Commentary

Was this Sampson's last goodbye at Indiana?

Originally Published: February 19, 2008
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Kelvin Sampson walked off the Assembly Hall floor with polite applause and the Indiana University fight song in his ears.

If this was it, then it was quite the awkward goodbye.

Sampson's team had just beaten Purdue, Indiana's most bitter rival. Three days earlier, his Hoosiers had ripped a top-10 opponent by 19 points. They're 22-4 and pushing hard for just their second Big Ten title in the past 15 years. They're playing great.

And the coach is close to done.

If you could have put a thought bubble over the fans clapping as their coach walked by, it probably would have said something like this:

"We love your team. We hate your ethics. We're confused as hell. We want to thank you for beating Purdue -- and now, we'd like you gone."

The endgame is here, the outcome verging on preordained. Sampson stands accused of five major NCAA violations, at a school with a history of playing it clean. If there is another Indiana basketball game in his future, he has pulled off an upset comparable to a No. 16 seed beating a No. 1.

Later this week, a suspension of Sampson for the purpose of eventual termination is likely, according to a source familiar with the situation. Sampson would have 10 days to appeal to save his job, but his fate would virtually be sealed.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Sampson
AP Photo/Darron CummingsIs this Kelvin Sampson's last exit from the Assembly Hall court?

The source said a less likely option would be an agreed-upon settlement between Sampson and the school resulting in Sampson's resignation later this week.

A third option, least likely of all, would be for Sampson's lawyer, NCAA defender to the stars Mike Glazier, to prevail upon IU for more time. That could mean an extension of the school's seven-day reinvestigation of the NCAA Enforcement findings, which started this past Friday, or a delay in firing Sampson until after the season. The argument for such an extension would be a rush to judgment, on the part of the NCAA and the school.

Expect a suspension Thursday or Friday, then expect to see assistant Dan Dakich coaching the Hoosiers on Saturday at Northwestern. And for the rest of the season.

Sampson likely is cooked in Bloomington, taking 498 career college victories into limbo. It is hard to see him landing another head coaching job, especially if the Committee on Infractions slaps a show-cause order on any future employer.

Sad, in a way, and puzzling that it's come to this. Few people believe a coach of Sampson's talents needs to cheat to win, and fewer still believe Sampson needed to cheat at a power like Indiana to win big.

But figuring out why it has come to this is moot. Whether it was hubris or heedlessness doesn't matter much at this point.

There are some who believe the NCAA is overreacting to something considered as innocuous as excessive phone calls. But the it's-just-phone-calls crowd is missing a central point.

Read this paragraph from the NCAA Committee on Infractions report on Oklahoma in 2006, when Sampson and his staff were slammed for making 577 impermissible calls:

"The committee has consistently heard that the key to successful recruiting is being able to develop relationships with prospects and their families. The obvious purpose of these violations was to be the first institution to make recruiting contact with prospects and then to build on the relationship by having multiple impermissible contacts with the prospects in the very important early stages of their recruitment. These calculated violations created a significant recruiting advantage over institutions abiding by the telephone contact limitations."

Sampson then went out and allegedly attempted to create the same recruiting advantage at Indiana. While on probation.

The NCAA letter must have hit like a fist to the gut when it arrived Feb. 8, the day after the Hoosiers' thrilling double-overtime victory over Illinois. Certainly the school was in no hurry to publicly acknowledge it. It wasn't until ESPN.com filed a Freedom of Information request Feb. 12 that the school got around to announcing its existence, and its renewed investigation didn't begin until a week after the letter was received.

Through it all, the Hoosiers have played remarkably. They have gone 3-1, with the only loss coming on a flukish, banked 3-pointer in the final seconds against Wisconsin. Tuesday night against Purdue was another strong display of wagon circling.

Neither Sampson nor his team acted out of character in a raucous Assembly Hall. Other than hugging guard Armon Bassett after an IU flurry forced a Purdue timeout with 14:28 left in the game, Sampson coached like a guy locked into the moment. The Hoosiers played that way, too.

[+] EnlargeDJ White
AP Photo/Darron CummingsD.J. White was questionable with a gimpy knee, but he scored 19 points in a big win over Purdue.

"It doesn't cross our mind at all," said big man D.J. White, who all but engraved his name on the Big Ten Player of the Year trophy with a 19-point, 15-rebound effort three days after injuring his knee against Michigan State. "When we're in Assembly Hall, we're on the court. That's all we focus on."

Consider it a Herculean act of focus, given the tumult that has enveloped the program since the NCAA's letter of inquiry arrived.

"I think the way our team is playing answers all the questions," Sampson said. "I think our play speaks for itself."

The words of the Assembly Hall fans, however, might not speak for the populace.

There were five guys in the student section dressed in Sampson Wear: blue shirts and red ties. They led a couple of "Kel-vin Samp-son!" chants, which were followed by scattered boos, during the 77-68 victory over the Boilermakers.

The place sounded conflicted, but that might not be an accurate picture of Hoosier Nation.

"Those are students," a longtime IU employee said. "And we were beating Purdue. I don't think people are conflicted at all."

Take the fans out of the heat of a bitter rivalry game, and they almost unanimously want Sampson gone, he said. There is virtually no sympathy for a guy who broke phone-contact rules, then allegedly lied about doing it again to school and NCAA investigators.

Sampson hasn't been in Bloomington long enough to build up a base of support. This is his second season, four fewer than Mike Davis. Even Davis, who never was embraced by the Bob Knight crowd, had broader backing.

In fact, someone asked Purdue coach and Indiana native Matt Painter if it would be strange coaching against the Hoosiers without Sampson.

"Not really, just because he's only been there for two years," said Painter, who had a couple of his freshmen named in the NCAA letter as targets of Indiana's impermissible calls. "I grew up in Indiana. I thought coach Knight and coach [Gene] Keady would be the coaches there forever."

Instead, it's Painter leading a renaissance at Purdue, while someone else likely will be in charge of the next phase of reinventing Indiana basketball.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.