Through the Trifocals

Illinisports concludes his four-part series on the Slush Fund and its aftermath in this column. He describes noncheaters and cheaters and draws conclusions on how Illinois must function in the future based on lessons from the past. <br><br> Read more in Illinisports latest column for IlliniBoard.com.

Most people have heard the story of the boy who cried "Wolf". A young shepherd boy was assigned to protect a flock of sheep from hungry wolves. He got lonely and decided to get some attention from family and townspeople by crying "Wolf" when there was none. People came running to help him with the wolf. He did this two or three times, and each time the people came running, only to find no wolf. When a wolf actually showed up, the boy's cries for help fell on deaf ears because no one believed him anymore.

Most people are taught that the moral lesson for this story is that lieing is wrong because telling lies causes people to distrust you once they learn you are not credible. However, some people learn the exact opposite lesson. They learn to never tell the same lie twice.

Illinois athletics has been caught or accused of cheating in at least five or six major instances. Each time, the University of Illinois has shown its desire to become more honest rather than to tell different lies. Each time, the UI has worked harder to prevent cheating and run a clean program for which we could all be proud.

The UI now spends a considerable sum of money on an effective Compliance Office that monitors the recruiting activities of all coaches. It has become a model that other schools wishing to live within the rules have emulated. The NCAA book of rules and guidelines is extremely long, complex and at times confusing, and our staff has become experts on the subject. We require extensive paperwork from all coaches, and we self-report every possible violation to the NCAA right after it happens to demonstrate our desire to live within NCAA guidelines. If a particular coach is unable or unwilling to cooperate, he or she must undergo remedial training or seek employment elsewhere.

The UI has also established other programs to guarantee honesty in its athletics. We have worked diligently over the years to improve academic excellence and high graduation rates among athletes. We have a separate facility where athletes can go for tutorial and counseling help. All athletes receive weekly counseling to catch problems at their outset so they can continue their progression toward their degrees. Freshmen have a mandatory daily study hall to help them establish consistent study patterns and learn time management skills. And we have added programs such as the summer Bridge Program to help entering student-athletes with academic deficiencies prepare for the rigors of college curricula. All this contrasts with the practice of keeping athletes eligible regardless of their academic work, which occurs at some schools.

The UI also has developed a strong alcohol and drug abuse program to help prevent problems in these areas. There is recurring testing for these problems, some of which is random and unannounced. This program includes the search for performance-enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids, growth hormone, and other designer drugs that give athletes additional strength and athleticism at the schools who wish to gain an advantage over their competitors. Rightly so, the health needs of our student-athletes long after they are through with athletics warrants constant monitoring, and the UI will not let down its standards for a few extra wins.

Of course, academic and drug-related requirements cannot be enforced unless all coaches agree to punish offenders. I have known coaches from grade schools on up through college who have requested or demanded that athletes be allowed to receive grades they didn't deserve or play in games after breaking school rules or testing positive for drugs. All coaches want their athletes eligible and capable of dominating their opponents, so it takes a special person to put his own needs aside to bench players who fail to meet their academic and personal responsibilities. The UI evaluates prospective coaches with this characteristic in mind.

Personally, I am glad we have made these and other improvements because I would lose all respect for the UI if they chose perpetual cheating and subsequent coverups as their battle cry. Our administrators, as a whole, have always had a degree of moral development, so they were at least capable of insisting on these improvements on their own. But at times, we have gone kicking and screaming into the world of honesty and integrity. Our willingness to spend money and time to have an honest program did not always occur voluntarily but evolved reluctantly over time.

Our maturation process has been a slow, painful one, and we have suffered numerous setbacks along the way. This is not to use the Slush Fund and subsequent run-ins with the NCAA as an excuse for not being reigning National Champions in both football and basketball. But it has damaged our reputation and created delays in our development that have occurred while some of our competitors continued to grow and develop unimpeded.

Whether we like it or not, Illinois has a reputation as an ex-con repeat offender. We have already served our time, but some people are still unforgiving toward us. We have at times wallowed in mediocrity (for example, no Big 10 championships in any sport other than fencing from 1963-1975), we are repentant, we have upgraded our compliance with NCAA rules, and we have worked diligently to improve our image within the NCAA hierarchy.

But we are not allowed to bury the past, especially when other schools use our reputation against us in recruiting and public perception. Whether we like it or not, a competitor at any time can accuse us of illegal recruiting, and there's a likelihood those accusations will be believed due to our past reputation. We may always be vulnerable to false accusations like those in the Deon Thomas affair.

People still today say we were doing no more and sometimes far less than most every other Big 10 school at the time we were penalized for the Slush Fund of 1966. And that is undoubtedly true. But it was much more substantial than just providing "laundry money" that was legal within the NCAA at the time but not the Big 10.

I was told that Illinois athletes received $21,000 in extra benefits in 1962 alone. This was a significant amount of money back then, and it included benefits provided by alumni and supporters on a one-to-one basis with players. All told, 17 football and basketball players listed in the Slush Fund documents were not penalized simply because they had already completed their eligibility. I do not know their names, but I must wonder if these revelations might taint our 1963 Big 10 basketball and football championships. Is it any surprise we ended the decade of the 1960's with the reputation as cheaters?

The Universities of Michigan and Ohio State, always known for excellence in football and basketball, continued an upward spiral of success from the '60's on into the '70's, '80's, '90's and into the new century. A number of people truly believed that Illinois was prepared to join these two schools as perpetual powers in the Big 10 and nationally when the Slush Fund hit. It is far easier to continue an upward climb when you don't have to keep going back and forth repeatedly, so our image as an elite program fell behind those other two schools and has never caught up. These schools never had to step backward and start over, especially in the biggest revenue producing sport of football. This is not saying they weren't cheating, only that they weren't penalized for cheating.

Athletic Director Don Canham of Michigan was especially successful during this time at marketing his school and athletic insignia, making money and aiding national reputation at the same time. Selling Michigan colors all over the country helped them with recruiting and fan support. It also helped them gain a reputation as an elite program.

While Canham was doing his thing, Illinois was drowning in a mud puddle of its own creation. It couldn't sell football tickets, so it couldn't invest in its football program, coaches salaries, recruiting budget, facilities, etc. It couldn't do a national marketing campaign because people don't want to wear the jackets and jerseys of cheaters. By the year 2004, Michigan has created two and maybe three generations of Michigan fans simply from having cornered a marketing niche at a time when there was little competition.

And what about the schools that have not been caught cheating? Some of the ones who Illinois copied in the 1960's have never been punished for their actions. What do you think they learned from the Illinois Slush Fund? That's right, they learned how to cheat better. They learned how to avoid all record-keeping, how to keep their alumni donors happy and their mouths shut, how to keep their athletes eligible and pacified so they won't have reason to make accusations against their benefactors, and how to disguise their operations so they can keep everything secret. Just think how sophisticated some of these operations might be today with culprit schools refining and improving them repeatedly as each year passes!

The NCAA has always been powerless to stop the true cheaters. They may not even wish to catch the schools that make the NCAA the most money. They have only regulations and guidelines, not laws. They have no subpoena power, so they cannot force a coach, athlete, administrator, alumnus or school representative to incriminate themselves in any interrogation. If a school is cheating and has no paper trail or any whistle-blowers, the NCAA can do nothing to penalize their actions because they can't prove there were any violations. Their only real hope is to have the offending school do its own investigation and turn itself in, or to have a disgruntled athlete expose the fraud of which he or she was a part. This occurs infrequently at best.

And thanks to dedicated people like Jo Miller and her Illinois allies, the NCAA has been forced to behave more ethically in the investigative process. As one of many questionable tactics, NCAA investigators used to interview athletes and others without benefit of a tape recorder or stenographer. They would just write "summaries" from notes taken during their interrogations, which in some cases were intentionally biased against the accused or were falsified. They rationalized that they needed this extra help to punish people they knew (without proof) were cheating. Now they must tape record all conversations, which makes the process eminently more fair but reduces the likelihood of obtaining incriminating evidence against a school.

The NCAA is constantly writing new rules to tighten the loopholes of previous rules, all to reduce the likelihood of cheating. But while schools like Illinois now require their administrators and coaches to study all the complexities and nuances of these rules to guarantee full compliance, other schools are looking for creative means of misusing the rules to their benefit. Creative cheaters can find a loophole in any law or rule ever devised, and by the time that loophole is eliminated, they have found some other way to abuse the intent of the rule.

Let us pretend for a moment that Illinois administrators decide we should cheat to compete for the big bucks that National Championships in football and basketball might bring. Who are we up against, and what techniques must be used to compare with unethical programs? Without mentioning any names, we can estimate what some of them might be like.

While schools like Illinois pride themselves in striving to win fair and square, others see morality as a sign of weakness. Like the organized crime motto, some schools believe, "It's nothing personal, it's just business." Rather than worrying about a guilty conscience they seem to have deeply buried or otherwise neutralized, their only thought is to maximize profits at the expense of their competitors. They see schools like Illinois as inferior and nonthreatening simply because they place limits on themselves.

In contrast, cheater schools create an environment they can control, all in an effort to help them win and prevent exposure. Yes, they have a system of alumni support, and they reward these fat cats with special access and other tangible benefits while threatening them with reprisal if they should betray the system. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.

There are few if any direct payments of money between coaches and players. Instead, alumni subsidize players' families, coaches or "street agents" who then aid the athlete. Even then, methodology of payment has become important, especially after Eddie Sutton got in trouble at Kentucky when an assistant coach sent $1000 to Chris Mills' father via a delivery service and the package broke open to expose the money. Besides money, jobs, new residences, vehicles, and other assets are provided either free or at a reduced fee, all the while hiding or falsifying any paper trail.

During the late 1970's, an insider at the University of Kentucky told me that the going rate to attract top basketball players was at least $10,000. With inflation and especially competition, that figure has likely gone up considerably since then. When you consider that Chris Webber was documented to have received over $600,000 from Ed Martin prior to and during his time at Michigan, then there are probably some athletes who hold out for stipends vastly larger than $10,000. Whatever the market will bear. Some athletes have integrity (or sufficient family income) and do not desire extra benefits, and some are not good enough to warrant them. But there are some who have always been spoiled and come to expect extra benefits.

Some schools have groups of families who are assigned to assist top athletes at their schools, much like Illinois did prior to the Slush Fund. Harry Gozier, a one-time high school teammate of Michigan's Vincent Carter and Illinois' Derek Harper, signed originally to attend Michigan and then transferred to Illinois to play a reserve role as a cornerback for Mike White. When Gozier was later on trial for murder, a Michigan alumnus testified in court how he and his family had helped Gozier repeatedly with meals, money and other benefits. His testimony was offered to support Gozier's reputation, but it caught the attention of Judge Robert Steigmann.

The Michigan alumnus was apparently unaware that it was against NCAA policy to help athletes in this way, so he offered his incriminating testimony voluntarily. Steigmann, being familiar with NCAA rules after suffering with other Illini fans through our previous problems, mailed transcripts of the testimony to the NCAA. However, the NCAA chose to ignore the evidence, claiming that an arbitrary "statute of limitations" had passed. Still, it demonstrated how some other schools operate to help athletes.

Athletes have long been given summer jobs to help them accumulate funds to have spending money during the school year. Much of this is legitimate and legal, as long as the athlete earns everything he receives, and as long as he is not given opportunities unavailable to nonathletes. But abuses are common.

Alumni and fans at all schools often volunteer their businesses to receive summertime student help. Some of these businesses have been lax in terms of keeping accurate work records. Thus, an athlete may be given payment for hours of work he didn't earn, and it can be difficult to know if the records are accurate. The NCAA has tried over the years to put restrictions on these activities, but there is only so much they can do.

Some jobs are just so naturally lucrative that they give a few select schools a recruiting advantage. For instance, I was told that athletes at Kentucky back in the 1970's were paid $1000 or more for each thorobred race horse they were assigned to look after for a summer. Understand, they were not responsible for the horses' well-being. They were just supposed to help out once in awhile. That may have been the going rate for that wealthy industry, so who is to say the athletes didn't earn their keep?

I was also told that some athletes at UCLA were given jobs in the film industry that, after joining a union, could earn them many hundreds of dollars for hours or fractions of hours worked. There was a rumor that Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul Jabbar) wasn't on scholarship at UCLA. Instead, he supposedly earned $100 per hour as a film cutter. Just showing up for a fraction of an hour guaranteed that payment, so the income was too great to need a scholarship. And not having the scholarship would have allowed him to work anytime he needed the money and not just during the summer when the NCAA permits it. I cannot prove the veracity of this rumor, but union jobs in the film industry do pay extremely well. Illinois can't offer jobs like this, even if we wanted to, because there are no such jobs available in C-U.

There are also some companies who curry favor with athletes by offering to sell them their wares via sweetheart deals. Expensive automobiles have long been popular among athletes, and some auto dealers are quite willing to "cook the books" to help athletes or their families purchase vehicles at reduced prices or with favorable financing. Some athletes expect to have such a vehicle as a natural aspect of their recruitment to a school, and schools who will not cheat lose out on these athletes.

And we cannot forget the shoe company catering to the needs of Wisconsin athletes a few years ago. It was receiving UW athletic equipment from athletes who hadn't paid for it and then providing money, shoes and other apparel in return. Businesses like this can be quite creative about providing benefits to athletes not available to nonathletes. Clothing stores are common in this regard, but any business owner wishing to gain influence within an athletic department may offer his products or services on a special basis to selected athletes. The store at Wisconsin was caught, but it is likely just one of many all over the country. There probably isn't a single college in the US that has not at one time or other had a business in their vicinity make special offers to athletes.

All these financial benefits may either help support the athlete while on campus or be used as recruiting tools. Amoral coaches use other dubious or unethical recruiting tools as well. Lieing to a recruit is nearly as common as breathing. All athletes love to hear how wonderful they are, so they are often susceptible to a con artist willing to sell his soul to recruit top athletes. They want to believe they will start as freshmen, that they can play the position they prefer, and that they are better than others at their position. Schools that tell these recruits the truth may be at a decided disadvantage if the recruits are susceptible to the exaggerations of the con artist.

And there are no "gentleman's agreements" that cannot be broken. It is said the Big 10 has a verbal policy that no school within the conference will try to recruit a player already committed but not yet signed to play for another conference school. But all that wonderful rhetoric cannot be enforced as law when schools or coaches become desperate to upgrade their recruiting.

The "elite" schools are among the biggest culprits in stealing recruits from their competitors. They realize that many athletes would prefer to play on a championship program and might be amenable to their sales pitch. So after they have lost their top preferences, they begin to contact their second list players, including those already committed to other schools. They may steal athletes from their fellow Big 10 members with no guilt or remorse involved, and with no subsequent punishment. And non Big 10 programs with national reputations like Notre Dame and numerous others have no such verbal agreements with other schools, so they have no qualms at all about stealing recruits.

There is much more that cheater schools can do to aid their cause. Every school has a few professors who are also fans, and these individuals have been known to give athletes higher grades than deserved. I know an instance of an Illini basketball player from the 1960's who, in an advanced marketing class, got a D on one exam, an E in another, flunked the final exam and still received a C for the course. The athlete didn't ask for the aid, he just received it. And there may be certain players who are given an opportunity to improve a grade after the end of a semester by an amenable instructor.

But to my knowledge, Illinois has never had an organized plan to help players receive academic benefits not deserved. In fact, there are some curricula, like the Physical Education Department for many years, that openly make it harder for athletes than nonathletes. But the exact opposite situation might occur at cheater schools.

At some schools, athletes are given an opportunity to enroll in classes and curricula that intentionally favor them in a quest to remain eligible. There are "rinky-dink" classes such as basketweaving, teepee-making, etc., that are of questionable value except to keep athletes eligible. Jim Herrick's son at the University of Georgia recently was teaching a remedial level course on beginning basketball that gave free credit to basketball players who could spell their names correctly, as one example. If you can cultivate one or more colleges within a university that will cooperate in keeping at-risk athletes eligible, you can then place athletes in those curricula.

A few schools also seem adept at getting athletes qualified for enrollment. Different conferences around the country have different requirements regarding the treatment of nonqualifiers and partial qualifiers. Some Big 10 schools, and Illinois is one of these, pride themselves on academics and are reluctant to accept anyone who may be a high risk academically. But some schools outside the Big 10 will accept most any nonqualifier, and somehow these individuals make their grades after one year of ineligibility.

Requirements for junior college transfers vary also, especially in terms of what courses are transferrable to a four-year school. Illinois has lost out on several junior college football players who could not meet Big 10 standards but could still be eligible by NCAA rules at other schools. And some junior college athletes take correspondence courses from questionable schools that are not acceptable for Big 10 eligibility but are accepted without question elsewhere. Schools with supportive administrators who have no illusions about their academic elitism have a decided advantage in getting athletes enrolled and eligible, especially when they find their like kind operating in the junior colleges.

Even the methods used to help some players attain eligibility for college enrollment may be controlled by a few rogue schools. While I have no proof of this, it would be compatible with amoral schools to hire equally amoral doctors to declare nonqualified athletes "Learning Disabled". This allows these athletes to take their qualifying ACT or SAT tests untimed and privately in the presence of one monitor who reads the questions to them. If that monitor is also somehow willing to help the athlete attain eligibility, voice intonation and facial expressions can go a long way toward helping the athletes get their test questions correct.

A few schools (Nebraska and Michigan State are examples) have developed special academic programs for the Learning Disabled. These programs might be excellent and care only about the needs of their students. But one must always wonder if there isn't at least a temptation at these schools to make exceptions for athletes. I know of at least two instances where athletes basically flunked every course in high school, were then admitted into the Learning Disabled program at one of these schools, and after sitting out one year had sufficient college credit to be eligible for intercollegiate athletics. These programs either perform miracles and are truly God-sent to help deserving student-athletes, or they are one great excuse to gain admission for great athletes who cannot qualify at other schools. At this point, I don't know which. It probably depends on the school.

It has been known for a long time that some athletes have had other people take their ACT or SAT tests for them, and not all have been caught at it. The testing requirements and security apparatus have been upgraded to prevent this, but there are likely still abuses. And since eligibility is based on both test scores and high school grade point average of a core curriculum, cooperative high school teachers and administrators may be tempted to help athletes by changing their grades. Some of these people may be alumni of a school trying to recruit the athlete in question, but others may actually be given certain payouts to aid their decision-making process or have some other self-serving purpose for their assistance.

The University of Minnesota was recently investigated by the NCAA because of an academic scandal where one or more tutors assigned to assist athletes were actually writing papers for those athletes with the knowledge and insistence of their head basketball coach Clem Haskins. Similar allegations have cropped up in places like the University of Tennessee and Ohio State University. This is probably not totally uncommon. But at some cheater schools, it is probably institutionalized to the extreme. That is, if their schools even require their athletes to attend and pass classes.

If cheater schools can control the academic process, they will control it. There are only rare whistle-blowers, either out of loyalty to the school or fear of reprisal for failure. After all, amoral people want their way so badly they often act like bullies, intimidating all those who get in their way. Fear is a great motivator for those who must win at all costs.

Designer drugs are being used at the college level, even though most will not admit it. I believe at least 2-3 Big 10 football programs have organized programs, although I won't say names because I have no proof. I know of one school that hired as its football strength coach a person who had assisted Nebraska's steroid program prior to its exposure some 15 or so years ago. And their offensive and defensive lines almost immediately began to dominate the line of scrimmage against their Big 10 foes.

When one sees athletes, who are at about the same level of athleticism and height as their competitors during high school, become 20 pounds heavier and significantly stronger than those same competitors after 5 years of college strength training and development, one must wonder whether drugs are involved. And when one sees that school's formerly slender wide receivers with bulging musculature while competing on their track team, one must beg the same question.

Any good cheater school worth its salt would also wish to control its surrounding environment to further aid its cause. For instance, the media in a college community can be either an asset or liability to a program. If a school can get its local media to preach the company line instead of doing any investigative reporting, they can prevent the exposure of numerous problems and illegaties. Either through charm and sweet talk, the ready compliance of media alumni, the threat of loss of exposure to the program, or the withdrawal of advertising dollars, an amoral school or coach can control more of what is said about their programs. Let's face it, if no one hears about problems, no one will try to do anything about them or contact the NCAA to complain.

Of course, coaches and administrators can also develop friendly individual relationships with a reporter. Once trust is established by offering certain "scoops", that reporter can be manipulated for hidden purposes. They might use him to pass public messages on to a prospective recruit to influence his college choice. Just like counterintelligence assets within the CIA, they may use disinformation (lies embedded within truth) to start a "whisper campaign" or run a smear operation against an opponent. And more than anything, a close relationship with a reporter guarantees that favorable articles will be written about them and their schools.

Some schools have also developed viable working relationships with their local police departments and legal system. Cheater schools can buy corrupt cops and judges. Whenever one of their athletes gets in trouble with the law, it may subsequently be hushed up and ignored. It may also go unreported if the media cooperate. If the case should go to a judge, there is a strong likelihood of leniency if the judge is also favorable to the program. If a coach or school can set itself up as dictator, and it is not that hard if the surrounding community depends on that school's success, everyone important in the community serves a supporting role in ensuring victory over truth and justice.

There are far more ways a school can cheat. But one possible major means of assistance may come from the large shoe companies, soft drink behemoths and others who subsidize a college for advertising purposes. Corporations who provide millions of dollars in assistance to schools in return for exclusivity may not just be doing this as a tax write-off. Like big donors everywhere, they may also expect to wield power and influence with those schools. And the degree to which they expect something in return is directly related to the amount of the subsidy.

The book "Sole Influence" by Dan Wetzel and Don Yaeger describes how major shoe companies such as Nike, Adidas and Reebok compete with each other to find future basketball superstars who can make them many millions of dollars as professionals by providing testimonials for their products. They provide money, apparel and other benefits to youngsters high school age and even younger in the hope of keeping them in their "stable" for their future money-making potential. And they subsidize some AAU basketball programs and coaches who recruit top players to play for them and serve as living advertisements at the big tournaments and camps around the country.

What is never discussed, either in that book or anywhere else that I have seen, is what happens once the athletes go off to college. Does anyone really believe the shoe companies no longer have a vested interest in the players they used to subsidize? It would be totally illogical if they lost interest because they are still expecting a long-term return on their investments. It would also be illogical if they did not want "their" athletes to attend colleges who are also subsidized by the same company. And since they pay far more to some colleges and coaches than others, wouldn't it be in their self-interest to help insure success for their biggest investments by helping them recruit their players?

Illinois has major contracts with Nike and Coca-Cola, among others. Nike pays our coaches to represent them and have their players wear their shoes and jerseys and use their sports equipment. But they give far more support to the "elite" programs. The game is like that of corporations currying favor with politicians. They give money to politicians from both parties, but they give far more to the political party most likely to skew the law to fit their self-interest. Likewise, since schools like Michigan in football and Duke in basketball are likely to make Nike much more revenue than Illinois, they give significantly higher amounts of money to those schools.

In fact, they give so much money to some of these schools and coaches (I have heard that Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski makes $3 million from Nike alone), that I cannot believe they can afford to see these schools fail. I have no proof they provide illegal assistance, but why wouldn't they? When Dick Vitale, a spokesman for numerous companies and hired by Nike to speak at their basketball camps, recommended to Michigan, a Nike company, that they hire Tommy Amaker, a Nike man and former player and assistant to Krzyzewski at Duke, I have to wonder if Vitale had a vested interest in the outcome. Perhaps it was totally innocent and coincidental, but then again, it would go against the nature of "Big Business" to leave anything to chance.

I have heard of some schools hiring former representatives of the shoe companies as assistant coaches or administrative assistants. In other words, they hired the shoe companies' "bag men", the ones who gave the company money to the athletes and AAU coaches. Sure, they have great contacts and can aid in the legal recruitment of players they know. But can we guarantee that all money-exchanges will end now that both players and shoe representatives are functioning at the college level? Can you imagine a player accustomed to receiving aid from a former shoe rep walking into his new assistant coach's office and not expecting history to repeat itself? I can't.

So what, if anything, can we conclude from this lengthy diatribe? For one thing, Illinois is a school that cannot cheat. Not only are we likely to be punished severely for even minor infractions due to our sordid past, but we are truly a lousy cheat. We are clearly no good at it. Every time we have tried to get away with something, we have failed miserably. We have always had just enough moral development to incriminate ourselves. We have never shown the extremes of competitive survival, the insatiable primordial hunger to pretend superiority over our peers, that would force us to choose cheating to succeed.

Instead, we have tried to grow beyond our weaknesses and become better as a university and athletic program. I would never wish anyone reading this to believe for even one moment that I am trying to paint Illinois in some kind of heavenly light, shining above its peers. Because frankly, I think we still have a way to go to be a totally trustworthy, honest program. But we have grown farther and farther away from the days when cheaters held sway in the decision-making apparatus of the University.

Each time we were punished, we responded by hiring administrators and coaches who were more likely to resist cheating as a viable alternative. At this time, with Ron Guenther in charge, our coaches have a great deal of integrity, and they have a strong and functional Compliance Office to remind them of all the nuances of NCAA rules. But this can and does sometimes place us at a competitive disadvantage since we are not operating on a level playing field with all our athletic opponents.

The reality is that most of the great high school defensive linemen, cornerbacks, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends and offensive tackles in football, and the high-flying small forwards and dominating centers in basketball, have numerous offers from schools for their services, including some illegal ones. Those with good academic records can attend top academic schools who also have good athletic programs. But they may be just as vulnerable as those with less qualifications when big bucks are thrown their way. It takes a strong individual with a secure family tie to resist all the opportunities.

Thus, what Illinois must do is continue to hire the best possible coaches who also have integrity. Instead of just hiring the "flavor of the year" who has had recent success, we must find coaches who love the challenge of developing a championship program while maintaining the highest standards of integrity and honesty. They must be willing and able to endure some hardships and setbacks along the way. And they must be able to coach the talent they have to rise up and compete on even terms with the best teams money can buy.

I have loved all our recent Big 10 championships in basketball, but the one that is most memorable to me is the 1998 team coached by Lon Kruger. With five senior overachievers in Jerry Hester, Brian Johnson, Jarrod Gee, Matt Heldman and Kevin Turner, none of whom were NBA caliber, that team developed a special chemistry where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. It was beautiful to watch them overcome immense odds and achieve unexpected success. That is the kind of coaching job Illinois must look for in all its coaches, because some of the greatest athletes may matriculate elsewhere.

I think the 2001 Big 10 football champion team coached by Ron Turner was molded along similar lines. Yes, we did have a few great players like Kurt Kittner, Brandon Lloyd, Eugene Wilson and Walter Young, and we had great leadership from people like Brandon Moore, Luke Butkus, Bobby Jackson and Kittner. But overall, we were operating with much less talent than several of our Big 10 opponents. And yet we made it to the Sugar Bowl. That was a tremendous accomplishment by the Illini, and they deserve special praise for representing Illinois and proving that a team untainted by scandal or foul play can still rise up and conquer their more fortified adversaries.

It may be difficult to find top coaches whenever we need them. I have heard a number of coaches' names bandied about in the last year or two for both football and basketball. Frankly, some of the coaches with the big names and reputations will have little interest in Illinois. If contacted, they will ask how much money we will spend for assistant coaches, recruiting budget, facilities upgrade, etc., and those are important questions that have no easy answers.

But they may also ask how much freedom they will have to do what they believe needs to be done to recruit top players. They may not be fond of our Compliance office and its intrusion on their activities. They may wish to hire their own trainers (who may or may not believe in designer drugs). They may ask to meet the big money people to see how involved they might be. And they may ask how supportive the UI academic administration is toward accepting academic risks and keeping them in school. If they later are asked why they were not interested in Illinois, they might respond, "I didn't feel they had enough of a commitment to winning." If so, this may in part be a code for saying Illinois was unwilling to cheat to win.

One word of warning is still necessary. Just a year ago, I started hearing rumblings that a few alumni were openly considering the viability of starting a program to cheat for football recruits, given our struggles the past two years. As I hope I have proved in the past four columns, there is no way we can create a new program that can be as effective as programs that have been developing unabated for 50-100 years. And there is no way the representives of the University of Illinois can allow such a program to function for long without blowing its cover.

Thus, we must remain vigilant. We must strive to maintain our honesty in the face of massive odds against us. We must report abuses and illegalities when we discover them so we can stop them before they disrupt our programs. We must cherish our wins and our championships because we may have done more to earn them than most. And we must try to understand (if not accept) our failures in a world where cheating is often rewarded and everyone wants to win as badly as us.

I am not advocating that we become perpetual doormats and just accept a subordinant position as the superpowers wish us to do. We are not their lackeys, and we must never allow them to think we are. But we must also operate consciously enough to realize that success can be measured in many ways and not just in wins on the playing field. After all, winning with integrity feels greater, and its memory lasts far longer, than winning through cheating. Always!

Go Illini!!!

Illinisports

Through the Trifocals will return on August 11.


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 illinisports@illiniboard.com.

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