A PAYROLL TO MEET:
A Story of Greed, Corruption and Football at SMU
By David Whitford
221 pages, $18.95
By GENE WARNER
News Book Reviewer
MEET SHERWOOD Blount, a Dallas real estate mogul who unwittingly helped to pull the electric-chair switch on the Southern Methodist University football program.
Blount, a powerful SMU booster with a quick hand on his money clip for blue-chip players, once gave a Pennsylvania football prospect and his family $5,000 cash, while arranging for a rent-free apartment and a job in Dallas for the prospect's father and family.
Blount's reply when confronted by NCAA investigators: "I can damn well spend my money any way I damn well please."
If the NCAA didn't understand that, he added, they were "a bunch of communists."
Then there was the time Blount approached a similarly powerful Texas Christian University booster to propose that the two schools conduct their own secret draft of high school football stars, to do away with the expensive bidding for players.
And once, during a meeting with members of the SMU board of governors who were trying to apply some damage control to the exploding scandal of paying players, Blount told the others: "You've got a payroll to meet. Maybe you should consider adding a line item to the university budget."
It's that arrogance that jumps from the pages of "A Payroll to Meet," David Whitford's dissection of the SMU football scandal that left the school's football program saddled with the NCAA's first "death penalty." SMU fielded no football team in 1987 and 1988.
These SMU officials and big-time boosters, ranging from current Texas Gov. Bill Clements to Blount and others of his ilk, either didn't think they would get caught, or didn't care, Whitford shows in his factual account of conditions that were ripe for scandal.
In an earlier scandal, SMU had been accused of giving players cash under the guise of student loans, providing campus jobs at exorbitant wages and accepting transfer students without proper transcripts.
That scandal hit in 1922-23!
Zoom forward to the recent scandal, in the late 1970s and 1980s, and listen to one of the "bagmen" for SMU, Houston stockbroker Robin Buddecke, as he rationalizes $20 payments bribing high school prospects to visit the college.
"The way I approached it in my own mind was, 'This kid is my son, he has a date tonight.' What do I do? I reach in my pocket and give him a $20 bill. It was not done with the (idea) that we're gonna buy players, that was not the angle at all. We wanted to show them that we had some class, that we had the wherewithal to take care of them."
That may be the most shocking angle of the SMU scandal for any layman reading this book: Nobody seems too apologetic.
Whitford focuses on the powerful SMU board of governors, which he portrays as a power unto itself, with more clout than the SMU administration or coaches.
One of the book's recurring themes is the Watergate-like coverup designed to insulate the former and future governor, Clements, from the scandal's political fallout.
The book does have one key weakness. The author leaves the reader thirsting for more information on the roles played by high-profile coaches such as Ron Meyer and Bobby Collins.
The evidence seems contradictory on Meyer, while Collins is portrayed more as a powerless pawn in the scandal perpetrated by higher-ups. More information on their involvement would round out the full picture.
Unlike most victims of the death penalty, SMU's football team returned to its feet this fall -- sort of.
Last month, Houston scored 95 points against it.