SI Vault
Edited by Jerry Kirshenbaum
December 22, 1980
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December 22, 1980


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Booster clubs exert undue influence at many colleges, and the one at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas could hardly be expected to be any different. Often thought of as a renegade school when it comes to athletics, UNLV is situated in a city amply populated by the sort of high rollers most inclined to become boosters. But it wasn't until the arrival of a new athletic director who was determined to run a tight ship that the full extent of the power wielded by the UNLV's 1,500-member University Rebels Club became known.

The athletic director, Al Negratti, was hired last January at a time when UNLV had just come off a two-year NCAA probation for basketball recruiting violations. What's more, the athletic department was wallowing in $575,000 worth of red ink. Negratti was supposed to clean up UNLV's act, financially and otherwise, and he reduced the deficit by $200,000 by ordering a 30% cutback in expenditures in sports other than football and basketball and by sharply limiting the number of complimentary tickets lavished on coaches, university officials and the press. Negratti made some enemies in the process, and the atmosphere became more tense when an examination of the athletic department's ledgers resulted in the indictment of three officials—the sports ticket-office manager, the women's basketball coach and the sports information director—for embezzlement.

Things became stickier still when, last August, Negratti sought to see records of donations to the athletic department's scholarship fund, which is run by Associate Athletic Director Wayne Pearson and his assistant, David Pearl, UNLV's "booster coordinator." The scholarship fund is maintained by donations from well-heeled fans, who in return receive season basketball and football tickets and are accorded membership in the University Rebels Club. What makes things even cozier is that Pearson is a trustee of that club and Pearl its executive director; Pearl draws salaries both from the club and from the university.

Although the scholarship fund was nominally administered by the athletic department, and despite the fact that Negratti was his boss, Pearson declined to give him access to scholarship-fund records. Instead, Pearson complained about Negratti's request to University of Nevada Chancellor Donald Baepler. The school's regents then ordered that until further word, Pearson would be directly accountable to UNLV President Leonard Goodall and not to Negratti. Stung by that action and by resistance to his belt-tightening generally, Negratti submitted his resignation in October. Only then did the regents, apparently embarrassed, rule that the fund-raising office was, in fact, accountable to the athletic director. They also ordered an outside audit of Pearson's office. These decisions may have come too late. Negratti hasn't changed his mind about resigning, effective no later than June 30, and UNLV last week asked for a delay in an expected vote on its longstanding bid to join the Western Athletic Conference, whose officials had voiced understandable concern as to how much "institutional control" the school was exercising over its booster-dominated athletic department.

San Diego State didn't hold its traditional postseason football banquet this year, apparently because of the furor over the firing of the Aztecs' popular coach, Claude Gilbert (SCORECARD, Dec. 1). As a result, local businessmen are honoring Gilbert and his team this week at an impromptu banquet of their own. The site is the San Diego Police Department's firing range.

Showing a group of visitors through Monticello, the Thomas Jefferson home near Charlottesville, Va., a tour guide pointed out busts of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones and the Marquis de Lafayette and noted that of those four, only Lafayette had visited Monticello—and had, in fact, done so twice. "Make that three times," corrected one of her listeners. It seems that the visitors included the members of a basketball team competing in a tournament at the University of Virginia, the Leopards of Lafayette College.


While this magazine hasn't had much good to say lately about the Philadelphia Flyers, their wives are another matter. One night each year they stage a carnival at the Spectrum, the building in which their menfolk toil as the NHL's most brazen brawlers, to raise money for leukemia research at Philadelphia's Hahnemann Hospital in memory of Barry Ashbee, the Flyer player and assistant coach who died of the disease in 1977. This year's "Fight for Lives" carnival was held the other night, and nearly 6,000 people showed up to bid at auction for such items as one of Mike Schmidt's bats (purchase price: $315) and a pair of Dr. J's size-15� sneakers (a steal at $100) and to be photographed, at $5 a crack, with members of the Flyers, most of whom also turned out for the occasion. Carny-goers also got a chance to dunk Flyers Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach in a baseball toss booth. Thanks in large part to corporate largess in buying advertising for the event, the wives raised $175,000, swelling the take for leukemia research since the carnivals began to $625,000.

Speaking of Flyer wives, it was, in a way, a costly trade that sent Flyer Defenseman Norm Barnes to the Hartford Whalers recently for future considerations. Remember how Kate Smith's rendition of God Bless America used to fire up the Flyers at home games? Well, Smith had been succeeded by Barnes' wife, Cid, who had provided similar inspiration by ably singing the national anthem before Flyer games. So the Whalers may have gotten one more performer than they bargained for.

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