NCAA boss' remarks could rekindle debate on IU's phone call violations

December 7, 2011
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NCAA President Mark Emmert said a lot of interesting things when he met with the Indianapolis media Monday at the NCAA headquarters downtown.

He talked about the possibility of paying student athletes, stricter academic rules coming down the pike, sweeping changes in how alleged violations are investigated and adjudicated, and how violators of NCAA rules will be sentenced.

In discussing those things, Emmert said something that stuck me. It made me wonder if the Indiana University basketball program would have been torched under his watch and coach Kelvin Sampson run out of Bloomington and raised up a flag pole as an example of what happens to bad guys.

“Our rulebook is huge, it’s complicated, it includes rules that are unenforceable, that don’t have an impact on the things we care about,” Emmert said. “It is 430-plus pages long. It needs to be changed in significant ways. We’re going to take a completely different approach to those rules.”

Interesting, but nothing terribly earth shattering in that proclamation. But Emmert continued.

 “You’re going to see a rulebook that focuses on things that really count,” Emmert said. “On the integrity issues. On the things that really undermine the integrity of intercollegiate athletics.”

Emmert explained how the NCAA was going to “streamline that process and put the focus on those things that are the most serious threats to the integrity of [collegiate] athletics.”

So what are we talking about here? Are we redefining what NCAA infractions are? It sure sounds like it.

“In the simplest language, the threats to integrity are those things our mothers told us not to do,” Emmert said. “You don’t lie, you don’t cheat, you don’t blatantly break rules, you don’t put people at risk, you don’t cheat on your school work,” Emmert said.

Then he dropped this subtle little bomb: “Those kinds of issues rather than worrying about phone calls, text messages and the price of a dinner when you’re on campus.”

Did he really say phone calls? Yes he did. Emmert, the former president of the University of Washington, is not only a learned man, he knows his history. And he knew on Monday who he was talking to—the Indianapolis press corps, which at times is sleepy, but certainly not oblivious to what happened in Bloomington less than four years ago.

An IU investigation in 2007 revealed Sampson and his assistants made more than 100 impermissible phone calls to recruits. That occurred while Sampson was on probation for making 577 improper phone calls between 2000 and 2004 while coaching Oklahoma.

Of course IU isn't the only school that has been accused of making too many phone calls to recruits. And texting has added a whole new wrinkle.

It’s taken four years for IU to rise from the ashes of those violations and the punishment rained down by the NCAA.

Remember, IU initially had no intention of firing Sampson. To this day, Sampson is astonished that he not only lost his job over phone calls, but has been essentially banned from coaching in the NCAA ranks. He’s currently an assistant in the NBA.

The NCAA dropped the hammer, and continued to do so until Sampson and athletics director Rick Greenspan were gone—as were most of IU’s 2008 men’s basketball roster.

Restrictions imposed on the program hurt IU long after Sampson and his assistants had fled.

It can’t be overlooked that Sampson was a repeat offender. It also can’t be overlooked that he lied to investigators about his role in the phone call scandal. That breaks two of Emmert’s mommy rules. Sampson, for the record, denies he lied.

Maybe Sampson was simply seen as a bad seed who needed to be rooted out. Maybe the NCAA was trying to show what happens to schools that plant such bad seeds. Maybe then-NCAA President Myles Brand wanted to show he wasn’t going to play favorites with the school where he used to reside as president.

Still, in the current era, where Penn State and Syracuse are the focus of far, far more serious investigations, and with Emmert’s new direction on focusing on the violations that really matter, you have to wonder if IU and Sampson wouldn’t be treated just a little more tenderly by the NCAA for sins committed.

If Sampson reappears on the college basketball scene anytime soon, you may have your answer.

  • NCAA & Kelvin Sampson
    Don't get me wrong, I really like Tom Crean, but I thought Sampson was a great coach, caught in crazy NCAA rules, would've been in final 4 the next year. I'm sure he will show up at some major college before long and will be very SUCCESSFUL!
  • Comatose!?
    You though Sampson was a good coach!? Where were you all those years?
    First he came to IU with violations attached to him,
    second he did not care if the players went to class or not,
    third he continued to break the same rules he did at his last job.....
    AND your surprised he was fired!? Final Four the next year? Get real.
  • Go back to bed DJ
    I don't think there was any doubt Sampson was a good coach. IU was 22-4 and had just pounded a good Purdue team when he was terminated. He might have been a cheat and a liar, but he was a very good basketball coach.
    • Really?
      Matt, your comments are illustrative of what is wrong with collgiate sports today and I am stunned - should I be in awe? - that you had the cajones to actually say what you just said in a public forum..."he was a cheat and a liar, but a good coach." I cannot even wrap my head around it.
    • Mutually exclusive
      T-Marie, I'm not sure what you're trying to wrap your head around. Being a good basketball coach and being a good, honest person are mutually exclusive. I think most people would agree that Napoleon was a good war strategist. But most wouldn't necessarily say he was a good, honest person. Some might even argue that Richard Nixon was a skilled politician in his day. I dare say most people wouldn't call him an honest person. Being a good basketball coach, in college or otherwise, has nothing to do with your moral integrity. An admission that NCAA teams are not led by a group of saints is not illustrative of what's wrong with college sports. Some might say that denying the fact that some coaches lie and cheat is in fact part of the problem. I'm not in any way saying that coaches lying, cheating or being otherwise dishonest is in any way a good thing. I'm merely saying that you can be a good coach, as Sampson was, without being completely righteous.
    • Privileged corporations
      Just hope the NCAA doesn't do a thing about a university athletic corporation's ability to facilitate boozing and all the other illegal activity by the thousands who tailgate without ever attending a football game. When you can make more money parking cars for a party than selling seats you've got a moneymaker, and that's what it's all about. Loved Taylor Branch's real look at college sports in the Atlantic. Tier 1 football and basketball programs produce the finest degrees in double-standards!

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