By Arlie Rahn
Q: With Northwestern and Arizona State's recent troubles with gambling in mind, what steps do you take as an athletic department to ensure that your athletes don't get involved in collegiate sports betting?
A: We are currently in the process of educating all 18 teams on this issue. The NCAA has just recently provided us with an 8-10 minute video and we have gone over that with our entire department. We are instructing our coaches and staff on what goes on with gambling and what signs to look for with regards to our kids. Gambling is fearful and it scares me to death to think that we could wake up and potentially have something like what happened with ASU or, more importantly, Northwestern. They had been investigated for a year-and-a-half and didn't know about it. We have to make sure we treat it like a disease and watch for the signs. And that's why we will spend time with each of our teams and educate them on this subject. The issue is not who's going to go out and throw games, the issue is simply this: Let's say you go out to the casino and play craps or something. And you start losing money and over a period of time get in debt. And then all of a sudden someone comes along and identifies you as a student athlete and says he can solve all your problems. And that's when you get sucked in and the hook comes when he asks if you can maybe keep an eye out and let him know if anyone isn't feeling well or sprains an ankle. And that's what scares me. It's really not fun and games and we need to treat it seriously.
Q: What about the agent situation on campus. Especially with regards to what has happened in the past seasons to players like Ben Davis and Damon Stoudamire?
A: What we try to do is make sure that every day we are trying to educate. We spend a good deal of time talking about these kind of things and tell the kids that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. There is legislation in the state that should help us a little bit, but it's not enough. The thing is that agents don't walk into a room with a sign on their head. You and I could both be agents and so it's really hard to identify who they are.
Minority graduation rates
Q: Currently, only about 2 percent of the university's population is African American, but 25 percent of the athletes are African American. With that in mind, their retention and graduation rates are among the worst in the university. Do you have any ideas on how to address this problem?
A: We are very sensitive to this issue and want all of our student athletes to graduate. Currently, we have grown from a 51 percent graduation rate last year to a 64 percent rate this year. Because we have such a high number of African Americans and minorities in our department, we want to make sure that we are doing the best things we can to help them get their degree. Do we still have problems? Absolutely. But we are making progress. We are very aware of this and I think that you will find in the next couple of years that our graduation rates will really improve.
Exploitation of athletes
Q: What are your feelings about underclassmen leaving early to play professional sports?
A: I just think everybody is better served to stay in college and for this reason: There's only one time in your life when you are between that age of 18 and 22 and can play collegiate athletics. The issue is not whether or not he gets an education. He'll have a chance at that. Anybody that goes pro will have enough money and the opportunity to come back and finish their education. The fact is that you can only enjoy playing ball on the college level during that one time. And so you would not only be losing that opportunity, but also you would miss out on many of the social issues that go on as well.
Q: Do you feel that collegiate athletes, like members of the UA basketball team, are exploited by different organizations? More specifically, players like Bennett Davison signing autographs for Adidas.
A: Where Bennett is concerned, his eligibility is up so he can make those decisions himself. I don't think that the athletes are exploited, but there's always that danger. When you create atmospheres which have been so wonderful, in terms of the community's love affair with the Wildcats, it's very hard to just shut that off. But you do have to be careful, especially in today's world. In many ways, we unconsciously create that monster of exploitation and we don't recognize it when it is ourselves pushing these kids. So we have to be extremely careful and very conscious of their time.
Current status of UA football
Q: When you see teams like Washington and UCLA bringing in 80,000 fans a game, is there anyway that Arizona can reach the elite status in football and compete on the level of a Michigan or Florida State?
A: There is absolutely no question in my mind that we can do that. It is more a question of when than if. The vision I have is that we have to get very serious about expanding Arizona Stadium. We just cannot seat the number of people as we need to. Overall, I think the growth of our program is in great shape right now. We had a strong finish to last year's season and have had very encouraging winter and spring workouts. There's all kind of optimism in looking ahead to the 1998 season. I think we will surprise a lot of people. I don't think the enthusiasm or the future has every looked brighter for Wildcat football.