The TCU football program has put 20 years between itself and the scandal that sparked NCAA sanctions in 1985 – and time can be a healer. In 1985, head coach Jim Wacker turned the team in to the NCAA after learning players received illegal cash payments from boosters, an action that led to the dismissal of seven players from the team, including 1984 Heisman Trophy candidate Kenneth Davis.
Davis admitted in 1985 to illegally receiving $18,000 over three years but declined to comment further on the specifics of the situation.
Even though Davis was dismissed from the team, he was still allowed to remain on scholarship and finish his degree at TCU.
The NCAA acted by putting the program on a three-year probation, beginning in 1986, prohibiting the Horned Frogs from participating in a bowl game that year.
Jack Hesselbrock, associate athletic director for internal relations, was director of athletic academic support at TCU during the probation. Hesselbrock said he never thought a scandal like that could happen at TCU.
“I think the university was embarrassed that we had been a part of something like that,” Hesselbrock said. “Those were the sort of things that happened to other schools, not us.”
The probation also included scholarship and grants limitations for the 1987-1988 and 1988-1989 school years, and forced the school to return $343,200 in television revenue generated in 1983 and 1984.
In 1984, TCU finished 8-3, but during the probation went 12-21. The Horned Frogs next winning season would not come until 1991 when the team finished 7-4 in Wacker’s final year.
Dick Lowe, 77, of Fort Worth, was one of the boosters involved in the payment of players in 1985. He said booster involvement is different today than it was 20 years ago.
“Boosters can’t be involved in the recruiting process,” Lowe said. “Back in the early days, boosters could do just about anything, but now they can do absolutely nothing, and absolutely nothing is where a booster should be.”
Lowe, a focal point of the 1985 scandal, still follows TCU athletics. Lowe is working at Four Sevens Oil Company Limited and said he is currently a fan just like everybody else.
Davis is now a head coach at Bishop Dunne Catholic School.
Hesselbrock said the NCAA rules are complicated, but they are there for a reason. He said TCU is relying on education and help from their fans to make sure a scandal like that of 1985 will not happen again.
“We have a strong compliance program and education, but the main thing is there is a lot of integrity within the TCU fan base,” Hesselbrock said.
The TCU Athletics Compliance Program is in place to uphold the rules of the NCAA and the Mountain West Conference. The compliance program’s goal is to educate, oversee and monitor the athletics department.
The Office of Compliance has increased its resources recently. It has added two full-time staff in the last three years, and now has over 100 employees.
Today, the compliance program deals with what athletes can do on and off the football field in five main areas, including eligibility and amateurism.
The athletic department has a check and balance system to avoid future failures in compliance like the scandal in 1985.
Hesselbrock said the athletic department is doing everything it can to help students avoid mistakes. Employees in the athletic department work together to make sure that NCAA rules are followed.
“We have increased our staff,” Hesselbrock said. “It’s really all of us.”
The biggest problem with the compliance program today is inducements, small favors offered by program supporters, such as taking a player out for a meal. Marc Evans, director of athletics compliance, said that players must understand the rules so they can refuse illegal offers.
“We are trying to keep our student-athletes focused on education,” Evans said. Integrity is key. Everybody has to be trying to do the right thing.”
The NCAA educates universities about its rules and regulations and disseminates a 485-page booklet detailing them.
Athletes are also responsible for knowing and following NCAA rules to maintain their status, Evans said.
“Know what it takes to maintain their eligibility and being an amateur,” Evans said. “They have an obligation to maintain their amateurism and live up to their financial aid.”
Athletes can educate themselves about NCAA rules in a variety of ways. Students can ask their coaches or consult their student-athlete handbook if they have questions about NCAA rules.
In addition, TCU compliance personnel meet with teams twice a semester. The compliance program also has a Student Athlete Advisory Committee that is used to getting information about the compliance program directly to athletes.
Horned Frog football is different today than it was in 1985. The program did not fully recover from the scandal until 1994, when TCU would begin to embark on winning seasons in seven of the next 10 years.
“In the last eight years (the program) has progressed by giant steps, starting with the year we hired (former head coach Dennis) Franchione,” Lowe said. “Our recent progress has been outstanding. We are obviously lucky to have a coach of (Gary) Patterson’s ability, and all done with a squeaky clean program.”
The Horned Frogs have had four seasons of 10 wins or more since 2000. This season, Patterson became the first coach to lead the Frogs to three 10-win seasons.
It is said that time heals all wounds. That may be the case with the Frogs’ football program. With a solid record and the probation a distant memory, all that is left is to remain clean.
“You have to remain true to who you are as a school and a program,” Hesselbrock said.