Indiana University, You’re Embarassing Us

First Indiana University had Bob Knight. He verbally abused and intimidated players, threw chairs, and bullied students and staff members. But, while he was winning, his actions were tolerated, even encouraged. Not much was said about what kind of role model the aforementioned behaviors made him. Winning was enough. Win basketball games at IU and you can pretty much do as you choose…that seemed to be the message. Still, Knight finally did wear out his welcome, perhaps because his increasingly hard to ignore abuses coincided with the diminished success of his teams. So, he was banished to Texas, where he quit in the midst of the season to pass the baton to his son, Pat. Against whom did Pat Knight compete for the job? Nobody, actually, but we’re not talking about why Texas Tech should be embarassed today. Maybe we’ll get back to that on another day.

After Knight’s departure from the Hoosiers, Mike Davis, a Knight assistant who apparently did not have King Bob’s blessing, was handed the reins at Indiana. Davis recruited pretty well…maybe very well. But, there was debate about his overall ability as a coach, he won fewer games than the fans thought he should, and he left, under fire, for the University of Alabama at Birmingham, an institution with far lower basketball expectations.

Along came Kelvin Sampson, fresh from Oklahoma, where he won more than his share of games against tough opponents. Nobody expressed doubt about his coaching ability. There was, however, one problem. Sampson had committed numerous NCAA rules violations while at Oklahoma.

Whatever Knight’s sins…whatever Davis’ coaching shortcomings…most knowledgeable observers believe they ran clean programs. And, preserving the “cleanliness” of the program, we are told, is a high priority at Indiana. Many defenders of IU point to the fact that part of Sampson’s compensation was contingent upon keeping his nose clean. That, they say, is proof that the integrity of the basketball program is priority #1. But, is that proof of the University’s commitment to integrity or evidence that the responsible administrators knew they were taking a chance hiring Sampson? That they were willing to gamble to get a high profile coach…a proven winner?

Surely the University President and Athletic Director knew that Ohio State University had to pay their basketball coach a huge sum despite proof that he violated NCAA rules by providing an illegal benefit…money…to a player. Why did the coach in question win a suit requiring Ohio University to fully pay him for the full term of his contract after discharging him for what was…well…blatant cheating? Because, the presiding judge ruled, the coach’s contract protected him, even in light of his undeniably offense.

Why then, didn’t Indiana University structure Sampson’s contract so that he could be immediately dismissed, without further compensation, for violating serious NCAA regulations? The only logical answer is that they wanted Sampson so badly that they did not insist on such a clause. Integrity…that would be nice…but winning is what’s really important, right? So, what happened?

Sampson violated the same rules he ignored while at Oklahoma. He then, according to the NCAA, misled them and the University. Despite his repeated rules violations and dishonesty, Indiana University is paying him $750,000 in exchange for his promise not to sue them for wrongful termination. It’s a good bet that’s clearly stated in a legally binding document. Anybody know how many professors you can hire, how many computers you can buy or how many volumes you can add to the IU library for $750, 000? The fact that $500,000 of the $750,000 was donated is not relevant…it could have been better spent. Hell, I challenge you to find a worse way to spend it. HDTV’s in student housing would have been better use of the money.

The Indiana University Athletic Director should be fired immediately. Even if they have to buy him out too.

It is not Monday morning quarterbacking to hold somebody accountable for a predictable series of events from which he did not protect the University. Perhaps the University President should contribute some portion of his salary to Sampson’s buy out for allowing the hire without an ironclad “you cheat, you’re gone” provision.

It has been reported that some members of the basketball team threatened to discontinue playing after Sampson’s forced departure. Can anyone remember such threats from athletes whose coaches were fired for losing? Did John Brady’s players make such threats when LSU fired him recently (not even allowing him to finish the season) because he wasn’t winning? Only Bruce Pearl, the University of Tennessee coach, raised his voice in defense of Brady. Good values, folks, mean more than Nikes or Reeboks on sale.

There are lots of dedicated educators out there, including coaches, who work hard, play by the rules, have real values, and try to pass those values on to students. There are schools, colleges and universities in which education and integrity mean more than post season tournament appearances. Indiana University, you’re embarassing us.

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