Posted by: thinkingbulldog | December 8, 2008

Jan Kemp, R.I.P.

Hey, I screwed around…guys screw around, there’s nothing wrong with that. Except you got caught, Sport.

Andrew’s Father, The Breakfast Club, March 24, 1984

As always, they (Auburn) were much bigger and much, much deeper than Georgia. They always will be, too. You can count on that, I’m afraid. . . . Two of the (reasons are other schools) recruiting a certain type of athlete that Georgia cannot talk to, and also keeping the athletes in school once they get them there. Those two things are impossible to overcome.

Larry Munson, November 1988 after Georgia’s loss on the Plains

I’d say Jan Kemp took varying degrees of blame from fans for every Georgia defeat from 1986 through about 1996. She died last Friday from complications of Alzheimers. In case you forgot, and I doubt any Georgia fan over 30 has, Kemp sucessfully sued UGA for wrongful termination after she was fired for speaking out about preferential treatment of athletes within the “developmental studies” program in the early 1980s. Testimony in the suit served to drag through the mud the reputation of the university as an academic institution and portrayed the athletic department as a crooked football factory (and basketball, though no actual results were ever achieved outside of 1983).

Jan Kemp was a deeply disturbed woman who led a life to which no rational human being would aspire. Consider: two suicide attempts, once by pills and once by stabbing herself multiple times in the chest with a butcher knife. She spent stretches in psychiatric wards and went to jail for almost a year for contempt of court.  The rumors out there are much, much worse. But really, you don’t need to get into any of the rumor and innuendo to conclude that this woman had serious problems. Actually, given the climate in Athens in the early 80s, you’d have to be crazy to call out UGA on academic preferences for football players. That may be proof enough right there that she was nuts.

So it was certainly a plausible defense when the University claimed that Kemp was fired because she was mentally unstable and unable to work with fellow faculty members. That may be true, but consider the outcome:

Georgia’s treatment of student-athletes changed immediately after the trial with the new admission and eligibility policies.   In the first year after the trial, an investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed that 23 football and basketball players had become “academic casualties.” The newspaper reported that 11 had been refused admission after accepting scholarships because they did not meet the requirements. Eleven others, including several prominent players, were dismissed from school for failing to advance from the developmental studies program in the fourth-quarter limit. The other athlete, basketball player Toney Mack, was ruled ineligible because he did not pass enough courses.

(Aside: ahh, Toney Mack…the epitome of the Durham-era Georgia basketball player) So, given that when the then-current academic standards for students were applied to the football team, Georgia lost nearly a quarter of its players, yes there was something rotten on Herty Drive. And Jan Kemp was just crazy enough to call them out on it. KIA in the crossfire included Fred “The Head Fred” Davison, UGA President. Virgina Trotter, absolutely tarred in the press and on the witness stand, was demoted from VP of academic affairs, as was Leroy Ervin, director of developmental studies.  Both left the University shortly thereafter.

Also a casualty was the football team, which voluntarily gave a competitive edge to its opponents by equalizing academic standards for athletes and refusing admission to any partial qualifiers. The higher standards were most deeply felt with the disastrous 1989 and 1990 campaigns, as well as the Era of Mediocrity, 1993-96.

The Kemp affair was a particular triumph for those faculty and staff that always resented the football program. If you have lived in Athens for any period of time, you know these types. These folks fall into a few disparate groups: (a) those who see a strong football program as detracting from the academic reputation of the University, (b) those who feel a certain superiority (i.e., snobs) over those yahoos, particularly the rich boosters, that invade Athens 6 weekends a year and actually have a really good time, and/or (c) those who hate football and football players in particular because they get their butts kissed by everybody just because they’re dumb jocks while us serious academic types couldn’t get a phone number from much less bed a cheerleader or gymnast or that smokin’ Alpha Chi Omega.

However despite the fact that what happened made a lot of extremely annoying people happy (that’s not even counting extremely annoying fans of other teams), Georgia got what it deserved. Times had changed by the mid-80s. The social change that swept the country in the last half of the twentieth century, in particular civil rights protections for women and minorities, was bound to catch up with some college football program eventually. And there sits Georgia, the top program in college football in the early 80s, with the biggest target on its back. These kids, with God-given athletic talent, primarily dirt poor minorities, usually from substandard rural or urban schools, were used and discarded by the football program. And rather than clean up the mess, the University worked either overtly or by knowing omission to keep this system in place for the sake of winning more football games, more booster money, and more football prestige, whatever that is.

Does Georgia Football and its fans still feel the impact of the Kemp scandal to this day?  I think so.   Hey, we should feel lucky we didn’t get the SMU treatment, but still the impact of the lean years of 89-90 and 93-96 can still be felt, and some of the credit goes to Kemp.  Not so much because of the stigma of the Kemp affair on the football program and the University (because all of our opponents lived in the same glass houses), but because a decade of second-tier status in the SEC is extremely difficult to overcome, and Georgia is just now returning to the level of respectability it enjoyed in the 1970s (i.e., not quite yet the early 1980s).  So I don’t think, as Mark Bradley implied at the time, that because of Kemp we are permanently on the outside looking in with respect to elite college football programs.  That’s where the program presently is, I am afraid, but CMR and Damon Evans still have a fighting chance to change that, and I think they will.  If they are lucky. 

One of the strangest things about the whole affair was how in the world Dooley was able to tiptoe away from the entire fiasco with nary a scratch, but that topic is above my pay grade.

But what’s equally strange about the whole Kemp affair was how in the years that followed, the other football powers in the South, and nationwide I suppose (SMU excepted), were never nailed to the extent Georgia was. Is there anyone on Earth who doesn’t think the exact same thing was going on in Baton Rouge, Gainesville, or Tallahassee?  Why was there was never a Jan Kemp at Auburn, or Oklahoma, or Arkansas? Nearly a decade after Kemp was fired, the rest of the college football universe was just coming around to the standards that were self-imposed in Athens in 1986. What took them so long? I guess there just wasn’t anybody as nuts as Jan Kemp in Austin, Tuscaloosa or Clemson. Dead at 59. R.I.P.

Contemporary articles here.


Responses

  1. This reminds me of a bumper sticker my dad had on his car in the 80s- “Jan Kemp: Next Teacher in Space”.

  2. Auburn certainly had their Jan Kemp in Eric Ramsey {’88ish I think}, they just went about it a different way cause they weren’t forced to change by a court of law like UGA kind of was. So they continued their cycle of: mediocre to good, great to title winning, caught cheating badly during period of great/title challenging, period of punishment/poor results, back to mediocre to good. Rinse and repeat, to varying degrees of intensity, to this very day.

    But yeah, other schools {SMU excepted of course}- strange. Although again, UGA probably wouldn’t have done what they did if they weren’t basically forced to by a court of law & extreme national focal point of longstanding issue.

    SMU is an interesting thing to think about as well. It sure seems like in hindsight the NCAA realized that going forward, if they applied the same {honorable} standard to future violators that they did to SMU, that half the bigtime D1 football schools would be on death sentence status in the next 10 years, and they eased up intentionally with regard to future punishments. Does that make SMU the Jesus of collegefootball? Should all other bigtime schools have SMU medallions around their necks that say “SMU died for all of our sins”? {no offense meant to anyone. Religious argument breakout in here: do not want}.

    Also, all of this just makes the Harrick shenanigans in the basketball program in the 2000s even more embarrassing and shameful.


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