King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Amid cheating, murder and lies, one college basketball coach committed the ultimate crime: He didn't win. Plus: Another vote for paying players.

By Salon Staff
February 27, 2004 1:00AM (UTC)
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The feel-good sports story of the winter has to be the success of the three Bears, the players who have thrived elsewhere after being allowed to transfer from Baylor without losing a year of eligibility in the wake of that school's murder-and-coverup scandal.

Forward Lawrence Roberts went to Mississippi State, where going into Wednesday night's home game against LSU he was the seventh-ranked Bulldogs' leading scorer and rebounder, three total rebounds shy of averaging a double-double. He's a strong candidate for Southeastern Conference player of the year. Point guard John Lucas went to Oklahoma State, where he's quickly become a leader, averaging 15 points and 4.7 assists a game for the sixth-ranked Cowboys. Guard Kenny Taylor went to Texas, where as a three-point shooter he's become a solid contributor off the bench for the No. 10 Longhorns.


Two stars and a 19-minutes-a-game role player on top 10 teams, and they all played for Baylor last year as the Bears went 14-14 overall, 5-11 in the Big 12. Just how bad a coach was Dave Bliss anyway?

"I've had people ask me if the three of us were so good, how come we weren't winning at Baylor?" Roberts told Newsday columnist Joe Gergen. "I can't answer that question."

I can.


Playing with roughly the same team as last year, minus their three best players, the Bears are 8-18 overall and 3-10 in the conference after a win Wednesday night at Texas A&M. I've seen Baylor play and lose a few times this season, and while they're always outmanned, the Bears, now coached by Scott Drew, play hard, and they can be a pain. In the last week, in addition to completing a season sweep over the lowly Aggies, they've stayed with Kansas for 30 minutes on the road and taken surging Missouri to the final seconds at home.

With Roberts, Lucas and Taylor, Baylor could be a 20-win team. And while Roberts and Lucas have improved this year and come into the national consciousness, it's not like they've made quantum leaps. They were good last year too. They just had a lousy coach.

Bliss was fired, along with his staff, after he was caught in a bizarre scheme to make it look as if murdered player Patrick Dennehy had been a drug dealer. That story was designed to cover up the illegal payments the program had been making to Dennehy, who wasn't on scholarship. It could be that this scandal revealed that you have to cheat just to be lousy in big-time college sports. But one could take the weirdly optimistic view that maybe all it revealed was Bliss' incompetence.


There's certainly no doubt about Bliss' incompetence now, given the results of this season at Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, Texas and Baylor. But there's even an ugly side to that bit of intelligence: If Bliss were merely a cheater and scoundrel who illegally paid players and then tried to sully the name of one of them in death just to cover his own sorry ass, he'd coach again in Division I.

But he lost with a bunch of good players, so he probably won't.


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I think I'm going to start collecting the names of commentariat members who agree with me that college athletes should be paid.

The latest to join the team is Jason Whitlock of the Kansas City Star, who wrote this week that "big-time college athletics calls for a significant percentage of its participants to pretend that they're interested in a college education. That's the original sin that breeds the plethora of sins that make headlines across the country."


I call it the Big Lie. But I'm an atheist. Original sin, same thing.

"Do away with the original sin," Whitlock continued. "End the hypocrisy. Quit demanding that football and basketball players pretend to be students. Let them be what they are -- entertainers, professional athletes in training. This would free coaches to be honest." He proposes letting athletes choose between an academic scholarship and a paycheck.

Welcome to the windmill wars, Jason.


Readers, send me the names of any typists and chatterers who have come out in favor of doing away with the Big Lie, the original sin. I'll compile a list and, um, I don't know what I'll do with it. Maybe I'll sell it to a crooked coach.

If I can find one, of course.

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