Commentary

Good start, Indiana ... now impose some additional sanctions

Updated: February 24, 2008, 3:27 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

The easy part was making serial cheater Kelvin Sampson go away. You cut a $750,000 check and -- poof! -- him, his cell phone and what's left of his morals disappear. That's what coaches like Sampson do: They take the money and slither into the darkness.

But the NCAA and its allegations of Sampson-orchestrated major rules violations at Indiana aren't going away. And unlike Sampson, the NCAA doesn't take checks, not even six-figure ones.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Sampson
AP Photo/Darron CummingsKelvin Sampson won 43 of his 57 games at Indiana. But he leaves a tarnished legacy.

So Indiana is stuck trying to Shop-Vac away the mess created by a hypocritical coach who demanded attention to detail from his players but failed to practice it himself. He cut so many recruiting corners his scissors should be in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Anyway, Illinois coach Bruce Weber (and others with Sampson-inflicted bruises) is clinking a champagne flute each night. Coaches know what Sampson did. They always know.

But just because Sampson is gone doesn't mean IU's problems are gone with him. First of all, Indiana hired this mope. It hired him despite an ongoing NCAA investigation into impermissible recruiting phone calls made by Sampson while he was at Oklahoma.

Remember what then-IU president Adam Herbert said during the introductory news conference nearly two years ago?

"I am fully convinced that he will elevate the program to what you expect," Herbert said. "You will love his values …"

(I'm sorry. I have to stop for a moment. You can only laugh so hard.)

And later: "He has made clear … that he will comply fully with NCAA regulations."

Sure he will. Two months after that '06 news conference, the NCAA penalized Sampson for "deliberate non-compliance."

So Indiana is on the Sampson employment hook. To the NCAA, it doesn't really matter whether Herbert and selected IU trustees made the hire, or whether it was athletic director Rick Greenspan's call. (Those familiar with the process say Sampson never was on Greenspan's original short list; Herbert and certain influential trustees insisted on Sampson.)

What does matter is Indiana's response to those NCAA allegations of five major rules violations. So far, so OK.

Sampson is history. Step One. But it wasn't as if Indiana made a huge moral stand. It took a pragmatic approach to a self-inflicted problem.

IU basketball hasn't suffered any major bleeding yet, no real pain. Sure, its reputation requires some medical attention, but if Indiana could survive the seismic activity caused by Bob Knight's firing in 2000, it can survive Sampson's "resignation" and NCAA charges in 2008. After all, the Hoosiers reached the NCAA Tournament championship game just two seasons after Knight was dumped.

Anyway, it's not like Indiana basketball is a red-and-white picture of stability. IU soon will have its fourth head coach in nine years. The Hoosiers are getting used to replacing mug shots in the annual hoops media guide.

And let's face it: Indiana didn't have much choice but to negotiate with Sampson. He had the Hoosiers' administration between a rock and a lawsuit.

Sampson and his lawyers might not read the NCAA rule book, but they read the sports pages. And they couldn't help but notice that Ohio State is going to pay former Buckeyes men's basketball coach Jim O'Brien nearly $3 million after it lost a wrongful termination case.

Schools are terrified of this kind of litigation. They see Ohio State writing a $3-mil-or-so cashier's check to O'Brien, and they get the dry heaves. They also remember the NCAA and the University of Washington paid former Huskies football coach Rick Neuheisel a combined $4.5 million rather than risk a jury decision in his 2005 wrongful termination suit. And did we mention Duke's legal problems stemming from the lacrosse case?

So all of a sudden, Indiana's $750,000 deal looks like a bargain. The school cut its losses and, in a way, came out ahead.

Remember, IU denied Sampson a $500,000 raise this past October as punishment for making impermissible recruiting phone calls. And a donor came up with $550,000 of the $750,000 take-a-hike money given to Sampson on Friday. Deduct the athletic department's $200,000 portion of the payoff, and IU still is $850K on the plus side. Had Sampson sued (and he likely would have), IU's legal fees easily could have run another $250,000 to $500,000. So, conservatively speaking, Indiana saved itself at least $1.1 million, probably more.

And the Hoosiers got rid of Sampson. A weird win-win.

But will it be enough to satisfy the NCAA? Doubtful, even though IU, not the NCAA, initiated the investigation into Sampson's activities. Indiana said there were secondary infractions and withheld the $500K from Sampson. The NCAA did its own investigation and said there were major violations. Uh, oh.

Herbert is no longer the IU president (he resigned this past July). Sampson is no longer the IU coach. Electric freshman Eric Gordon (whom Sampson pried away from Weber and Illinois) almost certainly is a one-and-done player. Once again, Hoosiers hoops is in turmoil.

But the NCAA will insist on penalties, not the usual Hoosiers basketball angst. Removing Sampson from the sidelines was an appropriate start, but only a start. The truth is, he was a goner -- it was only a matter of when he would leave and how much it would cost IU to make him leave.

Indiana shouldn't stop there. It should self-impose a postseason ban on this year's team. At the very least, no NCAA Tournament appearance and the money that comes with each game played during March Madness. That should get the attention of the NCAA Committee on Infractions, eh?

Of course, IU could take its chances. It could dispute the charges. It could argue that it cut away the Sampson cancer before it metastasized. It could appeal whatever penalties the NCAA eventually levies.

Or Indiana could do the pre-emptive thing. The smart thing. The right thing. It could admit it never should have hired Sampson, take its punishment and start being IU again.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

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