Baylor's Drew sees light at the end of scandal tunnel

Friday, February 27th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WACO, Texas (AP) _ Facing more bad news and new sanctions, Baylor basketball coach Scott Drew flashed his optimistic smile, just like he did six months ago when he arrived on a campus swamped by scandal within the hoops program.

Drew faces another year of probation, new scholarship reductions and reduced contacts with recruits the next two years because of NCAA violations committed by his predecessor, Dave Bliss.

``I'm more encouraged than when I first got here,'' Drew said Thursday. ``The community and this school have been so supportive of this team it just makes you want to work harder.''

School President Robert Sloan announced the new sanctions Thursday as he released a summary of the school's internal investigation that found major NCAA violations Bliss committed. The school will send its report to the NCAA.

Among the findings: Bliss improperly paid up to $40,000 in tuition for two players, the coaching staff didn't report failed drug tests by athletes and Bliss lied to investigators in trying to cover up his misdeeds.

Other violations included Bliss and his staff arranging meals, transportation, lodging and clothing for athletes or prospective athletes. Coaches also paid $336 in tuition at a junior college for a prospective player.

The school began its investigation last summer when player Patrick Dennehy was killed and former teammate Carlton Dotson was charged with his murder.

``The university is embarrassed,'' said Sloan, the leader of the world's largest Baptist organization and the Big 12's only private school. ``Faith, integrity and honesty matter.''

Drew preferred to think about how Baylor has closed a chapter in the sordid affair. Baylor has finished its investigation.

``They're done with it. I'm encouraged and ready to move on,'' he said. ``We knew there would be more sanctions.''

Even the reduction of scholarships from 13 to nine next season didn't seem to cause him much concern.

Baylor, 8-18, plays just seven scholarship athletes this season so Drew still gets to add two next year. And with the departure of his seniors, he'll get to sign four new players to his roster.

Compared with NCAA rules that would have allowed him to sign up to five new players next year, Drew really loses just one scholarship in the short term. And by 2005-2006, he'll be just one shy of the full allotment.

``Seven scholarship players. Next year we go to nine so I look at it as we're gaining,'' he said.

``It's the quality of guys you bring in. If you have nine quality guys, that's all you need,'' he said.

Drew's confidence is bolstered by Baylor's already winning more games this season than most would have expected. Last season's top three players, John Lucas, Kenny Taylor and Lawrence Roberts all transferred to other schools before this season.

``We weren't supposed to win any conference games and we weren't supposed to be competitive,'' he said. ``To me there's nothing more rewarding than seeing hard work pay off.''

The bigger problems may lie in Baylor's self-imposed limits on contact between coaches and recruits, from fewer on-campus visits by players to fewer coaches allowed to recruit off campus.

``All that affects us. We'll have to do more research, maybe not bring people in until we know more where they stand,'' Drew said.

Sloan said he supports Drew but had no choice but to deliver tough penalties for Bliss' past violations.

``Baylor's honesty and integrity must be protected,'' Sloan said. ``To underdeliver would be an error.''

Most of the violations had been acknowledged by the school before Thursday's news conference, which was much like a public apology and a declaration it would fix its problems. Sloan provided new details on money improperly spent on players, and he disclosed that Bliss had solicited money from two university regents.

School officials said the regents, Jim Turner and Wes Bailey, were misled about their donations to a charity organization that sponsored AAU teams and did nothing wrong.

The NCAA will now look at Baylor's report and decide whether to accept its finding and sanctions or impose more.

Bill Underwood, a Baylor law professor who sat on the school's investigations committee, said the sanctions were not specifically imposed to deflect the NCAA.

``That's really not the ultimate question for us, trying to guess what the NCAA will do and beat them to the game,'' Underwood said. ``What we tried to do is determine what we think is appropriate.''

The NCAA could not comment because it had not yet seen the school's findings, spokesman Jeff Howard said. He said the NCAA has been in ``constant communication with Baylor throughout their investigation.''

Lawyers for Bliss, who resigned in August and now works at a sporting goods store in a Denver suburb, did not immediately return calls.