Cheatin' Stories Episode 3: The Datsun 300ZX

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 Three: The Datsun 300ZX. 

Kevin Murray was a transcendent star at Texas A&M. One of the great pocket passers in the SWC, Murray led the league in almost every passing category in 1985 and 1986. He passed for the ninth most yards in SWC history and was the second SWC quarterback to eclipse 6,500 career yards. Murray graduated as the SWC career touchdown leader. 

He was also similar to Rob Kardashian in that he drove a nice car and got paid pretty handsomely but didn't do much in the way of work. 

North Dallas to the Minor Leagues

Murray was a talented multi-sport star at North Dallas High School. So much so that he had Divisoin I recruiting offers in football and was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in baseball. Murray signed a letter of intent with the Texas A&M but later decided to take Milwaukee's $35,000 signing bonus and head off to rookie ball. A few months later, he'd had enough of Big League Chew and opted to go back to football and A&M.  

Now the Brewers were pissed that their rookie was breaking his contract, so pissed that they took Murray to Federal Court on a breach of contract claim. A Brewers official dropped the first hint that Murray's recruitment to A&M might not be on the up and up when he testified that Murray had receiver $200 per week during his senior year at North Dallas and a Buick Regal. Murray said the claims were false. A Federal Judge ruled that Murray hadn't breached his contract by leaving early and Murray headed for College Station. 

In the fall of 1983 Murray arrived on the A&M campus. A few months later he was driving a brand new white 300ZX, not a Buick Regal. 

 Sherrill and Murray in Happier Times

Sherrill and Murray in Happier Times

When recruiting stories broke in the SWC, it was usually the leering press in Dallas that broke 'em. Dale Hansen got off on the stuff. Such was the case with Kevin Murray. WFAA deployed an investigative team to delve into A&M recruiting practices. They found a suspicious car lease and some checks made out to A&M's star quarterback.

By September of 1985, WFAA was ready to pounce. They sent a news team to College Station to interview Murray. They asked  him point blank about the car, Murray denied it was his. WFAA pulled out a lease agreement with Murray's signature. Clearly a forgery according to Murray. WFA pointed out that the car was registered with A&M's campus police for parking purposes. An odd coincidence according to Murray. They brought up the fact that a couple of Murray's teammates said that Murray had driven the car back from Dallas around Christmas of 1983, Murray again denied it. Then WFAA was escorted off campus by security. 

Murray was in a pickle. He was also in the midst of a great run at A&M. In 1985 the Aggies won their first SWC title since 1967. The Aggies wouldn't wait eighteen years to win another. They won three straight from '85 to '87. Murray was named Newcomer of the Year in 1983, All Conference in '85 and '86 and All-America. 

Venture Properties Inc.

Meanwhile the heat surrounding Murray and alleged improper benefits did nothing but grow. WFAA claimed that Murray received a series of $300 checks from a Dallas company, the same that leased him his car. They also alleged that Murray's parents had received bigger checks. Way bigger. 

The Dallas Times Herald ran a piece outlining A&M alleged NCAA violations. They included payments to players left in lockers and given to players by other means. The paper also claimed that Murray was now driving an Audi registered to Pro Sports Management and agent "Buzz" Green. Green claimed the car belonged to Murray's brother and that he'd had no contact with Murray. He did however say that should Murray declare for the NFL draft "I'm sure we'd be interested."

The Fort Worth Star Telegram started digging around and found out that Murray had been paid by Venture Properties Inc., a company owned by Aggie grad Rod Dockery. Dockery claimed that Murray had been paid to clean printing presses, things we had no idea were still around in 1984. One problem, employees at Venture claimed Murray never worked there. The head of the printing press department hadn't seen Murray in eight months, eight months when Murray was still receiving checks. 

One employee did remember seeing Murray at Venture, but it was once and only so that the employee could give Murray the keys to a company car. 

Then things got spicy. Real spicy. 

Rod Dockery's wife Cheryl field for divorce from old Rod and in her petition she asked for 1/2 of all monies paid to Kevin Murray and 1/2 of the value of the Datsun 300ZX which she claimed her husband paid for and then gave to Murray. 

No word on whether sweet Cheryl got her 1/2 of the dough.

By 1987, things were falling apart in Aggieland. The football team was winning, but alums were starting to talk. They talked about a slush fund set up for head coach Jackie Sherrill's benefit after his arrival in town. The Times Herald interviewed more than 40 former players who claimed they received money during their time at A&M. They told the Herald they'd received  cash performance incentives, car deals, and long distance cards. (Kids there was a time when to call long distance you had to dial a "1" and then input a number from a long distance calling card that you'd purchased at a gas station or grocery store. There were also no cellular phones. Well none that didn't charge something like $20 a minute to call from.)

A lot of NCAA infractions traced back to these phone cards. A lot. To keep up with your hometown side piece while you're away at college you've got to put in some phone time. That's day one stuff.

Meanwhile the evidence indicated that Murray had upgraded from a Buick Regal to a Datsun 300ZX to an Audi. 

The NCAA comes down...softly

The NCAA listed 31 infractions when they filed formal notice of their investigative findings in April of 1988. Most of those indiscretions were self reported by A&M, however A&M's 850 page report didn't make mention of Murray or Dockery. I guess there was an issue with the printer. 

On September 9, 1988 the NCAA finally cracked down on A&M. Sort of. 

The Aggies were put on two years probation including a bowl ban in 1988 and scholarship reductions. They also limited the number of coaches that could recruit off campus. We assume those coaches couldn't facilitate any car leases either. Bummer. 

Murray left A&M a year early, though he wasn't drafted. Lingering concerns over a shattered ankle from 1983 scared teams away. Murray signed with the San Francisco 49ers and later the Calgary Stampeders but retired soon after due to health reasons. 

Jackie Sherrill left A&M in December of 1988, just after the NCAA's ruling. He surfaced in 1991 in Starkvegas, though then it was known simply as Starkville, coaching Mississippi State. He castrated a bull prior to a Bulldog game vs. Texas. No word on whether he killed an actual sea captain in anticipation of a matchup with Vanderbilt. 

Shockingly after Sherrill left the Bulldogs were placed on four years NCAA probation for violations during his tenure. No word on whether any of those violations involved leased Datsuns.

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