A Season After The Scandal -- Boston College's Football Program Will Be Under Serious Scrutiny After A Betting Scandal In 1996 That Involved More Players Than Any In NCAA History.
NEWTON, Mass. - On a football Saturday last November, fans lining up outside the Eagles Deli at Boston College buzzed about the opponent, Notre Dame. The talk didn't stop there.
Three days earlier, on Nov. 6, BC had suspended 13 players accused of betting on sports events.
"It was the talk of breakfast, lunch and dinner," deli general manager Tony Drury says. "Betting goes on everywhere, but at a Jesuit school you don't expect it."
That talk died down as BC acted through the winter and spring to leave behind a betting scandal that involved the most players in NCAA history. Nonetheless, with the season opener just two weeks away, new coach Tom O'Brien knows there are lingering questions.
"Everybody wants to know about the past," says O'Brien, Virginia's offensive coordinator when the scandal broke.
The questions persist despite the school's attempt to live up to the slogan on its promotional poster: "It's A Whole New Ballgame!"
Coach Dan Henning and athletic director Chet Gladchuk resigned. BC says the moves, after the second losing record in Henning's three seasons, were unrelated to the gambling. Only five suspended players are still in the program.
Freshman orientation sessions include a new lecture on gambling's dangers, and housing contracts and student handbooks have warnings.
The NCAA, which bars athletes from betting on college or pro sports, didn't punish the school. The Middlesex County district attorney's office brought no charges against players and said it found no evidence of point-shaving. Both praised BC for its response.
The exact amount of money wagered and the frequency of the betting was never disclosed, but players say that the case was blown out of proportion.
Yet it still happened, and BC, highly regarded in academic circles, is stained by a scandal in which authorities said players bet $25 to $1,000 on the World Series, college or pro football, and that two of them bet $200 and $250 against their own team in a 45-17 loss to Syracuse on Oct. 26.
"Maybe we won't get final closure until the last guy becomes eligible again," O'Brien says.
On July 15, the district attorney's 8 1/2-month investigation ended with the indictment of six men, none BC players. Nine days later, the NCAA ruled that five suspended players could come back; one must miss the first four games, two others the first two and the remaining two are eligible immediately.
BC also petitioned for the reinstatement of linebacker Jermaine Monk, but he suffered a career-ending head injury in spring practice. Of the other seven suspended players, four graduated and three lost their scholarships.
"We paid our penalty and suffered the consequences, probably more than what we had to, but that's all behind us," says tight end Rob Tardio, who was reinstated for the opener.
Players ready to move on
The scandal made headlines again this month when Jamall Anderson, a running back stripped of his scholarship, said that he bet and that gambling was "universal on the team," the Tampa Tribune reported. The newspaper also reported that Anderson said Henning and the coaching staff knew about the bets, which Henning denied.
And when BC held its media day Aug. 15, there were more questions.
"Fans dwell on things, media like to dwell on things, but players like to move on and I think that's what we're doing," senior Omari Walker says. "I'm personally tired of having to answer questions."
Walker, one of the top running backs in BC history, even faced them in South Dakota while visiting his wife's relatives last month.
"It's a black mark that follows you everywhere," he says. "It's ironic because we run one of the cleanest programs in the country."
BC isn't a football factory like Miami or Nebraska, which recently had two players dismissed for unspecified disciplinary reasons. Nor is it an outlaw school where players regularly run afoul of the law.
The school, six miles from downtown Boston, is a 134-year-old institution started as a boys college by the Society of Jesus in the city's South End. It points proudly to its student-athlete graduation rate of 90 percent.
But it's no surprise that students at BC - or other colleges - gamble.
Not permanently scarred
Jack Bicknell, who coached the Eagles when they rose to national prominence in the mid-1980s, doesn't think the school's reputation is permanently scarred.
"I bet you they're gambling in the Ivy League. I bet you they're gambling at West Point. I bet you there are football (betting) cards everywhere," Bicknell says. "I never thought it was BC's fault. I always thought it was the kids' fault."
O'Brien says the case didn't hurt recruiting because most people understood that the school wasn't to blame.
"It could have happened anywhere. Gambling is a college thing; it's an American thing," he says.
Bill Saum, who handles gambling cases for the NCAA, says Boston College deserves credit for "flushing out the problem."
"There's some college campuses that aren't as vigilant," he says.
Rumors about gambling had reached Henning the weekend of the Syracuse game and players heard that some teammates had bet against BC.
But those bettors wouldn't admit it and, on Nov. 2, two days after a 20-13 upset loss at Pittsburgh, the scandal became public. Gladchuk, who would resign July 18 to become athletic director at Houston, announced that the district attorney's office had been called in.
"If you have a problem, you deal with it," Henning says now. He resigned two days after the season and is offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills.
Last January, the school permanently suspended eight seniors, none on the team, for illegal bookmaking, and a New York man was arraigned on charges he ran a gambling ring using BC students.
Alumni are understanding.
Athletic donations reached an all-time high for the fiscal year ending last May, fund-raising chairman Greg Barber says.
Ticket renewals at 90 percent
BC was 5-7 last year and isn't a title threat in the Big East, yet season-ticket renewals are at 90 percent without the draw of Notre Dame on the home schedule. Only two or three of the 54 luxury boxes remain unsold.
In his first meeting with players last December, O'Brien told them to leave the problems behind. Yet he still planned to have the local FBI chief talk to them before the coming season.
In a society that accepts gambling with point spreads, lotteries and casinos, even O'Brien - an ex-Marine and Naval Academy graduate - can't guarantee all the steps BC has taken will work.
"They have to really be dumb to try to do something like this again," he said, but "when you're dealing with 85 (players) they don't always do what they're told."
BC's suspended players
Boston College suspended 13 football players Nov. 6 for the final three games last season in a gambling scandal. BC then petitioned the NCAA to reinstate six. The players:
Brian Maye, LB - Reinstated by NCAA for fifth game of season Oct. 4 at home against Georgia Tech.
Dan Collins, DL - Reinstated for third game Sept. 20 at Rutgers.
Kyle Geiselman, snapper - Reinstated for third game.
Scott Dragos, TE - Reinstated for first game Sept. 6 at Temple.
Rob Tardio, TE - Reinstated for first game.
Jermaine Monk, LB - Suffered career-ending head injury in spring drills after BC petitioned for his reinstatement. Is expected to return to school as a student.
Jamall Anderson, RB - Withdrew from school after being suspended for spring and fall 1997 semesters; football scholarship revoked.
Brandon King, WR - Withdrew from school after being suspended for spring and fall 1997 semesters and having football scholarship revoked. Attending community college in Atlanta.
Marcus Bembry, DE - Suspended for spring 1997 semester; football scholarship revoked. Still officially enrolled at BC with one semester left to graduation.
Paul Cary, DB - Graduated.
John Coleman, DL - Graduated.
Chris Cosenza, WR - Graduated.
Steve Everson, WR - Graduated.
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