 10 "Council of Ten" presidents had warned its member institutions that it would deal harshly with the first school to be caught cheating. That school was Illinois.

I apologize for the errors and thank those who helped me by pointing them out. I also thank those who shared additional information.

Please feel free to discuss this column on the message boards with other Illini fans, or if you have a specific question for Illinisports, he can be reached via e-mail at

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