Big time sports, big time trouble

Published 3:07 pm Monday, August 18, 2003

By By BILL CRIST, Publisher
The pressure to succeed is great at most levels of sports. Particularly in the major college conferences.
Small, private schools sometimes get caught up in the frenzy to grow larger, and keep pace with their state-sponsored rivals. Fans of the SEC have said that about Vanderbilt for years. A similar situation exists in the Big 12 at Baylor University.
Baylor, which is a small, church-affiliated university in central Texas, is the lone private institution in the Big 12. It used to enjoy moderate success in the major sports, but has struggled to grow in step wth the rapidly changing world of major college athletics.
When it hired former basketball coach Dave Bliss away from New Mexico, it thought it was hiring a coach who was not only a good teacher of the game, but one who'd avoided NCAA suspicion of wrongdoing. He had long been considered both a good coach and a good man. He was a coach that could help Baylor build a competitive basketball program.
All that changed over the past couple of months, as the bizarre search for Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy evolved.
Dennehy, it turns out, was shot twice and left in a field near Waco. A teammate, who is in police custody, is the prime suspect in the case.
While Dennehy's death is a tragedy, what Bliss did as the heat on his program was turned up, is absolutely unbelievable. In recorded conversations with one of his assistant coaches, he coldly uses Dennehy's death as a scapegoat for several rules infractions. To Bliss, his former player would be the ticket to clearing the NCAA investigation into positive drug tests, illegal scholarship payments and a host of other violations.
Bliss went on to comment, "Because he's dead."
When a coach would stoop so low as to use a former player, who was allegedly shot by a teammate, as his way out, the situation has gotten out of hand. Unfortunately, that type of mindset seems to be more and more prevalent in major college athletics, though.
There is a win-at-any-cost mentality that sets up a thought process like Bliss exhibited. Despite pleas of his own innocence as recently as his resignation a couple weeks ago, behind the scenes he was trying to save his own neck, and that of his program, by blaming the problems on a dead 20-year old.
And while we react with shock at Bliss' mindset, one has to wonder how many other coaches have thrown former players, assistants and others on the sacrificial fire in an effort to save themselves. How many administrators have offered up coaches and boosters to save their own hides.
In one way or another, our society has been doing this type of thing on many levels. There was former-President Reagan and Iran-Contra. There was Nixon and Watergate. I won't even go into Bill Clinton's exploits.
At some point, though, the question of "is all this worth it?" must be answered. We must decide, as fans and boosters if our demands for success are not actually harming our favorite programs more than helping.
Hopefully this episode will keep Dave Bliss out of coaching and away from young men who look up to their coaches as role models. Hopefully there are plenty of coaches and administrators like Rouse, who knew that a wrong was being committed and knew that it had to be made right.
And hopefully as fans we'll think twice about supporting programs that hire coaches whose blatant disregard for their athletes and the spirit of the sport give all sports a bad name.
One doesn't have to be dishonest to succeed. There are too many examples of 'good' people winning on and off the field. Those are the people we need running our college sports programs.

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