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

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.

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