CLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson University President Bill L. Atchley has criticized ABC-TV for airing what he called an unconfirmed report on alleged football recruiting violations at the South Carolina school.
Atchley wrote a two-page letter, dated Tuesday, to Roone Arledge, president of ABC News and Sports. The letter was sent the same day Clemson was named No. 1 in the United Press International national college football rankings.
The Tigers' regular season record is 11-0, and they are set to meet fourth-ranked Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
During halftime of the nationally-televised Pitt-Penn State contest, ABC aired a report on an NCAA probe into charges by two former Knoxville, Tenn. high school football players that they were given money by a Clemson alumnus to attend the university.
The youths, linebacker James Cofer and defensive back Terry Minor, were interviewed by ABC sports reporter Jim Lampley.
It was 'extremely unfortunate that Clemson coaches and players who have worked with such dedication and success have been subjected to such unfair treatment,' Atchley wrote.
'It is no secret that these allegations have been made' by Cofer and Minor, he said. 'However, the disturbing aspect of ABC's report was the implication that Clemson's failure to respond publicly to these allegations means they are true.'
Continued Atchley: 'The NCAA has established procedures to be followed while investigating any member institution. The official enforcement procedures require that any information developed during an investigation be kept confidential.'
The Clemson president said, 'Irreparable harm to the university's image and reputation can undoubtedly result from the mere publication of such allegations, even if these allegations are later proven false. This is especially true in an instance such as this where no formal charges have ever been brought against Clemson.'
Atchley acknowledged that ABC offered Clemson a chance to respond to the story, but he said 'it is Clemson's position that the investigation of such charges should be handled according to the procedure set forth by the NCAA.'
'Therefore, any response by Clemson to the issues presented last Saturday would be contrary to the best interests not only of Clemson, but of the NCAA and all of its member institutions,' Atchley said.
'It is unfortunate that a reporter in an effort to develop a story can destroy the very protection sought to be afforded by the rules of the NCAA,' his letter said.
'Clemson University hopes that other member institutions of the NCAA and their alumni will not condone the behavior of ABC in televising this uncorroborated report.'
ABC denied charges by Clemson officials that the network broadcast an unfavorable report on the university to weaken the Tigers' hopes for a No.1 ranking and to promote ABC's coverage of its Sugar Bowl matchup between No. 2 Georgia and No. 8 Pitt.
On New Year's night, the Sugar Bowl will be played in the time slot opposite the Orange Bowl, which has Clemson and Nebraska playing on rival network NBC-TV.
ABC spokesman Donn Bernstein said the network had been looking into the story since early November.
'We pursued it then, but felt we did not have enough background or information to responsibly air it at that time. We continued to pursue the story and when we had enough information and background, we did air it,' he said.
'In no way whatsoever was this story investigated and reported to hurt Clemson in any form, whether in the rankings or in its bowl appearance,' Bernstein said.
Cofer told ABC he received $1,000 from Knoxville insurance broker Tom C. 'Buck' Breazeale, while Minor said Breazeale gave him $500. Both players said the alumnus told them to consider the cash gifts as 'Christmas presents.'
Cofer also claimed that Clemson head coach Danny Ford and former assistant coach Bill Ware promised him money if he would sign a letter of intent to enroll at Clemson.
Both players said they wanted to attend the University of Tennessee all along. But they were eventually ruled ineligible for athletic scholarships by Tennessee and the Southeastern Conference.
In the halftime broadcast, Lampley said Clemson officials declined comment after acknowledging to ABC that the NCAA has conducted a preliminary investigation into the players' allegations.