- Scoreboard, Baby: A Story of College Football, Crime, and Complicity
Following the University of Colorado’s 51-43 win over of Oregon in the 1998 Aloha Bowl, head coach Rick Neuheisel responded to accusations from his counterpart that Buffalo players had not been penalized for unfair play with one succinct, brash statement: “Scoreboard, baby!”
Shortly thereafter Neuheisel accepted a job offer from the University of Washington that more than doubled his salary. The self-assured young coach led UW to an 11-1 campaign and a Rose Bowl championship in only his second season. Seattle natives (long accustomed to football success) embraced and celebrated the 2000 Huskies and their unexpected “season to remember.” Eight years later, a four-part exposé entitled “Victory and Ruins” ran in the Seattle Times recasting the story of that golden season in a new and harsher light. Investigative reporter Ken Armstrong and higher education beat writer Nick Perry waded through court records, police case files, and news reports and conducted hours of interviews that painted a shocking picture. Their stunning findings earned them several prominent awards including the Michael Kelly Award for journalistic courage.
Armstrong and Perry have now expanded their acclaimed piece into a compelling book-length indictment of Neuheisel’s program. Scoreboard, Baby uses a mountain of galling evidence to ask poignantly and chillingly what price communities and institutions are willing to pay for athletic success. One UW player who received numerous restraining orders for routinely battering his wife was lionized by the university, fans, and local press following a serious injury. No one cared, or dared, to mention his criminal record. Prior to [End Page 305] Neuheisel’s arrival the university honored scholarship offers to one recruit who knocked a boy unconscious with a Louisville Slugger during a school fight and to another who nearly crushed a defenseless boy’s skull with a brick during an unprovoked group beating. Subsequent to their enrollments in Seattle the first player was accused of date-raping an unconscious coed at a fraternity party; the other started the 2001 Rose Bowl game less than one week after violently assaulting a student equipment manager. Another player was indicted for robbing and shooting a petty drug dealer close to campus.
It is all too easy for readers to understand the roots of the self-absorbed destructive behavior that a judge in one drunk-driving case involving a UW football player labeled “narcissistic.” Armstrong and Perry describe in appalling detail the reckless lack of discipline and oversight that enabled a culture of violence and entitlement. They write scathingly of the negligently cursive search process through which athletics director Barbara Hedges hired Neuheisel. They are equally unambiguous in discussing the shameful academic practices employed to keep UW football players above the NCAA-mandated 2.0 minimum G.P.A.—such as countless hours of laughably basic Swahili and the Geology 101 course known popularly on campus as “Rocks for Jocks.”
Armstrong and Perry explore the lack of external accountability Husky players enjoyed with equal audacity. They quote glowing columns from beat writers at both the Seattle Post and Time-Intelligencer that barely hinted at any off-field legal troubles. They convincingly suggest that King County prosecutor Norm Melang elected not to pursue more than one serious case involving a UW football player out of a desire to avoid politically costly public controversy. Their portrait of prominent Seattle lawyer and third-generation UW graduate Mike Hunsinger is particularly damning. Hunsinger invariably defended Husky players facing criminal investigation, working the cases on a virtually pro bono basis. According to Armstrong and Perry, Hunsinger’s standing within Seattle’s legal community enabled his clients to evade prosecution time and again. More importantly, his work kept them on the field.
Exactly how much UW coaches and administrators knew of their team’s off-field indiscretions is unclear. Armstrong and Perry provide numerous quotations highlighting Neuheisel’s woefully inconsistent approach to discipline. Unfortunately any sympathetic perspective on the story’s villains is entirely absent. Neuheisel and company are...