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Posted: Thursday, July 20th, 2006, 10:08 AM • Permalink
I was on Neal McCready’s show yesterday in Mobile (McCready's really a bright guy) and he quizzed me on the state of UT’s program against the backdrop of what’s going down at Auburn. His line of questioning centered on how the Auburn people shouldn’t take lightly the academic scandal and it’s potential to impact recruiting. That’s when he asked me a very interesting question: ‘Tony. How much do you believe UT’s academic mess a few years back contributed to their slide from the elite in college football?’ I told him that was a great question and frankly one that I’d never really considered. I always centered on JR Stephens and Dandy Randy and not so Phat Pat but never considered if Fairy Queen may have had a hand is UT’s descent from the perch of college football. So, today I ask you:

How much did you UT’s academic mess from five years back contribute to the slide on the field? How would you answer that question. Why did the Vols slide from the elite to the ordinary? How much was the grade scandal used against them? Tee Martin? Off Field Stuff? Poor Coaching? Anything I’m not thinking of. Should Auburn be concerned or is this no factor at all?

The Braves are Five Back In the wild card race. Are they a buyer or a seller at the Trade deadline?

Linda Bensal Myers is back in print today. Check out what she tells the AJC about the toll of the UT scandal on her life. It reads like an addition to the Biblical account of Job.

Blowing whistles requires courage

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 07/20/06

The people who had stared, pointed and cursed at Linda Bensel-Meyers weren't supposed to be there on this Saturday.

All the fans, she figured, were at Neyland Stadium, where the Tennessee Volunteers were playing to another crowd of more than 100,000. Today, she thought, would be safe. She'd leave home with her three boys and go to a Knoxville mall. Today, maybe life could be normal, like it used to be.

Auburn professor James Gundlach said athletes got high grades for little work in certain courses.

"People spat on us," Bensel-Meyers said.

Life, she now knew, would never be the same.

Seven years ago, Bensel-Meyers, director of the freshman English program at Tennessee, came forward and charged the institution and athletics department with academic fraud. Papers were being plagiarized, she claimed. Athletes were getting grades they didn't earn, the same charge being made now by a single professor at Auburn.

Bensel-Meyers is tucked away in relative anonymity now. She is a professor at Denver University, a private school where athletics aren't nearly as big. Her marriage is over. Her children's futures have been drastically altered. Her health is in decline. Her bills are piling up.

"It's tough," she said. "There was a time when my children blamed me for all this. Now they understand. They understand that it was something that had to be done.

"People always wonder if I would change anything. What they don't understand is I didn't have a choice. Not if I wanted to live with myself every day."

Lives changed forever

The scandals have long been forgotten by most fans and forgiven by the NCAA at Ohio State, Minnesota, Indiana and Georgia. The crowds still come to cheer on their heroes. The athletics departments continue to generate millions.

But the lives of some of those who blew the whistle on alleged academic corruption haven't been the same since.

"If you blow the whistle, you are retaliated against," said Dylan Blaylock of the Government Accountability Project, an agency that defends whistle-blowers. "What you have to understand is this can be a life-changing event."

Last week, Auburn professor James Gundlach entered the fray, claiming the atmosphere of athletics over academics is pervasive at his school.

"The amazing part to me is that a faculty member stood up on his hind legs and blew the whistle," former Indiana professor Murray Sperber said. "Every faculty member at every big-time sports school in America ... knows analogous stories but will not break the code of silence. It's worse than the Mafia's omerta."

They also know what happens to those who do speak out.

Jan Gangelhoff spoke out. A former tutor for the Minnesota men's basketball team, she came forward with a story of how she'd written 400 papers for players from 1994-98.

Although she had no known history of heart problems, Gangelhoff underwent quadruple-bypass surgery. Depression, illness and stress followe Gangelhoff until her 2005 death, at age 56.

"The effect of her doing what she did, it might have been fatal," said Jim Lord, Gangelhoff's attorney. "... To defend yourself against a constant barrage of what people were saying about her and doing, it takes an enormous amount of energy for anyone."

"Most people don't realize how much courage it took for my mother to come forward and tell her story to the public," Anthony Gangelhoff, Jan's son, wrote in an e-mail to the AJC. "She was at the center of one of the worst cases of academic fraud in NCAA, as well as U.S. history. She knew that possibly careers would be ended, people would be hurt. She would be labeled a traitor, a liar and so forth."

Support hard to find

Sperber didn't expose academic fraud, just an inconsistent policy. The Indiana professor publicly questioned why Hoosiers basketball coach Bob Knight was above the code of conduct other IU employees were forced to adhere to.

Death threats soon followed.

"Some of the people are such geniuses that they left the threats on the answering machine," said Sperber, a longtime critic of the NCAA and Knight. "They felt like they were immune. These people, in a sense, imitate their heroes.

"Bob Knight is a loudmouth, foul-mouth bully, so the people tend to be loudmouth, foul-mouth bullies."

The support that at times can be the cornerstone of an academic community never surfaced publicly. It rarely does.

"Who wants to be the one to saying anything?" said Richard Southall, a professor of sports and leisure at the University of Memphis. "Look what happens. Are there things going on here at Memphis? I don't know. But if there were, I am very reticent about saying anything because I am an untenured professor."

Whistle-blowers, Southall and others know, often stand alone.

"I remember getting an e-mail from a faculty member who saw me on TV," Sperber said. "It said, 'Good for you Murray for speaking out.' And then it said in all caps: 'P.S. Murray, Whatever you do, don't use my name.' "

"What people see is a chilling effect from co-workers," said Blaylock, whose group represented FBI whistle-blower Coleen Rowley. "Although they might agree with what they did, they don't want to be perceived as being in the same boat with them."

Sperber retreated to Canada after he lit the torch on the firestorm of controversy in Knight's last months at Indiana. It was an unpaid leave. He only returned after Knight had been fired. He took early retirement and now lives with his wife in California.

Now, it is Gundlach's life that could be altered by his decision to stand up for academic integrity.

"I hope he is strong," Bensel-Meyers said.

"What Professor Gundlach did, for him to come forward in the SEC, knowing what had happened to Linda Bensel-Meyers and how her life was turned upside down ... it took a lot of courage and conviction," said Mississippi State professor David Ridpath, director of the Drake Group, a band of more than 200 professors seeking to change the climate of athletics over academics.

Auburn e-mails mixed

School's out for summer, so Auburn's campus is a quiet place these days. Gundlach said he has received a few hundred e-mails — about half supportive, half negative.

"Some people around the department seem to act like they are trying to figure out if I am contagious," Gundlach said Wednesday.

For his sake, Bensel-Meyers hopes Auburn fans are more forgiving than Tennessee's.

"My youngest son, I was having to go to his school all the time and pick him up because of things that people were saying to him," she said. "Because of all the stress, my oldest son broke out in a rash that we had trouble treating."

She eventually moved to Denver, her marriage ruined. Her husband refused to leave, she said, so they divorced. Her two oldest sons, who were finishing high school, also stayed in Tennessee.

"I always thought [Knoxville] was my home," she said. "Now that I'm here, I'm not afraid to tell people my name anymore."

Since her move in 2002, Bensel-Meyers has twice undergone operations for digestive tract issues she said are related to the stress caused by her coming forward. Two of her three sons are college-aged but not enrolled anywhere.

"We don't have the money," she said. "The legal bills. The doctor bills. We just don't have it.

"But those are just material things. We will make it. Now I am able to live with myself every day."

Kentucky to self-report violation
Messages on Web to recruit regarded as conversations

Gannett News Service

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In a new twist on an old story, some University of Kentucky basketball fans have crossed over the line in their zeal to pack the team's roster with blue-chip prospects.

This time, the line is in cyberspace. But it's clear enough that UK plans to report itself to the NCAA for a secondary rules violation, school spokesman Scott Stricklin said Wednesday.

"This is a situation of the fans wanting to help and not understanding (the rules)," Stricklin said.

Some fans posted pro-UK messages on the Web site of Patrick "Beans" Patterson, a 6-foot-8, 217-pound senior at Huntington (W.Va.) High.

Some of the postings reportedly were sexually enticing. One featured a photo of the UK dance team; another showed super fan Ashley Judd.

Accompanying text implied that a sexual wonderland awaits a top UK basketball player.

In his MySpace profile, Patterson describes himself this way: "I keep it real and treat everybody wit respect. I ball and work out basicly every day."

"Don't trust many people cept my boyz and some gurlz. I love the females.

"I live in a place Htown," said Patterson, who was West Virginia's Player of the Year last season. "I can't wait till I leave this place and go to college."

His top college choices, according to the site: Wake Forest, Kentucky, Louisville, Georgia and Virginia Tech.

The fan postings on the site were far less incendiary than some appearing earlier.

"I think some of the people went back and took some of their stuff down," said Stricklin, who noted he hadn't seen any of the entries.

UK's compliance office is keeping an eye on the site.

How many postings appeared to be recruiting pitches for UK?

"It'd probably be somewhere between 20 and 25," he said.

One Wednesday said: "I can't turn around in Lexington without hearing about Patrick Patterson anymore. You have now entered superstar status."

Yet another pretending to be from Rajon Rondo, who left UK for the pros this spring: "If I had the choice to either play for Louisville or not play at all, I wouldn't play at all."

Stricklin noted that any recruiting postings — even tasteful ones — are inappropriate in the NCAA's view.

"I think it's the kind of thing where if it continued unabated, a school could get in some serious jeopardy, because it would be the same as a booster walking up and having continual conversations or phone contacts with a recruit," he said.

"The NCAA is pretty strict: There's four people who are allowed to have contact with a recruit, and those are the coaches on the basketball staff."

Although the Web postings amount to minor violations, they can't be ignored, he said.

"The NCAA gets nervous if you're not turning in secondary violations, because that means you're not paying attention," Stricklin said. n

"The number of people who are interested in our basketball program is probably larger than a lot of college programs," Stricklin said. "And they're not casually interested. They're passionately interested."

30 Hurt by High Wind at Busch Stadium

AP Sports Writer

ST. LOUIS — Thirty people were injured as high wind blew out press box windows, overturned portable concession stands and ripped the tarp at new Busch Stadium on Wednesday night before the Cardinals' game against the Atlanta Braves was scheduled to start.

Five fans were taken to hospitals, according to Norm Corley, a supervisor with Accu-Care, which handles medical issues at the stadium. One of them had a dislocated hip, another a dislocated shoulder, two had back injuries and a fifth had a seizure apparently unrelated to the storm, Corley said.

(enlarge photo)
Umpire Joe West, right, assists members of the grounds crew at Busch Stadium as they attempt to get control of the cover for the playing field as winds and rain whipped through the stadium before the start of the Cardinals baseball game against the Atlanta Braves Wednesday, July 19, 2006. (AP Photo/James A. Finley)
The start of the game was delayed 2 hours, 12 minutes as crews righted the concession stands, cleaned up debris and mopped flooded areas.

"This is the worst," said longtime fan Carol Backs-Wenneman of nearby St. Libory, Ill. "I was wondering if the new stadium would hold up."

The strong storm, with wind near 80 mph, also knocked windows out of a rooftop restaurant downtown, downed trees and power lines and sprayed construction equipment and billboards along interstate highways.

It was unclear if the wind was the result of tornados. Gary Christmann, a St. Louis emergency official, said it appeared the damage came from "a lot of straight-line winds."

Right after the national anthem, dark clouds moved over the ballpark and dust began swirling 20 feet in the air. Several fans could be heard yelling as they scattered for cover.

As the wind got harder and louder, about half of the plastic window sheets protecting the open-air press box popped out of place. At least one of them — about 10 feet wide and 5 feet high — flew into the stands. The other sheets toppled into the box.

The usher guarding the press box and several fans hung onto guard rails for safety when the wind was at its strongest.

"I was hanging on for dear life," usher Linda McGuire said. "The rain was hitting us so hard it felt like needles."

Reporters huddled for safety in a stairwell behind the press box, where there was standing water in the front row.

"We all ran for cover," said Carl Thibodeux, usher chief for the upper deck. "That wind was something else. It was scary there for a while."

The tarp was brought to cover the field before the rain began. The wind whipped it and caused a sizable tear near home plate, and later the grounds crew tore off a 10-foot piece.

The $365 million ballpark opened this season in a lot adjacent to the old Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals spent the previous four decades.

Owens wanted Falcons to call

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 07/20/06

Dumped by the Philadelphia Eagles in March, Terrell Owens was waiting by the phone, hoping to hear from the Atlanta Falcons.

He already had a house in the area and a deal made sense to him. He had mended fences with Falcons offensive coordinator Greg Knapp a long time ago, and George Stewart, his position coach with the 49ers, was on the staff.

Dylan Shuttlesworth of Burlington, N.C., (left) and his cousin, Jerome Thomas of Atlanta, waited more than an hour to have Terrell Owens autograph his book.

Terrell Owens (right) shares a laugh with Nick Black of Lawrenceville during a book-signing session for Owens' book 'T.O.'

"They knew that I was on the market, but for whatever reason, they didn't pull the trigger," said Owens, who was in Lawrenceville on Wednesday to sign copies of his recently released book "T.O."

"Definitely, I did look at Atlanta as a place to play, but unfortunately that didn't happen."

Before Owens' contract dispute in Philadelphia and public squabbles with Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, he blew up at Knapp when they were with the San Francisco 49ers.

"Our relationship was great," Owens said. "That one incident that I had with Greg Knapp, I think that happened and I apologized for that. We were able to move on."

In the book, written by Owens and Jason Rosenhaus, he devotes nearly four pages to last season's Monday Night Football game against the Falcons. But he never mentions that Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall kept him out of the end zone.

"I had seven catches for 112 [yards]," Owens said. "I had the opportunity to score. It just didn't happen."

Some credit that defensive effort for launching Hall to his first Pro Bowl appearance.

"D. Hall is a great cornerback, who's very competitive," Owens said. "Take nothing from him, but we'll see each other this year."

The Falcons play the Cowboys on Dec. 16 in the Georgia Dome.

Owens wrote the book to help him get over his bitter ending in Philadelphia. He was released just a year after helping the Eagles reach the Super Bowl.

He blames his ending there on media distortions, but after reading his account of the spat with McNabb, one can conclude it started over money.

Set to make $3.5 million and convinced that the Eagles would cut him after last season to avoid paying him a $7.5 million bonus, Owens was in a contractual bind.

He thought if McNabb spoke to the Eagles on his behalf, that his contract would have been renegotiated.

"I could have used Donovan's support in trying to get a new contract; he didn't support me," Owens writes in the book.

Their relationship and the relationships with some of his other teammates — including a fight with former linebacker Hugh Douglas — and coach Andy Reid went downhill after that.

By signing a three-year, $25 million contract with Dallas and staying in the NFC East, Owens will play the Eagles twice this season.

"Actually, it is Oct. 8 and Christmas." Owens said. "I will definitely be looking forward to that. Those guys know that I'll be fired up."

Owens reports to Dallas' training camp next Thursday and doesn't plan to have any problems playing for the demanding Bill Parcells.

"As far as our personalities clashing, I don't really see that happening," Owens said.

"I've had many conversations to date with Bill and [Dallas owner] Jerry Jones. I think right now we are just going to let the season play out."

Owens also blew up at his quarterback — Jeff Garcia — in San Francisco. He figures that he will be fine with Drew Bledsoe, whom he said has to make an adjustment from throwing to Keyshawn Johnson to throwing to Owens.

"He had Keyshawn, and our games and our speed is a little bit different," Owens said. There is an adjustment that he has to make there. That will be the purpose of training camp and throughout the course of the season. We can work on things and get better as a tandem."

'Talladega Nights' a winning vehicle
Will Ferrell's comic turn figures to keep NASCAR out front

02:38 AM CDT on Thursday, July 20, 2006

Will Ferrell knew NASCAR was huge, but he didn't really know why until he was well into co-writing the script for Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

He found out when he sat behind the wheel of a racecar in Charlotte going 135 mph. "I was just thinking, 'They go 60 miles an hour faster than this? In traffic?' "

He found out when he spent two hours in NASCAR's pit crew school working as the jack man.

"I thought they were just going to let us watch or something," he said. "I'm there in jeans, sweating through them, carrying around this 45-pound jack. I realized why they are getting defensive backs out of college to be tire changers these days."

And he found out when he went to the actual races at Talladega and Charlotte, where NASCAR granted them rare permission to do live footage for their film.

"You have to go to one of the races to really get it," said Ferrell, in Dallas on Wednesday to promote the movie that comes out next month. "It's a mini-Super Bowl each week. That's really what it is. It's the most visceral sporting experience that we have."

Ferrell gets it. One of the biggest names in the film industry right now talks about wanting to go see a race at Bristol or maybe getting to the race at Richmond "because it's the last race before the Chase, so the drivers are really going for it."

NASCAR gets it, too. Although some officials are bound to be offended by the bizarre-as-you-can-imagine humor in the movie, NASCAR was smart to extend such access to the film crew.

Millions of movie goers will hit the theaters next month to see Ferrell's latest comedy. And some of them will surely come out thinking about watching or attending a NASCAR race.

The movie, which had a special screening here Monday night, does a great job of parodying NASCAR drivers' readiness to endorse products at all times.

When Ferrell's character, Ricky Bobby, makes it big, he has a sponsorship with PowerAde that requires him to mention the drink every time he says grace.

In one scene, Bobby has to lean forward to see out of his windshield because it bears a giant Fig Newtons logo. "This sign is inconvenient and dangerous, but I do like my Fig Newtons," Bobby said.

Ferrell said they had to cut a scene prior to that shot in which the driver asks his wife, Karly, played by Crossing Jordan's Leslie Bibb, what the sign is doing on his windshield.

"She tells him that we're getting an extra hundred thousand for it," Ferrell said. "The scene was just getting too long at that point, so we had to drop it, unfortunately."

The film has a definite Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy feel to it since Ferrell stars in, Ferrell and Adam McKay co-wrote and McKay directed both. But this may start a run of sports movies for the former Saturday Night Live crew member.

He's currently filming Blades of Glory with Jon Heder of Napoleon Dynamite fame. Ferrell laughed and said, "I know I'm going to catch a lot of crap for that one. We play the first men's pairs skaters."

And he's trying to get approval for a movie on the defunct American Basketball Association. "There's plenty of crazy stuff to work with from that league," he said.

In the meantime, he has high hopes for Talladega Nights, and should, since it merges two of the hottest items on the planet.

NASCAR and Will Ferrell.

In the movie, Bobby lives by one motto: "If you ain't first, you're last."

Right now, neither NASCAR nor Ferrell has to spend too much time worrying about finishing last.

1. Winning (1969): Paul Newman in his prime, great footage of 17-car pileup from '68 Indy 500.

2. Talladega Nights (2006): More laugh-out-loud moments than Anchorman , great family dinner scene, and love the outtakes during the credits.

3. Cars (2006): Hey, I thought those were nice cameos by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Schumacher.

4. Grand Prix (1966): James Garner in his prime. If Formula One were this interesting, it would be a better sport.

5. 3 (2004): OK, I know Dale says, "All I wanna do is race, Daddy." But it has its moments.

City just said "no" to pro basketball
By Danny Westneat

Seattle Times staff columnist
This team — this entire sport — sure lost me. I grew up in Ohio worshipping Slick Watts from afar. When I moved here in 1985, I worked across the street from the Coliseum, at a restaurant called Chicago's. I often made it to the games only after halftime. The tickets were so cheap it was worth it.

The Sonics star was a scoring machine named Tom Chambers. Then it was the fabulously bald and menacingly named X-Man. Soon after, the team drafted Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton and was on its way to the NBA Finals in 1996.

A decade into listening to most of the season on the radio and going to as many games as I could, I just stopped caring. The good seats became priced more like nights in a hotel. The play morphed into a physical slugfest with little artistry. The owners fretted more about the condition of the corporate suites than the quality of the players.

I can't fathom taking my kids to an NBA game now. It would cost at least a hundred bucks. More like two if we wanted to be close enough to see the game.

Speaking of money, there's also the NBA's relentless thirst for government handouts.

Licata, the City Council president who notoriously said the impact of the Sonics leaving Seattle would be "close to zero," says any ill feelings over the sale of this team have been dwarfed by public animosity at the idea of subsidizing them.

Seattle's a different city now, more like San Francisco with its exorbitant housing prices that strain the family budget. And its wealth of other things to do.

"I think in the context of where we are as a city, people feel the incessant demands of professional sports are just out of control," he said. "It's not worth it. It needs to be reined back in."

One of the new Oklahoma owners said that "the people of Seattle have to make a decision about how important NBA basketball is to them."

It seems that decision's already been made. And it is: "Not very."

Some are blaming the politicians for losing the Sonics. That's not it. The Sonics lost us. The politicians just did what we wanted them to do.

And that was to say "no."

Schultz says he was disrespected. Not so. He was told what he didn't want to hear. No, sorry, we are not going to pay all your expenses while you keep all the profits.

Maybe that was the real sound heard 'round Seattle this week. It was a city finally telling professional sports "no." Enough is enough.

Now that we've said it once, we shouldn't be shy about saying it again.

St British Open: Don’t Pick A European
The last European winner was Paul Lawrie in 1999. The championship has since been won by four Americans (Tiger Woods twice, David Duval, Ben Curtis, Todd Hamilton) and a South African (Ernie Els). You then must skip back to 1992 to unearth another European-bred winner (England's Nick Faldo).

Australia's Ian Baker-Finch won it in 1991, which means that in the last 15 championships this most European of majors has been won by the scant total of two Europeans.


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