Assistant head football coach Sanford Lee Rodgers didn't like what he was seeing during practice on the hot afternoon of August 14 at Scottsdale Community College.
Running back Jamie Warren and defensive lineman Curtis Robinson were arguing and fighting, disrupting the practice.
Rodgers already had a beef with Warren -- he had tossed him off the team earlier in the month. But the 185-pound speedster from Dallas, Texas, was reinstated by head coach Ken Giovando and was battling for a starting slot in the SCC backfield.
As punishment for fighting, Rodgers ordered Warren and the 280-pound Robinson to line up across from each other, with Warren running the ball directly at Robinson in a grueling one-on-one drill. Time after time, Robinson wrapped up Warren and slammed him to the ground. The young men repeated the drill about a dozen times.
Finally, Robinson was given a break and headed to the sidelines for water.
But Rodgers had more planned for Warren.
Warren was ordered to line up behind an offensive lineman, who squared off against a defensive lineman. The object of the drill was for Warren to read which way the offensive lineman was blocking the defender, then cut in the other direction.
But as is often the case in football, the plans and execution didn't jibe. The defensive lineman shoved the offensive lineman straight back, right into Warren's path.
"When I broke, the defensive lineman went that way, too," Warren says in a recent interview. "And the offensive lineman, I bumped into him, like my arm bumped into him."
Warren's brush against the offensive lineman infuriated Rodgers, SCC players say.
"So coach Rodgers goes like, 'You don't bump into a player's back, you don't bump into a player's back,'" recounts Warren.
Such collisions between a running back and one of his blockers are not uncommon and are generally tolerated as incidental contact.
But on this day, with this player, Rodgers apparently wanted to make a statement.
"So he says, 'Jamie, you go be the offensive lineman, you block the "D" lineman,'" Warren says.
Rodgers then ordered Don Pitt, the 270-pound offensive lineman whom Warren had bumped, to take Warren's position as the running back.
"'You be the running back and just run right up his back,'" Rodgers yelled to Pitt, according to Warren's account.
Exhausted from the earlier drill with Robinson, Warren was an easy target. A fresh defensive lineman with a 100-pound advantage slammed into Warren, forcing him into a standing position.
Pitt, a freshman from Greenfield, Tennessee, charged toward Warren, lowered his helmet and slammed its crown into Warren's lower back, just to the right of his spine.
Several people who saw the play say the hit was a type outlawed in football called a spear. Spearing is dangerous, not only to the person receiving the helmet blow, but also because the player inflicting the hit could suffer serious neck injury.
As Pitt's helmet crashed into Warren's spine-protection pad, Warren's back snapped back, then he whiplashed forward, smashing his face to the ground. The impact was so great, Warren's head slammed against a dislodged chin strap, giving him a black eye.
Though Warren was bent over, his back injured, ankle twisted and face bruised, Rodgers wanted more. He ordered Warren to run several plays a few minutes later. Warren's wobbly effort garnered a reprimand from head coach Giovando.
The drill finally stopped when another assistant coach checked out Warren and told Giovando that the player appeared to be hurt.
The brutality of the drill stunned many of those watching the practice.
"A lot of teammates didn't think that was right," says one player who was at the practice.
"I ain't never seen anything like that in my life," says another former player who saw the incident.
Other players and staff members who observed the incident refuse to comment on the record because they fear retribution from the football coaches. But privately, sources tell New Times that the incident was among the most flagrant fouls they had ever seen on a football field -- and certainly the most egregious ever encouraged by a coach.
While none of the witnesses heard Rodgers order the spear, they say they believe Rodgers wanted Warren punished.
Warren's days as a member of the SCC Artichokes football team are over. He says he hasn't gone back to practice, and it took the college nearly two weeks to line up an appointment with an off-campus doctor. He's now receiving physical therapy for bruises and a strained lower back. He says the injury could have been far worse if he hadn't been wearing the spine protection pad, which he and others say was damaged by Pitt's helmet. (The whereabouts of the damaged pad are unknown.)
SCC officials have refused to answer questions about the incident. Head coach Giovando, assistant head coach Rodgers and athletic director Art Becker have all declined to comment on the incident or other issues that have been uncovered by New Times.
SCC dean of students Virginia Stahl says the college is continuing to investigate the August 14 incident, and she expects to reach a conclusion later this week -- after meeting with SCC president Art DeCabooter.
The spearing incident triggered a wave of accusations -- by past and present SCC players and other people associated with the team -- of improper activities in the SCC football program. New Times has found substantial evidence to support some of those allegations, including:
Football coaches taped over the videotape of the August 14 practice that may have showed the spearing incident.
Out-of-state players have been improperly recruited by Giovando and his assistants to come to SCC. Maricopa Community College District rules forbid out-of-state recruitment of football players.
Football players say they were paid for work they never did under a federally funded work-study program operated by the football team.
Players were required to purchase athletic apparel, including practice shirts, shorts and traveling shirts, from coaches. The college has failed to produce accounting records on the receipts and sales of these products while stating the sales should not have been handled by coaches.
Head coach Giovando incited and encouraged his players to engage in unsportsmanlike conduct during a 1999 game against Mesa Community College, including making obscene gestures to the opposing team prior to kickoff. The game degenerated into a slugfest with more than 400 yards in personal foul penalties.
Dean of students Stahl appears to be supporting the coaches' version of the incident involving Warren, which apparently is being depicted as a routine drill. In the meantime, she's trying to keep details of the investigation under wraps.
"Until we finish with our own investigation, it will be better for everyone if it stays in-house; all of that comes out in-house, and then the appropriate action by the college is taken," Stahl says.
Much of the criticism being leveled by current and former players is directed at Giovando and his longtime assistant, Rodgers.
Giovando has coached at SCC since 1973, serving in various roles including offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. He became head coach in 1996. The University of Arizona graduate and football letterman is the only defensive lineman in Wildcats history to record two interceptions in the same game, against Brigham Young in 1964.
Sanford Lee Rodgers joined Giovando in 1993 at SCC after spending 10 seasons at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, where he coached offensive and defensive lines. Rodgers and Giovando met at Arizona in 1963.
The two men have formed a tight relationship. While a steady stream of assistant coaches have come and gone from SCC the past four years, Giovando and Rodgers remain the core of the coaching staff. Giovando receives a $6,794-a-year stipend from SCC as head coach, while Rodgers earns $4,157.
The pay seems almost incidental compared to the hours spent on the practice field, reviewing film, going to high schools to scout players and coaching home and away football games for a school that generates sparse crowds.
The football coaching staff is overseen by athletic director Art Becker, a star basketball player at Arizona State University in the mid-1960s. Sources say Becker learned of the incident involving Warren the next day, but did not seek to review the videotape of the practice or interview the players involved.
Stahl learned details about the practice from Warren and his cousin, Tony Franklin, who met with Stahl on August 18. Stahl then began an investigation into the incident, but appears to be ill-prepared to conduct a probe because of her fundamental lack of understanding football.
For example, she offers a very narrow definition of spearing -- a definition provided to her by the football coaches.
"Spearing is where there is a pileup of players, when they got the ball and somebody has been tackled and there is a whole pile of them, and when someone comes in headfirst leading with the helmet, that's spearing," she says.
When asked if that is the only definition of spearing the coaches have provided her, Stahl giggles and says, "Yeah, I'm learning a lot about football."
In actuality, spearing occurs any time a blocker, tackler or ball carrier hits another player with the crown of the helmet.
While SCC appears to be making a halfhearted attempt to investigate the Warren incident, there is no doubt how SCC archrival Mesa Community College would handle allegations of spearing encouraged by coaches during practice, says MCC athletic director Allen Benedict.
"If that happened in my program, first I would check it out and verify it. If it was done, I would ask the coach for his resignation," Benedict says. "I don't want that type of coach."
Investigating the SCC incident has become more difficult because the videotape of the practice has been erased, Stahl says.
"We have four practice videotapes," Stahl says. "Each of the practices is about four hours long. Those are retaped every night. The occurrence that Jamie is talking about happened on a Monday night. I was not informed of the tape until Friday."
Stahl says by the time she asked the football team for the tape, it had been erased.
"The tape is used over and over," she says. "It was retaped on the 15th, the 16th and on the 17th. It was retaped when I called and asked them, 'Find this tape.' They went through the tapes and they said, 'It does not exist, we taped over them already three times.'"
Stahl's explanation doesn't comport with accounts by SCC players -- several of whom say the football team has lockers full of videotapes and that coaches rarely erase practice tapes because they use them as teaching aides.
In addition, Stahl's assertion that the team has only four practice videotapes is not supported by expense records. The football team's line-item budget obtained by New Times shows the team spent $600 in August 1999 for a "blanket order for video tapes." Purchased in bulk, this amounted to more than 270 tapes. This expense is in addition to $1,600 the team paid a local vendor to videotape last season's football games as required by the Western States Football League, the conference to which SCC belongs.
Sources tell New Times that Stahl repeatedly demanded that the football coaching staff turn over the videotape and that they refused before finally telling her more than a week after the incident that the tape had been erased.
"She tried to get the tape from them, but they wouldn't give it to her," Warren says. "She asked for the tape on a Friday . . . and they finally returned her call five days later and said, 'We don't have the tape.'"
Warren says SCC coaches initiated contact with him in Dallas two years ago and encouraged him to come to SCC.
"One of the coaches, the old offensive coordinator, called me up and was talking to me for a while, and then Coach Giovando called me up a couple of times and basically told me to come on out," Warren says.
The Arizona Community College Athletic Association forbids the recruitment of out-of-state players. In-state players can receive small tuition waivers, but the ACCAA forbids scholarships and the recruiting of out-of-state players.
"It is against the rules, and it is very clearly stated that it is against the rules," says Phoenix College athletic director Scott Geddis.
Several other out-of-state SCC football players tell New Times they were also actively recruited by Giovando and members of his staff.
"I was told there were dormitories," says a disgruntled player who has since quit the team.
Instead of dorms, SCC places out-of-state players in apartments near the campus. Since many of the players are poor, the football program encourages them to enroll in federally funded work-study programs. Federal grants are matched with college funds to finance the work-study program.
Stahl says the athletic department oversees the work-study program for football players. The jobs are nebulous, at best.
"We just go sign our names on the sheet of paper on the coach's door and we would get paid," says one player.
Several other players say they were paid up to $200 a week for doing no more than a couple hours of work a week cleaning up the weight room, football fields and other odd chores around the athletic department.
"Some days you might have to stay after practice and clean up the whole locker room; that might take an hour," says Warren, who received money under the work-study program last year.
Asked whether the football program was submitting fraudulent work-study claims to fund de facto scholarships for out-of-state-players, Stahl replied: "Well, I can see that's what you're saying. I don't know if it is necessarily true."
Stahl noted that "the time cards are signed."
She promised to provide work-study records requested by New Times under the state public records law, but so far has failed to produce any documents.
At the same time many players are struggling for money, Giovando and Rodgers have an unusual practice of requiring players to purchase athletic clothing directly from the coaching staff if the players want to travel with the team for out-of-town games.
Included in this assortment of clothes are practice shorts, shirts, a sweat shirt and a blue knit polo shirt, current and former players say. The prices charged to the students range from as low as $16 to more than $100, depending on the amount and type of products, Stahl says.
Stahl says she has reviewed some of the accounting records and says none of the products that were being sold by the coaches -- including gear bearing an unauthorized "Superman" logo -- had been purchased by the athletic department.
"We are not buying those shirts, those shorts and that polo shirt as the college," she says. "They are not coming through as purchases."
However, football team expense reports state that the team purchased "sets of practice shirts, shorts and sweat shirts" from Buddy's All Stars in 1998 for $570.
SCC also paid a company called Tough Team Sports Camps $329 for tee shirts in 1999. In addition to the purchase of the shirts, the college also paid Tough Team Sports Camps $25 for "screen and art work" and $46.32 for "EXLARGE T-SHIRT PRINT FRONT AND BACK," according to the line-item budget report.
While it is uncertain whether the 1998 and 1999 purchases by the college include the athletic gear sold to players by coaches, Stahl says the college is stopping the practice.
"We don't think that's what you really should be doing when you are coaching," she says. "So we are going to have that run through an account here at the college."
SCC accounting director Carl Couch says he only recently learned that coaches were selling players athletic clothing. Couch says such a practice is improper.
According to Stahl, the coaches would receive money from the athletes, pay for the products and would have money left over.
"At the end of the season, they may have some money left over and they said what they have done is have a barbecue for the whole team," Stahl says. "They have said they can't provide food for a team because of the out-of-state players and all of those rules, so they charge the students a dollar or a couple of dollars to come. The rest of that cost would be subsidized from any money that is left from the purchase of those clothes."
The barbecues have likely been the highlight of the previous four seasons -- the SCC team won a total of seven games. The Artichokes have won their first two games this year.
Under Giovando, the team has had at least two games that were marred by an unusually high number of penalties and fighting.
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In 1996, officials stopped the Scottsdale versus Snow College game in Ephraim, Utah, after Scottsdale exhibited numerous examples of unsportsmanlike conduct. As a result, Snow was awarded the victory by forfeit with 5:08 remaining.
Last year, the SCC-Mesa Community College game degenerated after the Scottsdale players flipped the bird toward the Mesa players prior to kickoff. According to an account in the Arizona Republic, the teams combined for 36 penalties for more than 400 yards. Scottsdale was flagged for eight 15-yard penalties -- either personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct -- in the first half alone. Three SCC players were ejected.
Some SCC players who were at the game say Giovando joined his players in making the obscene gesture prior to the kickoff. MCC athletic director Benedict, who attended the game, says he doesn't remember the bird-flipping incident. Benedict, however, says he was disappointed with how the Mesa players reacted to Scottsdale's behavior during the game.
"What Scottsdale does, that's another thing," Benedict says. "You can't let another team dictate the game to you. If they do that, then you are no better than the other team."