Eyewitness to sports history: Coaches, administrators share Division I stories
From academic crisis to a nationally televised sucker punch to the rise of women’s sports, numerous members of the Washington University community have lived, played and worked through headline events in Division I sports.
With collegiate athletics generating more revenue than ever and a spate of legal challenges calling into question longstanding ideals, Student Life spoke with Wash. U. leaders that have experienced some of Division I’s critical moments and issues.
DEC. 29, 1978
The start to Wash. U. football head coach Larry Kindbom’s career coincided with the end to that of a Division I coaching legend, Woody Hayes. Ohio State football’s all-time leader in wins (205) and national championships (five) coached his last game at the 1978 Gator Bowl while Kindbom was a graduate assistant.
During the final two minutes of the bowl game, Clemson defender Charlie Bauman intercepted a pass by Ohio State quarterback Art Schlichter, sealing a 17-15 loss for the Buckeyes. As Bauman rose to his feet on the Ohio State sideline, Hayes delivered a punch to the player’s neck and attempted to choke him.
“The night was weird,” Kindbom said of the Gator Bowl experience. “I can’t think of a better word.”
Ohio State fired Hayes the next day, and Kindbom helped the longtime coach clean out his office. Kindbom later joined Hayes for breakfast at the Holiday Inn with another legendary firebrand, Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight.
“Bobby Knight was very quiet…very pensive, very thoughtful,” Kindbom said.
Hayes’ replacement, Earle Bruce, asked Kindbom to stay on staff, but he declined. As a former football and baseball player at Division III Kalamazoo College in Michigan, Kindbom wanted to return to a small college environment. Kindbom eventually landed head coaching jobs at Kenyon College and Wash. U.
Before leaving Ohio State, Kindbom toured a wide-eyed coach about his age around the Buckeyes’ facility. The young Iowa State assistant, Pete Carroll, would join Ohio State’s staff for a year. Decades later, Carroll became a collegiate and Super Bowl champion.
MARCH 6, 1980
WEST LAFAYETTE, IND.
George Raveling is a polarizing figure. On Aug. 28, 1963, he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with Martin Luther King Jr. and was handed the paper from which King read his “I Have a Dream” speech. In 2000, he took over as Nike’s grassroots basketball director, participating in an industry some consider exploitative of teenage athletes.
In the decades between “I Have a Dream” and Nike, Raveling was the head basketball coach at three Division I schools. From 1972-1981 at Washington State University, Wash. U. men’s basketball coach Mark Edwards served as his assistant. The Cougars competed in the Pac-8 (which became the Pac-10 conference in 1978 and then the Pac-12 in 2011) against the likes of John Wooden and his University of California, Los Angeles Bruins.
Washington State lingered at or near the bottom of the conference during Edwards’ early years. But in 1980, the Cougars reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in nearly four decades. Seeded fifth in the Mideast region, they lost in the first round to the University of Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, Edwards witnessed problems in the educational-athletic balance. As an academic advisor for freshmen, he recalled how players remained eligible despite never picking up their books for classes.
“We did really try to promote the academics,” Edwards said. “George Raveling was definitely out for the betterment of the kids, so it wasn’t like he didn’t care, we didn’t care. But it was a constant battle…I had arguments with kids—why they had to go to class.”
An attitude that academics didn’t matter often emanated from the coaches supposed to act as leaders. At the 1977 Final Four, Edwards heard a Marquette University coach comment that “you can’t win with smart kids.”
Hoping to disprove the notion, Edwards returned to his alma mater in St. Louis and has remained the head coach ever since.
MAY 27, 1996
By the time Wash. U. softball head coach Leticia Pineda-Boutte (then just Leticia Pineda) finished her collegiate career at the University of Arizona, she had won two national championships and become the only Division I athlete to attain All-America honors at three different positions. During the first national-title-winning season, in her sophomore year of 1996, Pineda-Boutte played catcher for an injury-prone team that she said was not expected to win it all.
The clinching victory over the University of Washington was near the dawn of televised college softball, albeit on tape delay. The year after Pineda-Boutte graduated, a player who would help lift the game’s appeal another notch arrived on the Arizona campus. Jennie Finch set multiple records at Arizona and became a two-time Olympian.
“I was able to catch some great pitchers, and unfortunately back then they didn’t get the publicity that Jennie got simply because they started televising it a lot more when she was playing,” Pineda-Boutte said.
Indeed, the popularity of softball has continued to grow, with ESPN televising more than 80 regular season games across its networks last year. It is the second-most widely broadcast women’s collegiate sport, trailing only basketball.
“It’s been amazing the way the sport has grown, and I attribute that to being televised,” Pineda-Boutte said.
Pineda-Boutte, who also earned All-America honors for playing first base and third base, went on to a brief career with the Tampa Bay FireStix. Playing in the Women’s Professional Softball League, which has since turned into National Pro Fastpitch, Pineda-Boutte and the FireStix won the national championship in 1999.
OCT. 23, 1999
ANN ARBOR, MICH.
When Wash. U. athletic director Josh Whitman debuted as a tight end for the University of Illinois football team in 1997, the Fighting Illini were terrible.
There’s no nicer way to describe a squad that lost all 11 of its games.
Yet by Whitman’s junior year, the team improved to 8-4 and earned a Top 25 ranking. Though the Illini trounced the University of Virginia in the MicronPC Bowl, the win that sticks in Whitman’s mind is a comeback against Tom Brady and the University of Michigan.
The Wolverines were ranked No. 9 in the country, and they led Illinois 27-7 with just over 20 minutes left to play. Before a crowd of over 100,000 fans at Michigan Stadium, the Illini rallied for a 35-29 win. Three weeks later, they won at No. 25 Ohio State, making them the first team in 48 years to beat Michigan and Ohio State on the road in the same season.
Whitman graduated from Illinois with a near-perfect grade-point average and said that not enough coverage is given in the media to student athletes that succeed in both sports and academics. But he also detailed an extremely tight schedule for football players where Monday was essentially the only day to do work. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, players would see trainers in the morning, do lifting, go to class, be at the stadium by 1 p.m. and remain there for film and practice until dinner, which was eaten with the team. Thursdays were similar, and Fridays consisted of traveling and preparing for Saturday’s game. Sundays required recovery.
Whitman, who majored in finance, added that athletes frequently had to change their schedules to accommodate football. Some players started out in engineering but rarely made it through.
Still, Whitman believes that the value of an education has been lost in the conversation about reforming Division I sports. He said that most athletes don’t create value for the school that exceeds the value of their scholarship, including him.
“I was fortunate to get what I had,” he said.
After graduating from Illinois, Whitman played briefly professionally before earning his law degree and working for Covington & Burling, the firm that provides the NFL’s primary representation. Behind Whitman’s Wash. U. office desk rests a framed Sports Illustrated cover depicting Junior Seau, who was Whitman’s teammate with the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins. Seau, a 12-time Pro Bowler, committed suicide in 2012. A study by the National Institutes of Health discovered that his brain had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative disease at the root of football’s concussion crisis.
“It’s a matter of time until the NFL offers lifetime health care to its players,” Whitman said. “I think that’s a step they’re going to have to take.”
As for college, Whitman wasn’t quite sure how health care and other issues will get resolved.
“My hope for Division I is that in the next five or 10 years they’re able to sort themselves out and really reimagine what they are and recommit themselves to why they do it,” he said.
SEPT. 17, 2012
CHAPEL HILL, NC
Provost Holden Thorp grew up bleeding North Carolina blue. He remembers watching on television in 1982 with his father as a men’s basketball freshman named Michael Jordan hit a game-winning jumper to defeat Georgetown University in the national championship. A senior in high school when Jordan sunk the shot that initiated his rise to fame, Thorp became a peer of the basketball star in 1983, when he matriculated to University of North Carolina as a student.
Thorp later became a professor of chemistry at UNC, fondly recalling another national basketball title in 1993, when the Tar Heels beat Michigan after Chris Webber’s infamous timeout call. Thorp celebrated on Franklin Street, the popular campus spot for restaurants and bars. He went to Franklin Street with his son in 2005 when the basketball team won another national title.
Thorp became the chancellor of his alma mater in 2008, a season in which UNC again won the championship. This time, Thorp celebrated on the floor of Detroit’s Ford Field with the team.
Yet Thorp’s tenure as chancellor would end abruptly four years later accompanied by scorn rather than fanfare.
An academic scandal hit UNC, with allegations surfacing that athletes—primarily on the football and men’s basketball teams—had been kept eligible through “paper classes” in the school’s African and Afro-American Studies department.
Two years after Thorp announced his resignation and a year after he was hired by Wash. U., a 131-page report by attorney Kenneth L. Wainstein revealed that more than 3,100 students over an 18-year span had benefitted from the paper classes, including approximately 1,500 athletes.
The report did not directly implicate Thorp, although it cited an alleged conversation between the chancellor and African, African American and Diaspora Studies department head Julius Nyang’oro in which Thorp commended the professor’s work with athletes. Nyang’oro interpreted the conversation as tacit approval of the paper classes.
“Carolina hadn’t had an NCAA violation in 50 years,” Thorp said (the school’s last major infractions case was in 1961). “We won a national championship in basketball my first year, and we won in field hockey and women’s soccer. We won seven national championships while I was in office. So I thought Carolina knew how to do everything right, and everything was going great.”
According to Thorp, three camps once existed on how to reform Division I athletics—one being those that thought everything was fine aside from isolated incidents, one calling for the reining in of college sports and the final arguing that justice must be sought for athletes abused by a system that leaves them without rights and power.
Thorp said that he has drifted from the all-is-good group to the justice camp, with the rein-it-in group essentially dead. He mentioned serving on a working group as UNC chancellor to make scholarships for athletes cover the full cost of college attendance. He also hinted at supporting Ed O’Bannon in his landmark lawsuit against the NCAA, which argues that collegiate athletes should be compensated when their likenesses are used in NCAA video games.
“A lot of people believe that O’Bannon has a very compelling argument, and I can understand why they think that because if you look at the video games, it’s pretty clear to see what’s going on there,” Thorp said.
Otherwise, Thorp shied from offering many specifics on what justice would look like for athletes, preferring to leave solutions to people still working in Division I.
“What we’re dealing with is this ongoing conflict level that’s there between playing the games at the highest possible level and managing the notions of amateurism and the student-athlete experience, and that is a very, very hard thing to do,” Thorp said. “We’re just seeing school after school after school continue to struggle with this, and I’m glad to be retired. I still love watching the games and still love watching the guys who played for us [playing] in the NBA.”
Indeed, Thorp’s mood loosened noticeably when asked about the national title teams and ex-UNC players achieving professional success. He praised 2009 title team members Danny Green and Ty Lawson and predicted that Harrison Barnes and the Golden State Warriors would win this year’s NBA championship. Thorp said that Barnes asked to meet with him while being recruited by UNC. Barnes expressed interest in studying political science and even pursuing a career in politics. Those interests were temporarily cut short when the Warriors drafted Barnes in 2012 after his sophomore year.
Despite his Carolina roots and enjoyment following the careers of Barnes and others, Thorp distanced himself from Chapel Hill and Division I.
“The notion of what’s fair for the athletes is getting a lot of traction, and somehow this is all going to get worked out,” he said. “I’m going to be reading about it in the newspaper and watching from St. Louis.”