Soaking up sun rays on an unusually temperate day in July of 1960, the half-constructed football stadium on 17th Street was only a skeleton of what it is today.
Though the massive limestone venue was a dream realized for aging IU President Herman B Wells, a nightmare sat waiting for Wells and his University.
Modeled after Rome’s ancient Colosseum, the stadium was a monument to the efforts of Director of Athletics Frank Allen. For five years, Allen had worked to develop a “system” that would allow for better recruiting.
The football team at the time was mediocre at best, and recently hired IU coach Phil Dickens sensed the pressure to win. Faithful alumni were confident in Dickens. They said he was the man who could return IU football to glory.
Instead, the 1960 Hoosiers stood on the brink of humiliation. Allegations of severe recruiting violations summoned an NCAA investigation, followed by sanctions. IU’s violations included the offering of free plane tickets to several athletes along with financial stipends, according to an NCAA report, while other recruits were delivered envelopes filled with cash.
IU denied the charges, arguing that possible recruiting violations were just the work of overzealous alumni. The NCAA, however, didn’t buy the claims.
“I have grave doubts any such practices on the scale, suggested by the cases at hand, could possibly have been carried on without the knowledge of and indeed, the approval of the football coaching staff,” wrote Big Ten Commissioner K.L. Wilson in his report.
It was a stain on the
University’s notoriously clean record. Today, almost 50 years later and again faced with recruiting violations, IU officials can only hope a phoenix flies from the ashes twice.
The NCAA socked IU with four years of probation following the major recruiting violations. During the probation period, all Hoosier varsity sports were barred from postseason play.
Allen retired not long after the sanctions were announced – a quiet end to a career spanning several decades, including a stint on the IU board of trustees.
Bill Orwig took his place as director of athletics, after coming to Bloomington from the University of Nebraska. Upon his hiring, Orwig vowed to have the NCAA penalties reduced. These promises proved largely unfruitful, but echoed the wider sentiments of Hoosier fans who felt they had been mistreated.
Swimmers, baseball players, runners and the beloved Hoosier basketball boys all paid the price for the alleged sins of Dickens and his staff. But, the University stayed faithful to its coach, and Dickens remained on the Hoosier sidelines for another five years.
“This, of course, has been a very trying period for all of us and our families,” Dickens wrote in his resignation letter to then-IU President Elvis J. Stahr. At the time, some argued Dickens was only guilty of getting caught.
“Everybody knew what he had to do – get the players,” said former IU defensive end Raymond Grasch. Grasch played for the Hoosiers from 1957-61 and described Dickens as an “honorable man.” Dickens inherited a program with nothing, Grasch said, and did what he had to do to make the team win.
The punishment was harsh – too harsh, the Hoosier faithful complained. Indiana Gov. Harold Handley called the probation “a raw deal,” but through their actions, the NCAA demonstrated the governing body’s power to dish out penalties.
Now, almost 50 years later, with major NCAA sanctions once again looming over the University, a coaching staff’s future is in jeopardy. The Hoosiers find themselves in the same spot from which it spent years rebuilding.
“Our athletic programs have unquestionably suffered under the severe punishment which is now being lifted,” Stahr said after the probation’s end in April 1964. “All of us are determined that the good name of the University shall not again be sullied, and all of us look forward to a bright new era of intercollegiate competition.”