Benner/Sports and Opinion and Sports Business

BENNER: Adults should hold fans and athletes accountable

February 25, 2012

Those of you have followed my ramblings over the years may be surprised to learn there are a few things on which I agree with former Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight.

One would be nonsense, and I’ll explain that in a moment.

Another would be academic accountability, which is more easily explained.

But let’s start with nonsense. Or, in the polite barnyard term, bull manure.

And let’s start with the bull manure that takes place in Knight’s former domain, IU’s Assembly Hall.

Once upon a time, Knight ruled not only the sidelines, but the entire arena. And unless it was his own, he didn’t cotton the nonsense. Or bull manure.

The game and opponents (with the possible exceptions of Russians and Boilermakers) were to be treated with respect.

These days, Assembly Hall is a circus.

Take, for instance, the “big heads.” They are huge cut-out head shots of various local and national celebrities. Students sitting in the behind-the-basket seats at Assembly Hall wave them madly when the opponents are shooting free throws, hoping to distract the shooter.

Bad calls are often accompanied by the “bulls…t” chant.

When an opposing player fouls out, students do the “left-right, left-right, sit-down!” chant as the player goes to the bench.

Worst of all, some at IU think it’s OK to boo players. Their own players. A few games back, before he got injured, Verdell Jones III got an earful of Bronx jeers from the faithful.

Shameful. Short of an egregious breach of sportsmanlike conduct, no college student-athlete ever should be booed.

Make no mistake, I love basketball coach Tom Crean. I love Athletics Director Fred Glass. But I don’t love the atmosphere I sometimes witness in Assembly Hall.

His own actions notwithstanding, Knight wouldn’t have tolerated—and certainly would not have encouraged—any of that.

Now lest you think I’m singling out my alma mater, I’m not. It’s everywhere in college basketball these days.

Purdue University students at Mackey Arena make it a point to repeatedly shout “IU sucks” even when the Hoosiers are playing somewhere else.

Students who, by day, are supposedly engaged in scholarly pursuits, arrive by night in arenas and fieldhouses with the sole intent of being as vile and disrespectful of opponents as they possibly can.

Supposedly, it’s all about creating a “home-court advantage.” I think it’s about creating a place where the 3.95 GPA pre-med major can act like a village idiot for a couple of hours. And it doesn’t much matter whether it’s the Izzone (Michigan State University), the Paint Crew (Purdue) or the Dawg Pound (Butler University).

Speaking of the Dawg Pound … in a game on Feb. 18 at Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indiana State University center Miles Walker was seen displaying an obscene gesture toward the inhabitants of the Dawg Pound.

A day later, ISU coach Greg Lansing issued an apology, as did Walker.

However, according to a report in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, Walker allegedly was responding to taunts directed at his mother, who is ill.

Nice.

By the way, the Indiana State administration—trying to do the right thing in addressing reports of disrespectful conduct by some of its students in games at the Hulman Center—recently placed letters in the student seating section asking the students to behave in a more civil way.

The letters were roundly criticized. How dare the university squash the students’, uh, enthusiasm.

And that’s what you get for trying to do the right thing.

Which brings me to academic accountability. That was a staple of the General’s program.

I thought of that when I heard that the University of Connecticut, facing being banned from next year’s NCAA basketball tournament because its program had fallen woefully short of academic progress standards for its “student”-athletes, was trying to negotiate a deal with the NCAA that would remove the sanction.

The NCAA has thus far said no. UConn is appealing, saying players in the program now shouldn’t be penalized for transgressions that occurred in the past.

Uh, it’s not the current players at issue. It’s the prevailing culture at UConn, which won the national championship last year shortly before it went on probation.

Instead of appealing, UConn and its president, Susan Herbst, should demand an atmosphere of rules compliance and academic integrity. But that might suggest something is more important than winning basketball games.

In any case, if the NCAA’s appeals committee backs down, the new academic standards will have been rendered impotent. This is a watershed moment for serious academic reform.

I’m certain my friend Coach Knight would agree.•

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Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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