STUDENTS OF CRIME
@body:Look at the money we make off predominantly poor, black kids. We're the whoremasters.
--Dale Brown, Louisiana State basketball coach
I sit there watching Arizona State University athletic director Charles Harris very carefully. Harris moves confidently into the room with his chin held high. The first thing you spot about him is that he is dressed more expensively than any of the local media people who are here to listen to his excuses. Harris stops at the raised podium in this place called a media room. It's located in the bowels of the pretentious athletic office building, directly behind one of the Sun Devil Stadium end zones.
Harris, with his Ronald Colman mustache, tailored suit and antique wrist watch, looks more like the Bolivian ambassador than the shill for a renegade basketball coach. But this is his role in life, as long as Bill Frieder is allowed to roam free. The media people sit at a level below that of Harris, in uncomfortable metal folding chairs. The pecking order is thus made clear. Harris stares confidently down at the writers before he begins. The television lights come up on Harris' face. He starts talking. There are no false starts. He is very smooth. This is the thing Charles Harris does best. He can put words together while on his feet. He's the perfect front man for Arizona State's outlaw sports program.
The sportswriters in the audience seeking to question Harris are overmatched. Harris is too glib. He is smarter and more cynical. He knows all the answers and where the bodies are buried in Frieder's renegade program. The writers seem to have no real idea even of what the questions should be. Some actually seem to want to believe in Frieder's innocence.
@body:Arizona State's basketball program is a tale so sordid it defies belief.
Perhaps we can place the story in some perspective with a quote from Judd Heathcote of Michigan State University, the man who coached Magic Johnson and the team that beat Larry Bird and Indiana State University in 1979 to usher in this "golden era" of college basketball.
Heathcote is saddened by what he has seen happen to the college game since then.
"If you look at the top programs," Heathcote says, "the coaches are more concerned with winning. Their image. Their TV contract. Their perks. Their total salary. Look at the provisions in Bill Frieder's contract at Arizona State--the incentive clauses. Is that where we're headed? Or are we supposed to do the best with the players we have?"
Let's examine Frieder's financial situation. He was being paid $400,000 a year at the University of Michigan on the eve of the 1989 NCAA men's tournament, when he jumped ship to take the job at Arizona State. Harris, who had been an assistant athletic director at Michigan, hired him.
Frieder told sportswriter Malcolm Moran of the New York Times about his negotiations with Harris and ASU:
"I played hardball with em and they said okay to everything I asked."
What Frieder asked for and received was a contract that paid him a possible $700,000 a year, including bonuses.
Part of Frieder's annual package includes $150,000 from KTAR-AM radio, which broadcasts ASU games. This accounts for the gentle treatment Frieder receives on that station.
The other day, Frieder said on the air that the media here have made too much of the criminal incidents in which his players have become involved. It was Frieder's contention that the people complaining about his recruits on the radio call-in show had no business judging them.
Frieder cited his belief that many of the callers had problems of their own. He cited their involvement in divorces, alcohol abuse and having teenage daughters who are pregnant. "Who are they to pass judgment?" Frieder demanded.
This will demonstrate quite plainly that even though Frieder makes a lot of money, he remains a stupid, insensitive clod of a man.
Anyone who disagrees with him about his recruiting style, be he judge, cop or private citizen, is automatically wrong.
@body:Perhaps we can begin examining the way Frieder put this team together by looking at Jamal Faulkner, who is now serving a 30-day jail sentence. Faulkner was sent to the slammer after violating terms of his probation for a telephone credit card scam that involved four starting members of last year's Sun Devil team.
The quartet ran up more than $13,000 worth of long-distance calls on the athletic department's telephone credit card.
Frieder now insists: "As far as I'm concerned, Jamal is in good standing with me. He's a good citizen."
Frieder testified on Faulkner's behalf in court, begging Judge Steven Shelden not to send his star player to jail.
I can see why. Thirty days behind bars would make it very difficult to maintain the fiction that it's actually necessary for Faulkner or any of the basketball players to bother attending classes.
If you think any of Frieder's players can actually read or write on anything higher than a fourth-grade level, I challenge you to attempt to hold a conversation with any of them sometime.
Frieder went all out on the witness stand to defend his player.
"He started slow on this thing, but he's lived up to everything he's been asked to do," Frieder testified.
What Frieder didn't mention was that, after using an athletic-department telephone credit card for 13 months and pleading guilty, Faulkner didn't even bother going to see his probation officer for six months. It was only after Faulkner was threatened with jail time that he began fulfilling the requirements of his probation.
Faulkner is one of Frieder's prize basketball recruits. He is a player that Frieder insists is a model Arizona State student.
Faulkner was written about in the book Raw Recruits, by Alexander Wolff and Armen Keteyian of Sports Illustrated magazine:
They portrayed Faulkner as a highly sought young player from Christ the King High School in Queens, New York. They talked to Wayne Simone, an active high school recruiter. Simone knew Faulkner in the player's formative years.
"His dad was absent," Simone said, "and his mom would let him do what he wanted. Jamal is an honest person, but he lies, if you know what I mean. He lives in a fantasy world, without many responsibilities. . . . He likes to go out, pick up girls, have a good time."
Faulkner was pursued as a basketball prospect by Temple, Pittsburgh, Clemson and Texas.
First he agreed to play for Texas, where he was being recruited by an assistant coach named Dave Miller. Then, at the last minute, Faulkner signed a letter of intent to play for Pittsburgh. But Faulkner never played for Pittsburgh. He failed to meet Proposition 48 requirements, so he ended up at Cheshire Academy, a Connecticut prep school.
Dave Miller left Texas and became a member of Frieder's staff at Arizona State. Miller undertook the pursuit of Faulkner a second time and was successful in signing him up for Frieder.
@body:This pattern of behavior at Arizona State reminds me of the Dan Jenkins satire about the college president who went to the Final Four to see his students perform. In the hotel lobby, he meets one of his players. The story continues:
"Dwoan McDonald, our fine, 6'10" forward, carries a 3.6 in cassette rewinding, a successful program we modeled after the ones at USC, Georgia, LSU, Oklahoma, Miami, Ohio State and Arizona.
"Dwoan was a rather touching human-interest story for us, a walk-on who earned a starting position purely on the basis of his height and his police record. When we took Dwoan at our university, I had the pleasure of calling his mother with the good news.
"I'm giving Dwoan a chance to go to college,' I told her on the phone.
"You mean Duane?'
"Uh . . . yes, I suppose it is Duane. It looked very much like Dwoan, the way it was written on his enrollment card.'
"Listen, mister, I don't know where the sorry shit ass is, and I don't care; he's broke my heart for the last time.'
"When I interrupted Dwoan in his room to ask if he was receiving any improper inducements, he looked insulted, hurt, angry."
"What the fuck you doin' here, man?' he said. 'Me and the bitch like to be alone when we shoot up.'"
@body:Watching Harris perform, you have a fantasy. Why doesn't someone stand up and ask the one question that cries out for an airing:
"Charles, why don't you just call Bill Frieder into your office today and fire his ass?
"You know better than everyone else that he's running a basketball program with players so steeped in criminal behavior that he's making every knowledgeable college basketball fan in the country forget about Jerry Tarkanian and Nevada-Las Vegas."
But that question is never asked. We are all too polite. Everyone pretends to believe that Harris is serious about changing things. He can't change anything. Nobody can. It's out of control.
Moreover, nobody wants change. They only want us to go away and stop asking questions. And just how does Harris handle the situation?
"I am embarrassed," Harris says, just oozing sincerity. He even announces a new policy of what he calls "zero tolerance."
And what is Harris going to do about the most recent outbreak of criminal behavior on behalf of some of the basketball team's best athletes?
Harris says he plans to call a meeting with his coaches. They will talk things over. Harris will also consult with Lattie Coor, the school's president. "I'm upset," Harris says. And he repeats his doomsday phrase for our benefit:
"Zero tolerance is going to be my policy from now on." I think I have heard this song before. It actually came from the lips of Frieder during the days when his very first recruit, Sam Mack, was having trouble with the police. I am usually not one for dredging up old wrongs, but this time it seems that it might be instructive to go back to the Mack case to remind us all of where we started with Frieder.
I think about this as I hear Harris boast about how his coaches always do thorough background checks and visits in the homes to meet the players' parents. I remember how Frieder found Mack, a young student-athlete (which is what they call them) who had already played a full season for Johnny Orr at Iowa State University.
Mack and a member of the Iowa State football team held up a Burger King in Ames. Mack carried a knife. The football player had a sawed-off shotgun. They forced workers and customers into the freezer at closing time.
But they were caught when one of the workers escaped and called the cops, who were at shift change only two blocks away. In the ensuing battle, Mack took two bullets in the legs.
During the trial, Mack said that he was forced into committing the crime against his will and that the members of the jury, two of them Iowa State season ticketholders, believed him. He was acquitted. The football player got 25 years.
Frieder had been Johnny Orr's assistant coach at the University of Michigan. All Frieder knew was that Sam Mack was a player with NBA potential, and that was enough to pick him as the very first recruit of the Frieder era at Arizona State.
"Can you imagine what the press in Michigan would have done if I tried to sign a guy like that?" Frieder chuckled to a Detroit News sportswriter. "But out here, they're ecstatic."
Nobody was ecstatic for long. Shortly after arriving on the ASU campus, Mack was arrested after a co-ed accused him of rape.
What was Frieder's reaction?
The first thing he did was tell the campus police that since Mack was a member of the basketball team, the rape charge was a basketball matter, not a police matter. When the police leaked this comment to the press, Frieder hit the roof.
"Someone in that office needs to be fired," Frieder said. "No one, not even my wife, knows I made that call. I challenge you all to find out who it was so we can fire his ass."
What about Mack?
Frieder assured one and all that Mack was innocent until proven guilty and that his scholarship would continue.
But Frieder was also prepared even then with the same line Harris delivered last week.
"We will not tolerate antisocial behavior," Frieder said. "It is not an acceptable standard."
This is a new year. Now, I suppose, we have a new set of standards. Faulkner is in jail, possibly for 30 days, for failing to complete the terms of his probation in the matter. My guess is that the judge will let him out after he serves about a week, or just about as long as it takes some influential ASU alum to reach him.
Dwayne Fontana, another student-athlete, was arrested after a co-ed charged that Fontana forcibly raped her.
And one of Frieder's newest student-athletes, a star junior-college player from California, turns out to be under a jail sentence there for theft.
Marcell Capers, according to police in Tulare County, failed to serve all of his seven-day jail sentence or to pay his fine after pleading guilty to stealing athletic shoes.
@body:We should not fantasize. Don't expect anything about the athletic policies at Arizona State to change. Let's not get ourselves worked up, expecting some vast wave of reforms to take place.
Right now it isn't even economically possible. The basketball program won't generate enough profit to pay Frieder's salary. Are you suggesting that the team's roster be filled by real students? Who do you think would go to see them play? Let's relax and live with reality. Over the years, Arizona State has earned its reputation as one of the classic outlaw schools of this country. With the recent rash of arrests and jailings of basketball and football players alike, this reputation is more than being upheld.
So here is the single most important thing for you to understand. Nobody in the school's administration, least of all president Lattie Coor, has the courage or the power to change any of this.
Besides, the people who call themselves Arizona State fans actually revel in the school's reputation for outlawry. They don't mind it so much when they see newspaper photographs of basketball stars being led off to jail or reading about team members taken into custody for rape and other forms of sexual assault. I'm sure most find it amusing.
What Arizona State fans really will mind, and won't put up with, are losing teams.
So don't fear any great change is going to sweep the Arizona State campus. Bill Frieder will continue to recruit criminal types for his basketball team, because this is the thing he does best. He is not a coach. He is a recruiter.
And that is why that great smoothie--athletic director Charles Harris--was able to hold his press conference and make his hypocritical pronouncement stick.
Remember his words: From now on it's zero tolerance.
As I drove home from the press conference, I turned on the car radio. There was the Pat McMahon show.
The guest of honor was none other than the noble Frank Kush. McMahon was asking:
"Now, Frank, you were such a great disciplinarian in your years as ASU's football coach. . . . How did you do it?"
I'd heard that song before. I switched to hear some jazz on the National Public Radio station.
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