In our ongoing efforts to bring you the fabric of the old Southwest Conference we aren't inclined to candy coat things. We're here to chronicle the history of the SWC, warts and all. We can't do that without addressing the issue of cheatin'. NCAA violations committed by SWC schools helped bring the league down. (It also made it pretty great.) Tonight, Episode One: The Pizza Man.
"I had to live with Wacker."
Bless Jim Wacker's heart, he wanted to do right. He really did. When he took the job at TCU, in a notoriously crooked time in Southwest Conference history, he knew that to clean up TCU's issues would take a Herculean effort. After winning one game in his first year, the 1984 Horned Frogs took off, winning eight game and losing in the Bluebonnet Bowl. His 1985 season was primed for greatness. Heisman trophy caliber running back Kenneth Davis was back, so were a large part of that '84 team.
When Wacker showed up at TCU he started to sort through his predecessor F.A. Dry's ruins. Dry had gone to great lengths to bring a winner to Fort Worth - classic SWC lengths. He'd set up a slush fund and enlisted boosters to help spread cash around to top rated recruits. Why? Because everyone was doing it! Down the road at SMU the NCAA was already sniffing around. Texas A&M had been paying for Kevin Murray's services since high school. Even venerable Texas was caught with their hand in the illegal benefit cookie jar.
So Dry had set up the usual back channels to pay for recruits. Those efforts got Dry twelve wins in five seasons. Hope he saved his receipts. At any given time as many as 29 Horned Frogs were on the take.
Wacker let it be known that the days of illegal payment were over. He approached the boosters responsible and received assurances that his boys were no longer on the take. Then in classic Wacker form, he held a team meeting early in the 1985 season to reassert his stance that cheating wouldn't be tolerated. He also invited any player receiving benefits to come forward and tell a coach. Little did he know that Kenneth Davis would be paying his position coach a visit.
Davis admitted to running back's coach Tom Perry that he was in fact still receiving extra benefits. Davis was assured his admission would be kept in confidence, but Perry went to Wacker later that evening.
What came next was a hand ringing that included the suspension of six players including Davis for the remainder of the year. Wacker had turned himself and his program in. "I second-guessed myself," Wacker says. "I kept asking why? Why? Why did Kenneth have to tell Tom Perry? In six months, we'd have had a great season, and nobody would have known and all those guys on payments would have been outta here. No way that money would have ever been traced. Ahhhhh, but I had to live with Wacker."
Jim Wacker loved to refer to himself in the third person.
The Pizza Man
Two of the central figures in the pay for play scandal were Dick Lowe and Chris Farkas. Lowe was a key booster and President of American Quasar. Lowe played for Dutch Meyer in the heyday of TCU's footballing history. He'd had the Wackers out to his ranch on several occasions and was outwardly thrilled with Wackers crusade to clean up the Frogs. Little did Wacker know that Lowe was a central money man in a $38,000 contract paid out to Kenneth Davis. That included a $400 per month payout as well as other perks.
Then there was the Pizza Man.
Chris Farkas owned a chain of Mama's Pizza Parlors. He was handing out more than pizza dough from his Fort Worth location. Farkas drove an easily identifiable Roles Royce and he was funding recruit not only Texas high school players but also getting plane tickets so JC recruits from California could travel back and forth.
Davis claimed that Farkas was given access to players, at times to make literal payment drops. For example, when Davis was injured as a freshman season he was sitting on a bench watching practice when Farkas approached him and dropped an envelope containing $3,700 at Davis' feet.
When Davis would visit Mama's Pizza, Farkas would literally hand him money under the table. As a high school recruit Davis was taken to Mama's for a meal when Farkas handed him $350 as he was enjoying a slice. Later, as Davis was mulling his decision, he met with Farkas and Lowe in the back of Lowe's private jet where a literal contract was drawn up. Lowe and Farkas promised Davis the $3,700 up front plus $200 a month and because it's Texas dammit, a shotgun and a .22 caliber rifle.
For as much as Wacker pled innocent in all of TCU's indiscretions, Lowe never bought it. In a letter penned to the local media, Lowe made it clear "Don't ever think that if illegal recruiting is going on, coaches don't know about it."
Several current and former players said much the same. Payments were common place, so much so that anyone associated with the program had to have known. As a result of Wacker and TCU turning themselves in, the Frogs were given three year's probation. As many as 60 boosters were implicated.
For Chris Farkas, he claimed his involvement led to death threats from TCU fans. You'd think after you invest so much in a program people would be grateful.
Lowe continued to thrive in business, even after his oil and gas business tanked in the late 80's. He and six others each contributed $15 million (legally) to the 2011 renovation of Amon G. Carter. As to his indiscretions involving paying players, Lowe says “[w]hat I did was stupid, it was wrong, it was ridiculous, and it was goofy, and it wasn’t really me.”
Wacker's crusade to clean up the SWC never really panned out. Even high school coaches saw it as futile. According to running back coach Tom Perry, "All the Texas high school coaches I meet shake your hand and say, 'Boy, Coach, I really admire what you guys did.' And under their breath, they're going, 'You dummies. This stuff has been going on for 70 years.' "
I believe it's referred to as a tradition.