Mike McFeely column: Gophers rank with the 'best'

Today we offer, what else? A Final Four to ponder as office copy machines work overtime to crank out brackets for every Tom, Dick and Phyllis who want to become part of the biggest illegal sports betting racket in the country.

Today we offer, what else? A Final Four to ponder as office copy machines work overtime to crank out brackets for every Tom, Dick and Phyllis who want to become part of the biggest illegal sports betting racket in the country.

How trite, you say? Ah, but this is no ordinary Final Four, silly. How could it be in a year when a coach, Jim Harrick, looks straight into a television camera and, without blinking, declares accusations made against his Georgia program by a former player are absolutely, positively, I-promise-you-Dicky-V untrue. And then a couple of days later the school fires an assistant, who happens to be Harrick's son, and suspends Harrick because it found the allegations to be absolutely, positively, I-promise-you-Dicky-V true.

In honor of the sleazy shenanigans being investigated at Georgia, St. Bonaventure, Fresno State and who-knows-where-else, we offer you the Final Four of college basketball scandals.

These are scandals so unsightly even the most hard-boiled cynics -- who laugh uproariously at the term "student-athlete" -- were left shaking their heads at the monkey business that went on at the supposed institutions of higher education involved.

Our original field of 64 included such powerhouse scandals as point-shaving at Arizona State, Tulane and Northwestern -- and the entire coaching career of Jerry Tarkanian (see Fresno State, above, as well as his time at UNLV). But, as always happens during March Madness, the weak and unworthy have been eliminated. The Cinderella stories have been put to bed. "One Shining Moment" has been snuffed.


All that remains are these Final Four, seeded in ascending order of debauchery. Or descending, which probably is more appropriate.

No. 4 seed -- Michigan booster payoffs: The Fab Four of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard and Jimmy King took the country by storm in the late 1980s. They were young, they were hip, they were cocky, they were winning.

They were also getting rich playing college basketball. At least Webber was.

It has since been learned a booster named Ed Martin shelled out $600,000 to Webber and three other Michigan players, in part to help launder profits from an illegal gambling operation.

Webber reportedly received $280,000. Small potatoes for the current NBA star with the Sacramento Kings, but better than making $6.50 an hour delivering pizzas for Dominos.

Webber, incidentally, faces a prison sentence for allegedly lying to a grand jury about taking money from Martin, who died recently.

The Scandal Selection Committee figured this incident garnered no better than a fourth seed because it lacked originality, even though the amount of money involved was impressive. But simply slipping cash to college athletes? So droll.

No. 3 seed -- Boston College point-shaving: The Committee decided this incident outstripped the aforementioned point-shaving scandals because it involved the Mafia. And not a little-known thug, but a high-ranking member of New York's Lucchese crime family.


Henry Hill, an important figure in the book and ensuing movie "Good Fellas," was the fixer who paid Boston College player Rick Kuhn to shave points during the 1978-79 season. Kuhn later brought in teammates Jim Sweeney and, most important, Ernie Cobb, the team's star.

Between December 1978 and March 1979, the players shaved points in nine games. Hill said he made between $75,000 and $100,000 gambling on the games during that time and he estimated several partners made $250,000 each. The players, Hill said, were paid about $10,000 each.

Kuhn was sentenced to 10 years in prison, the harshest penalty ever imposed on a college basketball player for shaving points. He served 28 months.

No. 2 seed -- Minnesota academic fraud: The Committee strongly considered giving the largest academic fraud case in NCAA history the top seed, simply because it hit so close to home in this region, but figured that would be pouring salt in the wound.

The details are well-known here in Gopher Country. Clem ("The Gem") Haskins, who preached ethics and trust and all those other warm and fuzzy things (which we all bought, by the way), oversaw systematic academic fraud in his basketball program.

Jan Gangelhoff, a tutor, said she wrote or helped write more than 400 papers for more than 20 basketball players from 1993-1998. She was paid by Haskins. Faculty members were pressured or intimidated to keep players eligible. A former player, Russ Archambault, said Haskins gave him money. University officials intervened in assault and criminal sexual conduct investigations involving athletes.

It was a beauty, made all the more painful because the Gophers made a memorable run to the (real) Final Four in 1997. That, and other accomplishments of Haskins' teams, have been stricken from the record. All that remains are sad honors like this one.

And, the No. 1 seed and all-time champion -- Point-shaving scandals of the 1940s and '50s: The biggest and baddest of all point-shaving scandals, which involved 32 players from seven schools. Investigators discovered 87 games were fixed from 1948-51.


Most notable was the involvement of players from the country's most famous program, the University of Kentucky coached by the legendary Adolph Rupp.

When news of point-shaving first surfaced in the mid-1940s, The Baron harrumphed that gamblers couldn't touch his players "with a 10-foot pole."

Money worked, though. Three former Wildcat stars later admitted to shaving points in a game in 1949, a year Kentucky won the NCAA tournament.

Also involved was City College of New York, where players admitted to shaving points in 1950-51. That was one season after CCNY was the surprise winner of the NCAA tourney.

The reason for such widespread corruption? One All-American involved said the players didn't have any money and they felt the schools were making plenty of it through their efforts.

Not much has changed in 50 years.

Readers can reach Mike McFeely at (701) 241-5580 or

What To Read Next
Get Local