Fifty-five years ago, on February 2nd, Bevo Francis scored 113 points in a college basketball game. The year was 1954 and Francis’ NCAA/NAIA single game scoring record still stands today.
If you ask Francis, he’ll tell you his scoring record wasn’t the most important thing in his life. It certainly wasn’t a fluke. Francis averaged 47 points a game for the Rio Grande College Redmen in 1953-54. That’s an all-time college record too. But it’s not what matters to Francis. It didn’t then. It doesn’t now.
“I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” said Francis in an interview for the documentary I recently produced on his amazing team. “What matters to me is my family and my friends.”
Unlike many Wall Street money managers, Francis and his teammates came from impoverished backgrounds. They and their families survived by working the farms, mines and the steel mills that dotted the Appalachian hill country of southeast Ohio.
“If you’ve never had dirt under your nails. If you’ve never heard your belly growling, former ABC Sports Anchor Dave Diles told me, “There’s a hunger that comes from that, that privileged people can’t understand.”
All the former Redmen players I met had stayed married to the same women they met or were already wed to in college.
They helped raise their families. They had productive careers as steelworkers, coaches, teachers and businessmen. Through good times and bad, they’ve also stayed in touch with each other.
Mostly, they all understood there are no shortcuts to success…or happiness. Their success came through hard work and perseverance both on and off the basketball court.
Less than 100 students enrolled at Rio Grande when Clarence “Bevo” Francis first strolled across the southeast Ohio college in 1952.
In fact, Rio Grande was about to go bankrupt. It would have had not the Redmen barnstormed across the region, playing any team they could that first season to raise money to pay the faculty.
The team went 39-0. Francis obliterated almost every existing NCAA scoring record.
The Redmen brought in $15,000 that season; Enough to keep Rio Grande College open and faculty paychecks from bouncing.
“I think it helped make enough money to help the professors so that they didn’t close it down,” former Rio Redman guard Jim McKenzie told me. “They were in the process of doing so.”
After the season was over, skeptical NCAA coaches met in Kansas City, Missouri and passed a new rule. The new rule only recognized scoring records against four year degree granting institutions.
Before the rule’s passage, the NCAA had accepted scoring records against two year junior colleges and technical schools who made up many of Rio Grande’s traditional rivals.
For the first time in NCAA history, the new rule was retroactively applied to Rio Grande. It stripped the college of 27 of victories and Bevo Francis of almost all his scoring records.
“We were the hottest thing in America,” said former Rio Redmen coach Newt Oliver. “Nothing compared with us and the big schools they resented that.”
It wasn’t fair, but it was reality.
The Redmen channeled their anger into something they could control. The next season, the Rio Redmen scheduled all but one of their 28 games against colleges that met the new, tougher NCAA rule.
The team played almost every game on the road because their college gymnasium, dubbed the “hog pen,” was too small and broken down to accommodate paying spectators. All of the Redmen’s college competition came from larger colleges and universities.
That didn’t stop the Redmen from winning, or Bevo Francis from reclaiming his scoring records. The Redmen went 21-7 that 53-54 season. They beat the likes of Providence, Bradley, Creighton, Miami of Florida and defending Atlantic Coast Conference champion Wake Forest.
The Redmen might have done even better had Francis not finished the season playing on a badly sprained ankle. Francis still averaged 47 points a game that season and torched the nets for a record setting 113 points against Hillsdale College.
Is this a lesson from which Wall Street should learn? It’s era of prestige, high pay and perks was a charade American taxpayers must now pay for to the tune of roughly $4,000 for every man, woman and child in America….and counting.
The Redmen won through hard work and hours of practice. Four and five hour daily shooting, passing and scrimmage sessions were the rule under hard nosed coach Newt Oliver. You shoot, you miss, you lose. make a pass, hit the shot, play better defense, you win.
What a contrast to the many bankers whose irresponsible behavior during this economic crisis helped send the U.S. economy into a tailspin. They are at fault for billions of taxpayers’ bailout dollars, mass layoffs and declining retirement accounts.
“That is the height of irresponsibility. It is shameful,” President Barack Obama said last Thursday, responding to news that Wall Street paid out $18.4 billion in bonuses for 2008.
Obama rebuked Citigroup for agreeing to take buy a new $50 million corporate jet after agreeing to a huge bailout in November. The government’s demand that the plane be canceled should have been unnecessary “because they should know better,” he scolded.
Then there was John Thain, the former chief executive of Merrill Lynch, who was pushed out last week after Merrill reported a $15.3 billion loss in the fourth quarter. Thain had spent $1.2 million remodeling his office shortly after joining Merrill in 2007 — and more recently allotted big bonuses to Merrill’s troops even as the firm’s red ink was forcing Bank of America to seek more government help.
I believe, Wall Street should take a page from the Rio Redmen. There are no shortcuts. Work hard and execute and success is more likely. That credo allowed the Redmen to win on the basketball court, raise loving families, enjoy solid careers and have fulfilling lives.
Why shouldn’t Wall Street care as much for its customers and shareholders? It’s actually good business. It certainly could have provided better job security for the many Wall Street employees who learned too late their careers are done.
If only Wall Street could be honest and fair. It lost most of its credibility and respect, a commodity, that like real profits, must be earned.
Some Wall Street ex-hotshots face the prospect of civil and criminal charges. This is something many of us wouldn’t mind. I just hope we get some money back.
To soar so high. To fall so far. It’s really a shame. So many money manager’s reputations were built on sandy foundations of greed and corruption. Eventually reality sets in. The damages are revealed. Frauds are exposed. Sadly, many good people become victims.
I’m hopeful though.
The Rio Redmen helped restore the game of college basketball after a point-shaving scandal in 1950 and 1951 involving many of America’s top college basketball teams. “College basketball was playing to a sea of empty seats,” Diles told me. “Nobody cared about it. It had been stained so badly.”
Criminal charges were filed against dozens of players and the point shavers themselves. The taint sent college basketball fans running for the exits and the game into a tailspin.
The Rio Redmen, pure and honest, helped bring the fans back. They did it by playing hard, beating their opponents with a style that was all their own and proving that pedigree mattered little if you played better than your opponent and by the rules.
Bevo Francis was never comfortable with the idea of overshadowing his teammates. But when he stepped on a basketball court, his talent couldn’t be ignored or stopped.
“Whenever I was out on the floor I couldn’t tell you if there was 10 people or 10,000 people,” said Francis. “That’s one thing. I was never a grandstand player. Went out there to play the game to win. And to win that made me feel like I was free.”
Does Wall Street have such prospects?
Perhaps, but I believe only with solid government and industry oversight. Both have been lacking in this financial collapse. No accountability. You’ve seen the results.
Please, bring back the sensibilities of the Rio Redmen. Cast them them, like so many of Bevo’s unerring shots, into the ethos of Wall Street and beyond.
Or maybe former coach Newt Oliver put it best: “You can be well known and they forget about you in a year of two. If you’re legendary like we are, they’ll never forget you.”