@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.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Fitzpatrick