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SPORTS: IU's basketball drama isn't the only show in town

February 25, 2008

So much news, so little space.

Over the last two weeks, there was that evolving situation involving the IU basketball coach.

The Hoosiers, Butler, Purdue and Notre Dame made Indiana the only state with four teams ranked in the nation's top 25. Butler climbed to No. 8, its highest ranking ever, and Purdue took the Big Ten lead under Matt Painter, at this point the odds-on choice for national coach of the year.

My buddy and former colleague, Robin Miller, continued to clobber competing media with his reporting on progress of an Indy Racing League/Champ Car merger. As of this writing, a deal was all but done.

A Hoosier native and Purdue grad, South Bend's Ryan Newman, won the Daytona 500.

On Feb. 19, Indianapolis climbed back in the saddle, hoping to gallop off to a winning bid for the 2012 Super Bowl.

Oh, and Katie Douglas, the former Perry Meridian and Purdue star, is coming home to play for the Indiana Fever.

I'll take them one at a time.

As this is being written, Sampson sits on the IU bench in the Purdue game. Many are asking, rightfully, why is he still there?

Yes, the latest allegations of five major NCAA violations bring an indelible stain to the university in general and basketball in particular. Yet, doesn't there remain a presumption of innocence in this country?

At the least, I thought he should be suspended with pay pending the outcome of further investigations. But since he may have been fired (or suspended) by the time you read this, I'll reserve judgment. I defend the process, but not the coach. Indiana deserves better than this betrayal of trust.

That said, anyone who suffered, as I did, ESPN commentator Dick Vitale's ad nauseum assault on Sampson and Athletic Director Rick Greenspan during the IU-Michigan State telecast, might be interested in what Dickie V. wrote in his espn.comcolumn when Sampson was chosen two years ago.

There wasn't one word-not one -of concern about Sampson's NCAA sanctions at Oklahoma. Instead, Vitale wrote, Sampson "brings a special winner's mentality" to Bloomington, lauding him for his record at Oklahoma and Washington State.

"Look for Sampson to do the same at Indiana, building a consistent winner and working to improve the facilities in Bloomington," Vitale concluded. "Rick Greenspan and his Indiana athletic department staff did a great job in bringing in a proven winner. Sampson is one of the premier coaches in America."

But Vitale isn't alone in the "stick-yourfinger-in-the-wind" flip-flopping.

Said another critic, Sports Illustrated and CBS commentator Seth Davis: "Indiana hired a great coach and an even better person. This is a great job by Indiana, a brilliant hire."

And this from ESPN's Jay Bilas, who also was ripping Indiana:

"Kelvin Sampson is going to bring a winning identity. He is an outstanding coach and a terrific person."

Meanwhile, back in Indiana, most of us were far more cautionary in assessing the Sampson hire.

Moving on ...

The unification of open-wheel racing-the truly elite form of motorsports in this country-is tremendous news. Tony George hasn't gone the extra mile to make this happen. He's gone an extra 500 miles. Pun intended.

A good guy-but not a good ol'boy-finished first at the Daytona 500. College-educated, articulate and genuine, Ryan Newman is the antithesis of NASCAR's moonshiner roots.

Think about this for a moment. When-and not if-Indianapolis is successful in landing the 2012 Super Bowl, the city will have a run that features the 2010 Men's Final Four, the 2011 Women's Final Four and then the Super Bowl. Add the continuing presence of the Big Ten tournaments in that span, the PGA Tour's 2012 BMW Championships at Crooked Stick, and the culmination of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's centennial celebration, and you have a lineup of events perhaps unmatched by any city in the history of American sport.

I'm reminded again of former State Rep. Ned Lamkin's long-ago quote about the sports initiative in Indianapolis: "Dream no small dreams, and make no small plans."

Finally, you read it here first: The Fever's acquisition of Douglas is the last piece of the puzzle that will bring the team the WNBA championship this summer.

Now, if we can only get the Pacers rolling again.



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. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. To comment on this column, send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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