A very wise man once said: “be careful what you wish for. It just might come true.”
It’s too bad for Indiana University that wise man didn’t sit on the board of trustees. Or the wise man wasn’t Athletic Director Rick Greenspan.
In a report today in the Indianapolis Star, the NCAA has filed a “notice of allegations” with Indiana alleging major violations by men’s basketball head coach Kelvin Sampson. Reportedly, the allegations suggest Sampson skirted his ban on calling recruits by knowingly participating in three-way calls to several recruits that were allegedly set up by former assistant coach Rob Senderhoff and current assistant Jeff Meyer.
Though Senderhoff resigned his position in late October, many believed at the time that he was serving as a designated fall-guy for the university and Sampson himself. Sampson was banned from making any off-campus recruiting visits or phone calls to recruits for one year effective May 2006 for making 577 improper phone calls while still head coach at Oklahoma.
It wasn’t your typical oversight; and certainly not accidental one or two mishaps but rather, 577 of them.
Greenspan embraced Sampson despite the troubles he knew were likely to follow from Norman, Okla. to Bloomington. In fact, he said as much.
“We knew that there could be further sanctions, and we accept them,” Greenspan told the Associated Press in a May 26, 2006 report after Sampson’s first recruiting restrictions were announced.
"I have learned an invaluable lesson, and I hope that this reinforces to other coaches the importance of every aspect of NCAA compliance," Sampson added in a statement at that time.
Apparently, Sampson didn’t learn much at all.
This past fall, Indiana was found to have violated those restrictions in over 100 phone calls made by Senderhoff, at least 10 of which were three-way calls participated in by Sampson. These phone calls cost Indiana a scholarship and Sampson a due $500,000 raise he was set to receive from the university.
This time, there was no prepared apology, stating Sampson had learned his lesson. Instead, only spin from Greenspan – which is understandable, given he is accountable for this hire to begin with.
"It's important to keep this in perspective," Greenspan said in a statement released October 30. "The total number of calls at issue is a fraction of 1 percent of the total number of recruiting calls made each year by the men's basketball staff. We take this matter very seriously and demand full compliance with the rules.”
Perhaps wishful thinking, Greenspan hoped the matter would die a quick death never to be resurrected. He surmised the appropriate measures were taken against Sampson and his university at that time, and again took Sampson at his word. It was an honest mistake.
But the NCAA investigation continued. And apparently, they’re calling Sampson (and Greenspan’s) bluff.
Wednesday, in a notice dated Feb. 8 from the NCAA to the President of Indiana University, The Star shows five additional alleged major NCAA violations committed by Sampson and his staff in dates ranging from March 29, 2006 to July 30, 2007 involving both potential NCAA violations with regard to the number and timing of phone calls to prospects, improper benefits, violating prior recruiting restrictions placed on the university for phone calls as well as what amounts to lying to NCAA investigators regarding the previous investigation. The report requests responses from Indiana on these allegations and sets a hearing for this upcoming June.
Somewhere, that wise man is saying, “I told you so.”
An old proverb, deriving from the Bible’s book of Jeremiah, says a leopard cannot change his spots. My grandfather probably had a more apt saying: “once a cheater always a cheater.”
Should Indiana fans really be surprised by any of this? Did they really think a man that was blatantly skirting the rules – not once or twice mind you, but 577 times (that we know of), would actually submit to being a law-biding coach?
Though making excessive phone calls is certainly not an egregious offense, it shows a compulsion for bending and breaking the rules. Worse yet, Sampson has shown an utter disregard for rival coaches in the Big Ten by repeatedly going after committed recruits.
Is that illegal? Nope. Is it stupid? You bet.
It should be noted that for now, these are still allegations. But both the first and second times Sampson came under fire, the allegations were dead on the money. You can bet the ranch a third time will be a charm.
Quietly, sources close to several Big Ten programs have been crying foul over the conduct shown by Sampson since arriving in Bloomington. But the real question is why would Indiana sink so low?
Robert Montgomery Knight was a black eye on the university, but not because he cheated, simply because the guy lived by his own rules – of etiquette. He did as he pleased. He said what was on his mind. And his temper was enough to send him to an anger management class, or two.
But ultimately, when the wins subsided, or at least the championships, the university had tolerated all the postgame meltdowns they could handle. Justifiably, the man with a spotless legal record but a tainted character profile was dismissed after 29 seasons as the Indiana coach.
After six seasons of near mediocrity by replacement Mike Davis, Greenspan was looking for a splash. He didn’t get it after his courting of Memphis head coach John Calipari or Marquette head coach Tom Crean.
So apparently, he was willing to settle.
There’s no questioning Sampson’s coaching ability. He’s a top-notch basketball tutor. He’s, by all reports, a fantastic role model (if it’s possible to be a cheater and still be a role model). Still, he’s a loving father and husband, and comes highly respected by many in his profession, despite his scandalous ways.
Further, he’s proven to be an excellent recruiter, although it’s tainted given his questionable tactics. Still, it’s hard for anyone to justify a hire with so many skeletons both inside and outside of his closet.
But it’s ironic the same university that dismissed a legend for his volatile ways would embrace a cheater in the name of victories. Had the same standards applied to Sampson as Knight, who no one dared question his ethics, Sampson would have never sniffed an interview let alone actually be hired. It makes one wonder if Knight had recent Big Ten championships or better success in the NCAA Tournament, would he have been fired?
If Sampson is fortuitous enough to make like Teflon, and these allegations fail to stick, he may go on to lead Indiana to several Big Ten Championships – possibly even this season. The Hoosiers, no doubt, will continue to be a prominent program and attract many top recruits to Bloomington. At what cost?
Greenspan picked a winner. That much is certain. But Greenspan also knowingly picked someone that was destined to get Indiana into this mess to begin with.
There’s no going back for Indiana. It’s not as if they were unaware of the type of individual they were dealing with. They can go ahead and fire Sampson, or doing the right thing as many would suggest. But no matter if and when they do, everyone will remember they hired him (baggage and all) to begin with. In a way, that puts Indiana to blame just as much as Sampson.
But hey, I hear Knight is available.
Indiana is a terrific school and a wonderful program – a top 10 program, easily. The tradition, fan support and history are unquestioned. Of course Knight is the Godfather to that program, and his coaching and ethics in recruiting are the ideals Indiana should return to.
At least start listening to the preaching of the wise man. It didn’t take a proverb to see this one coming.