The morning after Yahoo! Sports released the damning results of its extensive investigation of Miami’s football and basketball programs, a familiar name popped up on University of Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson’s caller ID.
Former Memphis and current Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari was on the line.
“He was getting on a plane, so it was real tight, but he said, ‘Can you believe that? Strict liability,’” Johnson said. “And then he had a couple comments only John can come up with, but you get the drift.”
Paul Dee, who headed the NCAA's Committee of Infractions in 2008 when Memphis was forced to vacate its 38-win season because of a “strict liability” situation, resided over Miami athletics from 1993 to 2008. In an 11-month-long investigation, Yahoo! Sports found that, from 2002 to 2008, a Miami booster involved in a $930-million Ponzi scheme provided thousands of impermissible benefits to Miami football and basketball players.
Dee claimed Tuesday he was completely oblivious to any wrongdoings within the athletic department during his tenure.
Q: Were you at all miffed that Paul Dee, who slapped the tag of strict liability on your athletic department three years ago, essentially used the same defense for what transpired on his own campus?
R.C. Johnson: “I really make a policy not to talk about other schools. I just don’t want to get into that. We went through enough, and people were casting stones at us on this. Derrick (Rose) says he took the test. It left a taste in my mouth, but I really try to get beyond that. You look at the list of schools with all that’s going on right now, and you know (Conference USA commissioner) Britton (Banowsky) is taking over the COI committee. It’s ironic, the list that’s on there is the who’s who of NCAA sports and that makes me sick to my stomach. I don’t think things have changed as much over the years, but there’s so much more visibility. I tell all of my coaches there are no secrets. I don’t care if you’re in Timbuktu, there are no secrets. You can’t expect to hide something or sweep something under the mat. I don’t know that there’s more going on now than there was before, but there’s more media, more outlets, more networks out there. I’m not evading your question, I just have friends at almost all these schools and I feel badly for them because we went through it.”
Q: With everything that’s happened in the last several months, from Ohio State’s memorabilia-for-tattoo scandal to most recently Miami, is the NCAA in turmoil right now? And now that Miami’s issues are public, how do you react locally to the taboo of boosters? Do you do anything?
A: “I think (NCAA president) Mark Emmert is doing a good job. He’s really hands-on. I disagree with him on the cost of attendance, I think a full scholarship’s a really good deal. But I like Mark’s approach. I think he’s trying to raise the academic bar. It’s going to take him a while to get things going. I do agree that there needs to be stiffer penalties. We’ve built our TSF to enormous numbers. We’re raising a lot of money. We really work hard on making sure that they’re donors and not owners. It’s difficult. I go to a person, ask him to make a donation, I want his money but I don’t want his advice or thoughts or his interfering. But I sure want his checkbook. That’s a fine line. That’s not going to stop, because we’re going to continue need more money. The stiffer penalties, I think they’re going to have more of an impact. Really stiff penalties. Are we ever gonna stop stuff going on? Probably not. But I think it will slow the train down a little bit. One thing I think will cause a turmoil, if you paid for the full cost of attendance, will be Title IX. There will be the football and basketball guys that everyone under the sun wants to help, a smattering of the other sports. Maybe women’s basketball. Title IX is a federally-mandated law. You can’t get around that.”
Q: Are you confident that, if Emmert proceeds with the full cost of attendance proposal, that the Memphis athletic department could survive?
A: “I think so. It would cost us about $1 million. The question is, ‘Alright, you think so, how are you going to do that?’ I don’t have an answer for that. The one thing I think we’d do is lean on the private sector a bit more. We’re fortunate to be in a city with this population and the fan-base that we have. I think that would be our first avenue. We’re not going to get it out of Nashville. It’s going to be hard to get it out of the university, because she doesn’t have it. Dr. (Shirley) Raines doesn’t have it. We’ve got to get football kicked in gear. With basketball, we can increase ticket prices a bit. But that’s a small blip on the $1 million scale. We have so much growth potential in football. The other source we have is the private sector. We’ve got great corporations here and I think the individuals will help. I haven’t talked to them about it yet, though.”
Q: That said, how important now is show a sense of commitment that maybe hasn’t been there previously to the only other revenue-generating sport on campus?
A: “I think the commitment has been there, but I think it’s been more internal. Now we’re doing the brick-and-mortar. The weight room, the indoor facility, the turf field. But see, we increased the salary of the head coach, the assistant coaches. We increased the operating and recruiting budget. But you don’t see that kind of stuff. We’ve been doing it all along. Now, we’re doing things that you and I can walk down the street and see.”
Q: Josh Pastner can’t be serious about not hiring a third assistant, can he?
A: “He’s got a couple things in mind. He’s got a couple guys he’s kind of holding on and waiting on. Some of it’s tied up in recruiting a little bit. There’s stuff going on.”
Q: East Carolina recently launched their latest initiative, presumably, to market themselves for a BCS conference bid. What does Memphis have, if anything, in terms of that type of presentation? Is anything planned?
A: “I’ve got a great -- I’m not trying to be coy with you -- i’ve got a great group of guys and a great team in place kind of behind the scenes working on stuff. I really have some terrific people. We may not have it on our website, but we’re working hard and some of the guys helping us, that’s the only way they would help us. The message to the fanbase out there is yes, we have a good thing going and we’re working hard on doing it. We’re leaving no stone unturned.”