When moral principles won out over basketball ambitions

In a world of moral compromise and rationalization, it’s uplifting to read about a man who did the right thing at the right time.

That man was the Rev. John Lo Schiavo, who served as president of the University of San Francisco from 1977 to 1991.  Lo Schiavo died this month at age 90.

USF, a Jesuit institution, had been a basketball powerhouse for many years when Lo Schiavo took over. In 1982, Lo Schiavo closed down the USF basketball program because of NCAA rules violations, although he wasn’t required to do so. He took the action because the violations had created a perception the university was “being hypocritical or naïve or inept or duplicitous, or perhaps some combination of all those,” Lo Schiavo said, according to a New York Times story.

“We have even had to suffer the accusation that we attempted to obstruct justice in order to protect a basketball player and preserve him for the team,” Lo Schiavo said. “However unjust those perceptions are — and they are grossly unjust — everyone who cares about USF. must recognize that those perceptions have developed as a product of the basketball program. We have no responsible choice but to rid the university of the burden of them.”

With that, Lo Schiavo suspended the basketball program until the 1985-86 season and then reinstated it under tight recruiting regulations and stricter rules on over booster donations and athletes’ academic life. Since then, the San Francisco basketball team has appeared in only one NCAA tournament, in 1998, losing in the first round.

In its heyday, the USF  Dons won 60 consecutive games from 1954 to 1956 and two national championships. It was led by star players Bill Russell and K. C. Jones. In the 1970s, led by players including Bill Cartwright, who went on to play for the Knicks and the Chicago Bulls, the Dons returned to prominence, making several appearances in the NCAA tournament.

However, for a series of violations, including boosters’ payments to athletes, questionable recruiting practices and tutors’ taking tests for players, the basketball program was twice put on probation by the NCAA, in the 1979-80 and 1980-81 seasons. One coach resigned; another was fired.

Then, in June 1982, according to the Time, Quintin Dailey, who had averaged 25.2 points per game for the Dons the previous season, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault for an attack on a nursing student.

Dailey was sentenced to three years’ probation — he went on to play 10 years in the NBA — but when a court document revealed that he had acknowledged receiving $1,000 for a no-show job from a university booster, Lo Schiavo said enough was enough. He chose to forgo the revenue, publicity and acclaim of the university’s successful men’s basketball program and instead stand up for institutional rectitude, the Times said.

The controversial decision did not spell doom for USF. Lo Schiavo’s administration balanced budgets, eliminated debt and increased the endowment more than eightfold, to $38.7 million from $4.6 million. In 2010, a campus publication, USF magazine, declared that Father Lo Schiavo “has done more good, raised more money and had a greater impact than anyone ever associated with the University of San Francisco.”





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One Response to When moral principles won out over basketball ambitions

  1. Thanks for the reminder. God bless Lo Schiavo for taking a stand. Our deal with the devil in regard to major college basketball and football continues unabated. I hope there are more Lo Schiavo’s out there.

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