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You know Washington isn't a crooked outfit, because any team that has a parttime quarterback who can swing $50,000 in loans to purchase guns, cars and good times ought to be so thoroughly corrupt that it could win 23 games in a row, easy. As it is, Washington topped out at 22 by losing to Arizona 16-3 last Saturday at Tuscon. Surely, this proves the Huskies' innocence better than any NCAA investigation could. Here's Washington's defense: Say that the team was filled, end-to-end, with guys like Billy Joe Hobert, likable lugs who somehow persuade folks with deep pockets that life isn't worth living without a $4,000 automobile sound system. Wouldn't such a team beat Arizona?
Instead, the Huskies lost the game and their No. 1 ranking and probably ruined their chances of repeating as national champions. But at least it confirmed their amateur status, which had become suspect earlier in the week. A team of Hoberts, players bold enough to put the arm on a guy for three five-figure loans, would not lose three fumbles or otherwise look so completely unprofessional against a team it had routed by 54 points the previous year. Case closed.
Washington was an operation that was as much beyond reproach as it was above the competition. But last week a series of stories in the Seattle Times cast an embarrassing light on the franchise. According to the Times, this spring Hobert, 21, accepted three loans totaling $50,000 from one Charles Rice, a nuclear engineer from Idaho Falls, and proceeded to spend the money in a manner you would expect of a college kid.
With the first $25,000 he bought a 1991 Camaro for about $9,000 and paid off a $5,000 loan on a Chevy Blazer owned by his wife, Heather, and a $2,900 loan on a Hyundai he owned. He also purchased car insurance, used $1,000 to buy a semiautomatic pistol and a hunting rifle, and paid back $2,500 to a woman he had lived with during a brief separation from Heather. With the second $25,000, he upgraded to a '92 Camaro, installed a $4,000 stereo system in the car and partied his way through the northwest. "I just pulled it out and paid cash wherever I went," Hobert told the Times. "People must have thought I was the richest guy in town."
Few at the university seemed to notice any of this. School officials say Hobert lived far from campus and did not frequent the usual student haunts. Anyway, coach Don James told the Times, "I don't have any rules that say what the hell players do with their lives. That's not my job.... There's a lot of things that players do. I let them walk around with cellular phones, wear earrings, which I don't particularly enjoy. But I don't run their lives."
James was disturbed when Hobert came to him last week with the news of his loans, but he decided to take no action against the quarterback. James did inform athletic director Barbara Hedges soon after his meeting with Hobert, and last Thursday when the story broke in the Times, Hedges suspended Hobert.
Hobert has admitted that borrowing the money "wasn't the smartest thing I've done, because I ended up blowing it, and now I've got all these bills and nothing to show for it." Hobert says he realized that his only collateral was a possible pro career and that if repayment was demanded before he completed school, he would have to file for bankruptcy or turn pro early.
It is not clear if Hobert has broken any NCAA rules. Rice has no connection with Washington, so his generosity would not violate the NCAA's prohibition against a booster providing an athlete with benefits that would not be available to an ordinary student.
Hobert obtained the loans through Rice's son-in-law, Rudy Finne, a Seattle longshoreman. Finne is a golfing buddy of Hobert's; the two met at a local course where Hobert once worked as a grounds-keeper. When Hobert told Finne he was deeply in debt, Finne arranged for him to meet with Rice, who said that he had lent money to at least a dozen young people, including another college athlete, though not a Husky. There was no payment schedule for the loans, which are at 10%. Says Rice of Hobert, "I thought he was a nice kid."
What's disturbing—beyond the fact that a college sophomore could run through $50,000 in three months without drawing the attention of anyone but an old girlfriend—is Finne's reputation as a small-time gambler. "I am no more a gambler than any Saturday-morning quarterback," he says, using a poor choice of words. Hobert told the Times that he had wagered as much as $100 on golf matches with Finne, but that he had never given Finne any inside information about the Huskies. Last week odds-makers in Las Vegasconfirmed that there had been no unusual betting patterns on Husky games this fall.