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Methodist Bishops Report On Cover-Up, Payoffs

June 20, 1987 GMT

DALLAS (AP) _ High-ranking Southern Methodist University officials participated in an elaborate scheme to conceal the fact that Gov. Bill Clements approved illicit payments to student athletes, a bishops’ committee reported.

The cover-up included misleading a faculty member investigating the SMU athletic program, lying to the NCAA and approving generous termination agreements with head football coach Bobby Collins and Athletic Director Bob Hitch to avoid lawsuits and publicity, the committee reported Friday.

The special committee of United Methodist Church bishops spent three months investigating a $400,000-a-year slush fund provided by SMU boosters while the school was on National Collegiate Athletic Association probation for similar activities.

The report disclosed for the first time that SMU paid more than $860,000 in severance pay to three members of the athletic department: $556,272 for Collins; $246,442 for Hitch and $60,299 for Hitch’s former assistant, Henry Lee Parker.

″Hitch was willing to go to the NCAA and confess to the payment program - but only if SMU agreed to pay out all three contracts,″ the bishops said.

On one occasion, two athletes broke into Parker’s desk and stole the monthly payoff money, the report said. Athletic department officials quickly learned who took the money, but the athletes refused to give it back, knowing they were beyond punishment because the slush fund was secret, the bishops said.

The money was replaced with more money from boosters, and the two athletes played in SMU’s next game, the report said.

″That shows you the disintegration of discipline and integrity in the extreme,″ Bishop Ben Oliphint said Friday. ″Somewhere a system of payments was organized and it functioned and it had a life of its own.″

The play-for-pay scandal prompted the NCAA in February to suspend SMU’s 1987 football season. A total of $61,000 was paid to 13 football players during the 1985-86 school year, the NCAA said.

Clements was then chairman of the SMU Board of Governors, an executive committee that has been abolished in favor of giving more control to the larger Board of Trustees.

Clements said Friday that he had not yet seen the bishops’ report but welcomed it.

″I think it will put SMU into a new phase and on a new plateau to move forward, which is what they should do,″ the governor said.

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The report said Clements, former SMU President L. Donald Shields, and board members, including former Dallas Mayor Robert Folsom, knew of payments before August 1985, when Clements has ackowledged deciding to phase out rather than stop them.

The report said Dallas businessman Edwin L. Cox, a former member of the Board of Governors, and trustee O. Paul Corley helped Clements and his successor as chairman, William L. Hutchison, carry out the cover-up. Clements was elected governor of Texas last November and resigned from the Board of Governors in January.

The bishops urged new university President A. Kenneth Pye to begin an investigation of university-supported track, basketball and tennis programs. They said the recommendation stemmed from ″comments and rumors″ from witnesses who appeared before the committee.