IU followers could learn from Penn State players

July 26, 2012
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The circumstances that led to the crumbling of Indiana University’s men’s basketball program in the 2000s and Penn State's football program in 2011-12 couldn’t be more different.

The response from those involved in and surrounding those programs is also quite divergent. Indiana University and its legions could learn a lot from the Penn State players that stood up Wednesday and said they would stay at the school despite crippling sanctions the program would face in the wake of a sex scandal involving the team’s former defensive coordinator.

Flanked by more than two dozen teammates, seniors Michael Mauti and Michael Zordich vowed to restore Penn State to greatness.

“We want to let the nation know that we’re proud of who we are,” senior fullback Michael Zordich said, flanked by his fellow players Wednesday morning. “We’re the true Penn Staters, and we’re going to stick together through this. We’re going to see this thing through, and we’re going to do everything we can for the university. We know it's not going to be easy, but we know what we’re made of.”

As I watched the Nittany Lions players speak, I couldn’t help but hearken back to the way IU’s basketball players jumped ship after their coach, Kelvin Sampson, was busted by the NCAA for making too many phone calls to recruits in 2008.

Eight years earlier, the Bloomington campus almost broke out into a full-fledged riot when Bob Knight was fired. I wonder where the true Hoosiers were then.

Yes, some behavior in the immediate wake of the scandal by PSU students and supporters was out of line. And some PSU players will leave. Shame on schools like Illinois that swooped into Happy Valley this week to recruit away players. But the reaction from those players that stood up on Wednesday should be lauded, and it sounds like the majority of players will stay united.

While I won’t criticize those players who do leave, I think there’s something more to admire about those that stick with the school they chose to represent, and where they chose to get an education. Remember, the NCAA sanctions include a four-year post-season ban. That means the players that stay will never again have the chance of realizing every college football players’ dream—to play in a bowl game.

While they may miss out on a championship opportunity, the players I heard Wednesday seized something more important than glory. They’ve grasped—in less than a week—what it took many IU followers years to figure out. Some still haven’t grasped it.

“This program was not built by one man and it’s sure as hell not going to get torn down by one man,” Mauti said. “This program was built on every alumni, every single player that came before us, built on their backs.”

I’m not sure who Mauti was referring to as the one man; Jerry Sandusky? Joe Paterno? It’s really not important.

What is important is the truth that the institution and the program—whether it’s Penn State football or IU basketball—is bigger than any one person, no matter if it’s JoePa or Bob Knight.

After Knight was fired, most of his players stayed, but many of his followers departed. Some never will come back.

Some IU faithful have returned in the years since Mike Davis, Kelvin Sampson and now Tom Crean have led the team. New supporters also have been born. It’s been a painful process for everyone involved with the school.

Could IU have avoided the pitfalls it fell into over the years since Knight departed? We’ll never know. But, hopefully, we now know this: Playing the game is always more important than the outcome. Institutions are always bigger than the individuals who compose them.

No one person should be held responsible for an institution’s success or failure. That’s why institutions must always be held accountable for what happens within their walls. That’s why individuals may be legends, but institutions are dynasties—forged by a cumulative effort from myriad players over many years.

And that’s why Penn State and IU will remain standing long after the men who roamed their sidelines are dead and gone.

  • hardly the same
    Last time I checked IU has pretty much sold out Assembly Hall for the last decade. And the players who left after Kelvin Sampson were going to do be ousted anyway during the cleansing at IU. People were upset when Knight left, but to say Indiana lost a lot of the fan base is RIDICULOUS! Do you write articles just to stir things up? Because a large part of this state (in 2012) bleeds cream and crimson.
  • That's me
    I admit it. I was a fair-weather fan, and checked out after Jared Jeffries left. I was tired of the drama, and Crean rubbed me the wrong way for a while. But Cody Zeller brought me back.
  • "Jumping Ship"?
    I would like the author to identify the players that he accuses of "jumping ship" after the firing of Kelvin Sampson. In reality, there was exactly one player that left the IU program of his own accord during that offseason: Jordan Crawford. DJ White and Eric Gordon were first round NBA draft picks. Gordon was expected to leave regardless of who the coach was, and White decided to leave following his Big10 Player of the Year season. Yes, you could nitpick and say that he could have applied for a 5th year due to his injury-shortened sophomore season, but are you really going to grasp at that straw when he was a senior and projected as a low 1st round pick? JaMarcus Ellis, DeAndre Thomas, Brandon McGee, Armon Bassett and Eli Holman were all dismissed due to academic performance and/or conduct issues. So where exactly are all the players that "jumped ship"? The answer is, there are none, aside from the previously mentioned Mr. Crawford. To that point, if the author were to look at other major programs during periods of coaching changes, he would find that one player transferring is hardly the exception to the rule; in fact, it is probably below the average.
    • He strikes again!
      Wow, yet another poorly researched and poorly considered column. First, tell me exactly which players left IU after the Kelvin Sampson debacle that IU really wanted to keep at that point? The bottom line is that the Sampson era had tons of "problem" players that had drug issues, poor grades, and didn't go to class. IU and Coach Crean desperately needed a fresh start and needed most of the Sampson era players gone from the program. Some made that choice on their own and others were strongly encouraged to leave or given ultimatums with their behavior. The absolute worst thing that could have happened for IU in the long term was to continue the player culture Sampson had created with most of his players returning. As for the fans, I really have to question your logic. I've been at every game in Assembly Hall going back to before Knight's firing and the fan support has been absolutely incredible through the changes and some very poor teams along the way. The attendance numbers IU put up with some horrible teams in Crean's first few years are still mind boggling to me and speak to the devotion people have. Once again I think this writer is trying to connect dots that aren't there.
    • Jump Ship, I don't think so...
      I watched in tears as Bob Knight was dismissed from IU and I had hurt feelings about it. I will admit that I did not like the time between him and Sampson, partly because I was angry and partly because IU had lost something more than just a coach. The next time I watched something about IU in tears was when I watched the seniors give their speeches this year and heard Coach Crean speak of the difficulties that those 5 men endured trying to piece the program back together and hang on through it all. He was so very proud of them, as are we. Those that were there for Sampson didn't "jump ship", they were thrown overboard! As the ship was sinking, the survivors held on for dear life and lived to tell the tale of survival that proved they were true Hoosiers. IU need not go any farther than Assembly Hall to learn about overcoming hurdles associated with an ousted, yet beloved, coach and a scandal that rocked us to our core. Unless you are a brand new journalist that isn't quite up on your fact finding skills, someone from the West coast or a Purdue graduate, I would expect you to know a little more about what happened before you start doling out advice on how the Hoosiers should have handled what happened to them. From the looks of last season, I think Tom Crean and his boys have it covered.
    • YES!
      Right on Dave. The author's assertion that IU's divorce from Sampson's student athletes is an unappealing contrast to PSU's players is misplaced at best and idiotic as worst. Numerous reports by his colleagues have identified the limitations facing PSU players desiring to leave, perhaps the showing of loyalty is the best of few options out there for upperclassmen from the NE who are well-settled in the PSU program. Let's face it, the digs aren't that bad and the student body is going to idolize these guys. Premise of the article is false and the text poorly presented.
    • Here's a better column idea
      I think it would have been far more interesting of a column to discuss what Penn State fan support will be like over the next ten or so years before they perhaps fully recover from this. I have no doubt that there will be a rally around the troops mentality for a year or two but it will be interesting to see where things are at in five years. I would imagine attendance will stay fairly strong but perhaps the more casual fan might be content to watch the game on the dvr when it's convenient or maybe not all rather than planning their whole day around watching a game on tv live. That's my take also on what happened at IU after Knight left until now. Very strong attendance still at Assembly Hall since then but there were times where more casual fans weren't as engaged as they were under Knight or are now. The more interesting player part of the Penn State scenario will be their recruiting for the next several years. Will players really commit to play at a school they will not be able to play in a bowl for or compete for a championship for? As another poster pointed out, the current players aren't the best way to look at this. They are already engaged with the university, have friends there, perhaps a girlfriend, etc. Plus, if you've only got one or two years left do you really want to change your whole life by transferring? It wouldn't be worth the hassle for most players.
    • Spot on
      Schoettle is spot on with this post. Many IU alums and supporters never got it. Knight was the biggest culprit of all, everywhere he went from IU to TTu to ESPN, he always thought and still thinks he's above and bigger than the program.
      • so wrong
        you are so far off base here in so many ways it is amusing. the penn state fans should be embarassed and ashamed - joe pa was a bad person - shocking as it is. Bob Knight would have probably killed jerry sandusky with his bare hands had he found out such atrocities were happening in his locker room. all of you knight haters are either purdue fans or women. Bob Knight is a great man - he is not IU basketball, he is part of IU's basketball greatness. Tom Crean will carry it on. GO HOOSIERS!
      • Simon...
        Simon- I guess you haven't spent much (or any) time on Penn State message boards since this scandal started. There are TONS of PSU fans that still believe Paterno was wrongly fired, did nothing (or little) wrong, and would have gladly followed him as an army to a new program if he had been 20 years younger and had taken another head coaching job after Penn State. The fact that he's now dead doesn't give them that option but don't think that mentality doesn't still exist in significant numbers with the Penn State fanbase. They've been forced to "move on" with Paterno gone but don't think they will blindly accept a new coach for long if they don't like what they see. Honestly, whether you like it not it's hard to argue that Paterno and Knight pretty much WERE bigger than the program for most of their tenure at their school. That doesn't mean you can't move on and eventually have success again but it isn't easy. One quick look at IU's record after Knight will tell you that. Even in Knight's last year at IU he only had nine losses. Last year was the first time since then that IU hasn't had ten or more losses in the twelves seasons that Knight has been gone. It remains to be seen if IU or Penn State will ever return to the level that Knight and Paterno had them at.

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