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SPORTS: Memo to IU: Hire the right people this time

March 3, 2008

Deadlines for a weekly publication are tricky. Sometimes when news breaks, you get lucky. Sometimes, you don't.

In this case, forgive me if I'm a little late to the parade and-following the elephants with broom and shovel-to the sorry mess involving the men's basketball program at my alma mater, Indiana University.

So, to sum up, this is what bothers me most: Everything. And who's to blame? Everyone.

It's the culture. It's the media. It's gross mismanagement. It's poor hiring. It's leaders who abdicate responsibility and accountability. It's any of us who become blinded by championship banners swaying in a gentle breeze. It's our determination to pound the square peg of big-time college athletics into the round hole of higher education. It's the practice of pandering for the favor of 16- and 17-year-olds. It's the disintegration of ethical behavior. It's an inches-thick rules book that is only inches thick because circumventing the rules is just as important as diagramming an effective motion offense. It's about making coaches the highest-paid public employees in the state, earning 10 times that of the governor (sure, I know ... the coach has the tougher job).

It is lawyers, and it is fear of litigation. It is high-minded principles that come at a price for which, as we just discovered, the going rate is $750,000.

It is a lynching in the square of public opinion, where allegations are assumed as facts, and you are guilty unless proven innocent.

It has happened at many other institutions and now it has happened at Indiana University. Are you surprised? For years, it tolerated a bully because he won. Then it accepted a cheater because it thought he could win.

I don't see much difference between the two. Others might.

As I'm writing this, I'm watching the IUOhio State game at Assembly Hall. The ESPN camera comes out of a timeout to show a student flashing a sign that says, "If you aren't cheating, you aren't trying."

Yeah, that's what we've come to ... for the glory of old IU.

Kelvin Sampson betrayed the trust of not just the people who hired him, who gave him a second chance (and don't we all believe in second chances?), but all who have made an investment in the reputation of IU. How dare he? Ultimately, there is but one person responsible, and his initials are on his former players' sneakers.

Adam Herbert? You read it here several years ago. History will mark him as IU's most inept president, an embarrassment to the legacy of Herman B Wells and others, an unconscionable hire perpetrated on an inept board of trustees by Stephen Ferguson. But with billionaire Bill Cook pulling the strings, perhaps Ferguson had no choice but to play the puppet.

Had Indiana chosen Indianapolis businessman and former IU trustee Jim Morris for president at that time, none of this would have happened. None of it. Morris bleeds cream and crimson. The university is his heart and soul. Yet he was passed over for an absentee jock-sniffer from Florida. Nice call. Believe me, they won't be naming any buildings after Herbert.

Athletic Director Rick Greenspan? I like the guy, and he's done an admirable job putting the athletic department back in order after another amazingly poor hire, Mike McNeely. But this stain came on his watch and he will never regain the confidence of the university family. A voluntary resignation should be on his agenda. And when it comes, IU should turn to a thoughtful, articulate Indianapolis resident, Jack Swarbrick. As a lawyer with a wealth of sports knowledge (former chairman of the Indiana Sports Corp., runner-up to Myles Brand for the NCAA presidency), Swarbrick has the consummate skill set for the job.

As for Sampson's successor, well, you can't underestimate the importance of getting this one right. Yes, Dan Dakich deserves his hearing and there's no doubting his loyalty to the university and his understanding of how it must be represented. But IU has to conduct a national search, one that I hope would include Marquette's Tom Crean, Baylor's (and Valparaiso native) Scott Drew and Washington State's Tony Bennett. As for Tennessee's Bruce Pearl or Memphis' John Calipari, sorry, they don't pass my smell test. And there's already enough stench in Bloomington.

In the moment, this is as bad as it gets. In time, however, this too shall pass, and Indiana basketball will be back to normal.

Trying, but not cheating, for the glory of old IU.



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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