General soreness

Why don't the players Bob Knight kicked off the Texas Tech basketball team have any rights? And why doesn't the media care?

By Allen Barra

Published April 5, 2001 3:00AM (EDT)

When I first saw the item I thought it was an April Fools' gag: Bob Knight had kicked three players off the Texas Tech basketball team. Only none of the news releases said why. I called Tech's athletic director, Gerald Myers, to find out. The reply, read to me by an assistant, was: "At present, we're not going to make any statement beyond what's been said." This was certainly convenient, as up to that point, nothing at all had been said, except that the three players were "not going to be on the team next year." Which, I had already assumed, is what being "kicked off a team" means.

What, I wondered, did the university think about this. Not the Athletic Department, which obviously is Bob Knight, but maybe some of the people in the less visible parts of the college where they deal with university matters other than ticket sales and promotion. After all, considering that Knight had brought down more flak on his previous school, Indiana, than it could bear, it would be reasonable to assume that Texas Tech administrators would be wary of letting Knight draw them into another controversy.

But no, the wagons were already circled. When I finally got through to the office of the president, David Schmidly, all I got was, "There had been a violation of team rules." No clarification was in order; the president's office would not even confirm that he knew what the rules were that were violated. The players -- that is, the students -- didn't know either. Jamal Brown, the starting guard, indicated to someone in the local media that he was "baffled." Brown, who we can assume is a smart young man, also said he would not ask for an explanation when he sought his release to go elsewhere to play.

Brannon Hayes, a reserve freshman, one of the players cut, was reached for comment the next day. Knight, he said, had called the three players to a meeting. "A misunderstanding resulted." Then Knight kicked them off. "Anything that can come up like this, so fast and so swift, it's unbelievable," said Brown later. "I still haven't reacted," by which I assume he means that his being kicked off the team without an explanation hasn't kicked in yet.

Let's recap. Texas Tech hires A-1 Nutboy to coach. He immediately kicks three players, all recruited by the previous coach, off the team. He gives no reason except "They just needed to be dismissed, that's all." The players, apparently, are not sure why he has done this. The athletic director either does not know or will not say, and the president apparently doesn't know either but assumes that Knight wouldn't do it unless he had a good reason.

From there, the story gets interesting. The NCAA stepped in and told Knight that he couldn't replace the scholarship players on the squad with new scholarship players. The rule it cited states that a school may not have more than eight new scholarship players within a two-year period, which means that if Knight kicks three players with scholarships off the team, his team loses the scholarships. This is an incredibly stupid thing to do, as it means that the Texas Tech men's basketball team will now take the court with walk-ons filling in for scholarship players.

It does not seem possible that Knight could not have known about this rule; he did say a couple of days ago that "this rule doesn't exist in girls basketball," the relevance of the remark being uncertain except that it reaffirms that Knight is a little nuts and also that if he knew about the girls not having the rule he surely must have known that the boys did have it, right? Which means that, well, Knight was deliberately defying the NCAA. Now, Knight says he'll challenge the rule. Good luck, coach. Hope you have an army of lawyers ready to work full time on this one, 'cause the NCAA sure as hell does. Oh, and I wouldn't count on too much legal support from Texas Tech officials, as they know full well that challenging the NCAA is tantamount to ATHLETIC DEATH.

The NCAA vs. Bob Knight. It reminds me of Groucho's line in "A Night at the Opera": "You big bully, stop picking on that little bully."

Meanwhile, the entire issue about the kids who were kicked off the team with no explanation from either their coach or their school has been swept under the carpet. Where is the American Civil Liberties Union when we need it? These kids woke up on Friday thinking they were living under the Bill of Rights, and went to sleep knowing they're governed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association and Bob Knight. They don't have the rights in college that they had playing in a schoolyard. They can be kicked off of the team for no reason besides the coach's mood swing, and the NCAA accepts this -- only the question of what happens to their scholarships needs to be ironed out.

The student-athletes will have to sit out a year if they transfer, and they will have to find a new place to live and work, and they aren't owed so much as an explanation from their own university, the university that was responsible for recruiting them in the first place.

There isn't much mystery as to what is going to happen here. The NCAA is a self-governing body, so Knight can challenge it all he wants and the most he'll accomplish is to bring destruction down on the idiots -- I mean "idiot" here in the best possible sense, the Greek sense, which means without morals or ethics -- who hired him in the first place. Meanwhile, Knight's team will start the season undermanned, which means they will get the crap kicked out of them. I can't wait. I don't know about you, but I'm really looking forward to the next basketball season; I'm going to get a Texas Tech schedule, circle the TV dates and stock up on popcorn. I'm mulling over the idea of a satellite dish.

So, Bob Knight and Texas Tech, two of the villains in this scam, will suffer. The big one, of course, gets away again, but someday ... Meanwhile, two out of three's not bad.

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Noted briefly

All those who knock Bob Costas for being soft, please show me one other media person who had the guts to look snake-oil salesman Vince McMahon in the eye and tell him that the XFL's pre-game show "was one of the most mindless things I've ever seen in my life." And the next week he made Ashley Judd squirm a little, too ...

Esquire's April cover story on Alex Rodriguez by Scott Raab is one of the gutsiest and most entertaining sports profiles since Charles Pierce's landmark take on Magic Johnson. Editor in chief David Granger contributes a nice editorial that should be copied and sent to every baseball owner: "Baseball has enormous problems, but in Alex Rodriguez it has an opportunity to take advantage of the most prodigiously talented player since Willie Mays. Instead, league officials bitch about how much one of their owners has chosen to pay A-Rod." If we get enough of this out there before the end of the season, perhaps the work stoppage isn't inevitable.

Allen Barra

Allen Barra is the author of "Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends."

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