Dark day at Indiana ends a messy, ugly saga with Sampson
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The initial damage report from a spectacularly dark day at Indiana University:
A career crashed.
A reputation frayed.
A team splintered.
An administration stumbled.
The result of Black Friday in Bloomington is a 22-4 team embroiled in unprecedented in-season chaos. Rarely, if ever, has a team this good had this much to frown about.
Whether the climax of an excellent season is torched in the backdraft of what has become a five-alarm scandal remains to be seen. That will depend in large part upon who shows up to get on the team bus to the Bloomington airport Saturday morning for the trip to play Northwestern in Evanston.
All we know for sure at this point is who won't be showing up for the bus: Kelvin Sampson, the coach who allegedly has cheated his way out of a Cadillac job in less than two years. Sampson resigned in disgrace, a repeat violator of NCAA rules regarding phone contact with prospects. If he ever coaches again in college, it will be a shock, though he will have his day in front of the NCAA Committee on Infractions in June.
Sampson's actions leave previously pristine Indiana up to its candy-stripe warm-ups in the swamp of major NCAA violations, just as he put Oklahoma in jeopardy previously. For a school that has played it clean for decades, this was a shameful day that perhaps was destined to happen from the moment IU made a deal with the devil and hired Sampson. It's hard not to think the Hoosiers had it coming.
But Sampson's departure and Indiana's prestige hit have been preordained since Feb. 8, when the NCAA formally charged the Hoosiers with five major violations. What few people saw coming was the mutiny by half the team.
Six players, including star big man D.J. White and fellow starters Armon Bassett and Jamarcus Ellis, blew off Dan Dakich's first practice as interim coach. (Hint to White: They usually don't give Big Ten Player of the Year honors to guys who walk out on their team.) It's an alarming sign for a team chasing just its second conference title in the past 15 years. And nobody knows for sure whether this will linger past a single day of rash reaction to unwelcome news, becoming a season-killing issue.
Athletic director Rick Greenspan -- whose own job has to be in jeopardy -- said he was hopeful that "most or all" of the Sulking Six would come back for a team walk-through Friday night. Former Indiana great Damon Bailey, who is close with Dakich and lives 20 miles away in Bedford, unexpectedly arrived at Assembly Hall earlier Friday evening. Bailey said his purpose was to wish his friend the interim coach well, but the visit turned into more. Bailey said Dakich asked him to talk to some of the no-show Hoosiers in an effort to calm the waters and, quite literally, get everyone on the bus tomorrow.
Here's my suggestion: Any player who doesn't make the trip to Northwestern is cut. Kelvin Sampson should not be made a martyr for breaking NCAA rules. College players aren't in charge of personnel decisions. Period.
If need be, grab six walk-ons who would donate an organ to play for the Hoosiers and suit them up. Indiana basketball is bigger than the players who walked out.
Not only were the players unhappy with Sampson's dismissal but a faction clearly opposed the elevation of Dakich over fellow assistant Ray McCallum. While Dakich was holding his first practice, McCallum was holed up with Greenspan in the AD's office. When McCallum emerged, he was stone-faced and ignored reporters who attempted to engage him.
Indiana's attempts at damage control extended to naming McCallum assistant head coach and including laudatory background information on him in the press release announcing Sampson's resignation.
It can be debated whether Dakich or McCallum is more qualified to lead the team for the rest of this season. McCallum was a success coaching in the Mid-American Conference, taking Ball State to the NCAA Tournament before moving to Houston, where he ultimately was fired. Dakich had some good years early at Bowling Green, also in the MAC, but resigned from that job in spring 2007.
What cannot be debated is Dakich's cachet with Indiana fans as a former player and assistant under Bob Knight. And if any conclusion could be drawn from watching a single IU practice, it's that Dakich was the more involved assistant. The day the Hoosiers played Illinois on Feb. 7, Dakich was in charge of the scouting report on the Illini and directed Indiana's defense. McCallum, meanwhile, stood well off to the side and might not have uttered a word the entire practice.
But the stunning thing was how unprepared Indiana's administration seemed to be to bring this thing to closure. This was a study in crisis mismanagement.
A seven-day reinvestigation ordered by school president Michael McRobbie figured to consist of rearranging the furniture and reaching a foregone conclusion. But the final 24 hours turned into an awkward taffy pull.
Years from now, someone should do a training video on how not to handle a situation like this. Among the pointers:
• Don't give yourself a public deadline you have to struggle hysterically to meet.
• Don't let out word that you'll have a news conference at 2 p.m., then at 4, and then at 6, if you can't get it done before 9 p.m.
·• Don't spend a day the entire state has been waiting for in total silence. There wasn't a blip of official communication from IU until after 8 p.m., when it finally announced its news conference. Reporters were left to loiter around athletic administration offices, waiting for anyone to say anything, with nobody from IU taking control of the situation.
• Don't hire a coach with a track record as a cheater.
• Don't bury a letter charging major NCAA violations in hopes that nobody will find out about it. ESPN.com found out and started asking questions shortly after the letter arrived. The school stonewalled. It only made the allegations public after receiving a Freedom of Information request from ESPN.com, and it did not announce its renewed investigation until a week after it received the letter.
• Don't pay a coach $750,000 to resign when he has committed fireable offenses and you're contractually obligated to pay him only through the end of the month.
• Don't name an interim coach half the team doesn't want to be the interim coach.
The only good news in this for Indiana is that Sampson goes away now instead of after an appeal process that could have dragged on another 10 days. That, undoubtedly, was part of IU's motivation in offering the buyout (that and the threat of a wrongful termination lawsuit).
At least the Hoosiers have a chance to put Sampson in the rearview mirror.
But even without him, the Black Friday black mark left upon a previously pristine program won't fade away anytime soon.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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