King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Indiana is the latest sorry tale of NCAA crime and punishment. Coach crime, athlete punishment.


King Kaufman
February 26, 2008 3:30PM (UTC)

The NCAA crime and punishment machine has wheezed into action again, this time at Indiana. As usual, the coaches do the crime, the kids get the punishment.

Wonderful system the NCAA has going here.

Hoosiers men's basketball coach Kelvin Sampson stepped down Friday amid a scandal involving illegal phone calls to recruits. What a coincidence: That's the very violation he was on probation for having committed at Oklahoma when Indiana hired him. What are the odds he'd -- allegedly -- do the same thing again? And then lie about it to university and NCAA investigators.

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Sampson took a $750,000 buyout, equal to a year and a half's salary. That let the university put a quick end to the matter of his continued employment while protecting itself from the kind of unlawful-termination lawsuit that universities have been losing lately. Sampson also agreed to cooperate with any investigations and not to interfere with the team.

An anonymous donor gave the university $550,000 toward that buyout. That's someone who really cares about education right there. You're able to give half a million to a state university, and you hand it over not to fund scholarships or modernize a library, but to pay off a dirty basketball coach so the program can move on as smoothly as possible.

Indiana has so far sanctioned itself, firing an assistant coach and denying itself a scholarship. The school is hoping that will keep the NCAA wolves at bay, but among the possible punishments for what the association calls five major violations would be a postseason ban. A decision isn't expected until after a hearing in June, so any such ban wouldn't take effect until next year.

But ESPN columnist Gene Wojciechowski writes that Indiana should punish itself by banning itself from this year's Tournament.

If that or an NCAA ban happens, just to review, it would be: Kelvin Sampson, who cheated, gets a check for $750,000. The unpaid players, who didn't cheat, including some who, at the time of Sampson's resignation, never mind his alleged offenses, were not yet enrolled at the university, get to not go to the postseason for a while.

Sweet deal for those players.

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Fortunately, it's all part of their "education," which can be summed up in four words: Follow the money, boys.

What Sampson was convicted by the NCAA of doing at Oklahoma was breaking rules about how often and when he could make recruiting calls to high school players. At Indiana, he's accused of similar violations, including violating some extra restrictions placed upon him as a result of the Oklahoma mess. And then he's accused of lying about the whole thing.

The root violations, like most NCAA violations, are a little silly. If you're so inclined, you can thrill to cloak and dagger tales of a Sampson henchman -- assistant coach Jeff Meyer -- trying to win over a recruit with a free T-shirt and drawstring backpack.

A drawstring backpack! It's an attack on the very foundation of higher education in America!

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Many of us who haven't memorized the NCAA's recruiting rules -- which would be sort of like memorizing the name of every person in Indianapolis, only not as interesting -- learned this week that even when phone calls are forbidden, text messaging is legal. Which of course is ridiculous.

Does anybody think about what these rules are meant to accomplish? Is the coach allowed to recruit the kid or not? Banning phone calls but not text messaging is like banning toasters but not toaster ovens.

And one is left wondering if Sampson isn't some kind of sociopath. This is what he lets himself get fired for, twice, leaving two programs in ruins? Illegal phone calls?

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Another ESPN columnist, Pat Forde, assesses Sampson: "A career crashed."

Uh-huh. For all his cellphone shenanigans, the undeniable fact about Sampson is that he's a good basketball coach. The over-under on his redemption via a major conference head-coaching job: Five years.

Unless the NCAA hits him with a five-year "show-cause" order, which would mean that any school that wanted to hire him would have to appear before the NCAA Infractions Committee to defend the action and discuss any future penalties or limitations.

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The over-under if that happens: five years and one day.

By that time Sampson will have, oh yes, turned over a new leaf, really learned his lesson and assured all involved at Insert Name Here University that he has straightened up and is flying right.

There's no zealot like a convert. Sampson's going to have special slacks made so he can carry the 32,641-page NCAA rule book in his pocket! He's going to have the major recruiting rules tattooed on his buttocks! Look, boss: I don't even have a cellphone. No, these aren't semaphore flags, why do you ask?

Over-under on the press conference announcing Sampson's buyout from that job: three years from date of hire.

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Previous column: Video: Shut up about your fantasy team!

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  • King Kaufman

    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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