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SPORTS: Discipline on court, disappointment in stands

October 22, 2007

As an Indiana University alumnus, I guess you could say I'm dissed off. Disappointed. Disillusioned. Disheartened. And I know I'm not alone.

There is simply no excuse, no rationale and no justification for Kelvin Sampson's basketball program to be operating outside the NCAA rules or the NCAA sanctions he brought to Bloomington from the University of Oklahoma.

I don't care that the NCAA's rule book is thicker than the New York City white pages. I don't buy that those rules are more difficult to interpret and live by than the federal tax code.

And I certainly don't go along with the notion that cheating is inherent in intercollegiate athletics, and that those who don't live on the edge of-or beyond-the rules are the ones routinely excluded when the 65 teams are designated for the NCAA tournament.

I admit, I was less than enthusiastic about Sampson's hiring at IU 18 months ago. Like many alums and fans, I did not particularly admire Oklahoma's program under Sampson, especially since it was marked by an abysmal graduation rate. Then, of course, there was all that Sampsonite luggage he brought to Bloomington, containing not just his underwear but the very real possibility of NCAA penalties that did, indeed, come to pass.

That said, I was eager for IU basketball to move forward, and to retake its place among the nation's elite. I wanted the Bob Knight sycophants to accept, once and for all, that The General wasn't coming back.

And I wanted to see an IU team that played like it actually had some discipline and coaching, instead of that free-for-all the Hoosiers became under Mike Davis' tutelage, or lack thereof.

Sampson won me over. I liked what I heard when he spoke. I liked what I saw when his teams played.

And I believed him when he accepted the NCAA's punishment for the Oklahoma transgressions and vowed Indiana basketball would be held to the highest of standards.

Now this.

Sure, it doesn't seem like much. Nine or 10 misguided and impermissible threeway calls, courtesy of a wayward assistant coach (Quick question: Why does this Rob Senderoff still have his job?), to a supposedly unknowing, unwitting Kelvin Sampson.

So he's only a little pregnant, right?

In a recent column, I took New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick to task for his role in "spygate," the illegal taping of an opponent's defensive signals. In terms of national perception, I believe some of the shine has been scrubbed from those Super Bowl trophies even if there is no evidence the Pats cheated their way to championships.

Likewise, this upcoming season of great expectations for IU basketball will now move forward under a cloud of suspicion and scorn. Indiana is seen as a program operating outside the rules, even if these particular violations have no direct impact on the team's performance.

And we have yet to learn how the NCAA's infractions committee might act. Yes, Indiana's self-imposed penalties are significant. For a first-time offender, they might even be viewed as excessive.

But the NCAA may be inclined to bring the hammer down on a repeat offender if it believes he has arrogantly thumbed his nose at its sanctions.

If the NCAA places additional penalties on IU-up to and including probation or a postseason ban-then, yes, Sampson should be dismissed. The assistant, Senderoff, should have been sent on his way ... yesterday.

As for Athletic Director Rick Greenspan, yes, Sampson's his signature hire, and what we see is what he got. But I believe he should be commended, not condemned, for moving quickly to address these infractions, for imposing significant penalties, and for being forthright with the public and the media.

And what great timing. There was a sense that the athletics horizon at IU was brightening: facility improvements are under way, there's been an uptick in football and, without question, the men's basketball program-with a prized, home-grown recruit in the fold-should challenge for the Big Ten title and perhaps make a deep NCAA tournament run.

But now let's hold our breath and see what the NCAA says.



Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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