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BENNER: Honoring Knight is the right thing for IU to do

August 29, 2009

Years before he departed Indiana University, I wrote that if Bob Knight’s exit was on anything less than his own terms, it would be the bloodiest divorce in intercollegiate athletics history.

Looking back now, that statement doesn’t seem quite so hyperbolic.

It will be nine years ago next month that then-President Myles Brand, with the support of the board of trustees, relieved Knight of his duties as IU men’s basketball coach, and turbulent water still flows beneath the bridge.

To be certain, IU is no longer the house divided it was in the immediate aftermath of Knight’s dismissal. Most constituencies have moved on … somewhat.

Still.

That the Hoosier hierarchy botched the succession plan not once, but twice, remains Exhibit A to Knight proponents that the basketball program will never recapture its glory and that the franchise and its brand promise—IU Basketball, National Power—is gone forever.

Particularly galling to the Knight loyalists—as a matter of fact, galling to all of us—is that IU stooped to hire serial cheater Kelvin Sampson from the University of Oklahoma. Sampson proceeded to produce a program in shambles and on NCAA probation.

After the Sampson fiasco, it was obvious to all that some serious cleansing needed to take place in Bloomington.

It began with the hiring of Tom Crean, whose boundless enthusiasm, relentlessly positive outlook and recruiting successes have the Hoosier faithful looking beyond a first season that was absolutely dismal to a day when IU Basketball is all the name once implied.

And, instead of ignoring them, Crean wisely chose to embrace the positives and the players of the Knight era, fostering an all-hands-on-deck attitude. The good will engendered by that gesture cannot be underestimated.

Finally, then, came the arrival of new Athletic Director Fred Glass, an IU guy who has opened his doors and his ears to anyone wanting to visit or share their opinions. It’s clear his passion for the university comes from his heart and not from his pay stub.

On Aug. 22, word came from IU that Glass was going to reach across the Great Divide and induct Knight into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame.

Even as one of Knight’s most ardent critics during the latter half of his tenure at Indiana, I concur with the majority of opinions expressed on the subject. It is the right thing to do.

There’s always been a delicate balance on how to place Knight in context. What he did for the university in terms of championships, success, adherence to the principles of the true student-athlete and fund raising must be balanced by what he did to the university in terms of its reputation as a place that countenanced truly irresponsible and unaccountable behavior time and again.

A great basketball coach and molder of young men? Yes. A churlish lout who exhibited outrageous behavior to presidents, trustees and even office secretaries? Yes.

The big question we now ponder is whether Knight will accept Glass’ olive branch—reportedly being delivered by none other than close friend, confidante and former Bloomington Herald-Times Sports Editor Bob Hammel—or break it over his knee.

I have no idea how he might react. Knight is not known for predictable behavior. The best-case scenario would be that he would respond with a gracious acceptance and praise for the players, assistant coaches, administrators and fans who supported him, along with an acknowledgement that it is long past time for both him and IU to move on.

At worst, he could let Glass and IU twist in the wind without a reply or respond in a manner that lets it be known his wounds will not be healed.

In either case, however, Glass has made the effort to honor the past while also putting it in the past.

And at the very least, let’s all hope this stops the ad nauseum pleadings of Knight sycophant Dick Vitale, who rarely lets an IU telecast go by without berating the university for not honoring Knight by naming Assembly Hall for him (never mind IU’s policy that one must be dead for such an honor to be bestowed).

The best news of all: If Knight does come, it could boost the attendance for the IU-Wisconsin football game on Nov. 7. After all, you’ll get both a football game and a circus.•

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Benner is director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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