The scandal that rocked Hawaii's basketball program drove Reggie Carter to transfer to St. John's after his freshman year.

Volleyball investigation
recalls bad memories

It's extremely unlikely Hawaii will get the dreaded "death penalty" from the NCAA for using an ineligible player in men's volleyball. But the state's most venerable observer of sports sees the situation as life-and-death in the figurative sense.

"If they take the (2002 national) championship away that's a mortal blow for (coach Mike) Wilton, the team and the university," retired sportscaster Les Keiter said. "I can't see the NCAA just slapping them on the wrist."

UH athletic director Herman Frazier has sounded a confident tone since reports of a violation surfaced Wednesday. He has experience with the NCAA on serious compliance issues from his time at Arizona State, and said such dealings are a strength of his.

"From an NCAA standpoint I don't think they can call this a major problem," he said in a phone interview Thursday. "I think they will find the institution did everything humanly possible to be in compliance."

But if they don't, Keiter said, forfeiting the school's only national championship in a men's sport -- and in a sport that is so popular here -- could put a pall over the UH athletic department second only to the men's basketball scandal of the mid-1970s. That one ended with two years of NCAA probation, a scattering of promising coaches and players, and a team that went 1-26 in 1977-78.

The long time TV voice of the program agrees. But Jim Leahey added that the volleyball situation could turn out worse than the basketball scandal.

"The difference is basketball was nowhere near a national championship, and in this situation they may have to take down the flag. This is worse," Leahey said. "The basketball team was very popular, but this is also a team that is deeply loved by the people."

UH has had several brushes with the NCAA over the years, most of them fairly minor eligibility issues. Until the potentially catastrophic volleyball revelations last week, they were all the equivalent of parking violations when compared to what befell the basketball program in 1976 and 1977.

Hawaii was hoops crazy in the early 1970s with the success of the Fabulous Five, and later, Thomas Henderson, a future Olympian and NBA starter whom many consider the program's greatest player.

On Feb. 3, 1976, UH was notified by the NCAA that four players -- Henry Hollingsworth, Gary Gray, George Ritter and David Knight -- broke rules by appearing in a TV commercial for Cutter Ford. "The Cutter Four" (of whom only Hollingsworth was a starter) is what people remember most about the scandal. But it was the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

The TV commercial was a relatively minor transgression ("they weren't getting cars," Leahey recalled), but it brought on an NCAA investigation that discovered 68 violations of 18 rules. The university itself and its student government also investigated, and discovered "a host of irregularities," including payment of apartment rentals by head coach Bruce O'Neil.

On May 7, 1977, the hammer fell. According to Star-Bulletin articles at the time, the program was placed on probation and nine individuals -- O'Neil, assistant coach Rick Pitino, athletic director Paul Durham and boosters Wallace Fujiyama, Stuart Ho, Tom Mui, Clarence Chang, Harry Kurasaki and Mike Suzuki were ordered to permanently sever all relations with UH athletics. A tenth person, booster club president Art Woolaway, was ordered to disassociate himself for two years.

Durham fought the charges against him and on Dec. 23, 1977, the NCAA cleared him of any wrongdoing. He remains a staunch supporter of UH sports today. So does Woolaway, who splits his time between the mainland and Hawaii and is an honorary assistant coach of the Rainbows.

Pitino was 2-4 as interim head coach after O'Neil was relieved Feb. 6, 1976. Pitino went on to a hugely successful career as a college and NBA head coach that continues to this day at Louisville. He rarely mentions his time in Hawaii.

Pete Gillen was another assistant for that UH team. He also went on to success and is the head coach at Virginia.

O'Neil also landed on his feet. He owns a sports promotion business in Oregon and has partnered with ESPN, helping the network launch ESPN Home Video.

The 1975-76 team went 11-16. It was Hawaii's first losing season in five years, and the Rainbows didn't finish with a winning record again until 1980-81, when they went 14-13.

On Dec. 16, 1976, players Ed Torres, Wayne Crowe and Steve Borup were declared ineligible by the NCAA because of the rental payment violations. After a review, Borup's eligibility was restored, but Torres and Crowe were forced to sit out the remainder of the 1976-77 season.

Reggie Carter, a promising freshman on the 1975-76 team, transferred to St. John's and went on to a brief NBA career.

Keiter, who was the sports director at KHON at the time, said he doesn't think the scandal knocked down an up-and-coming program.

"They had some good young players, but as I look back I don't really think there was any indication they were on their way to being a powerhouse," he said. "But I can't think of any other scandal that put UH sports in as bad a light."

In Keiter's estimation, there was something worse, though.

"NCAA violations happen to lots of schools for lots of reasons," he said. "But when the football team went 0-12 (in 1998) we all felt that shame. It got to be ridiculous to go out to the game and hope they win. There's not that much shame with NCAA sanctions, other than 'We got caught.' "

But, as Leahey reminded, there is more at stake now with volleyball than there was with basketball 27 years ago.

"The tragedy is it's the school's only men's national title," he said. "If that flag has to come down. ..."


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