Just when you thought it was safe to bask in the wave of positives heading into the 2007-08 IU basketball season.
A top recruiting class, one of the Big Ten's top seniors in D.J. White and the feeling that the Hoosiers are a favorite for not only a conference championship, but a NCAA Championship.
All gone now in another lapse of reason by coach Kelvin Sampson and his coaching staff. The latest flap came to light during the weekend when the Indiana University Department of Athletics determined during a routine review of telephone records that there was evidence the staff had made phone calls contrary to sanctions already in place by the NCAA.
The review determined that there were 10 occasions when an IU assistant coach initiated a three-way call that connected Sampson with a prospective recruit. While IU assistant coach Rob Senderoff initiated the connections, the heat is being laid squarely at Sampson's feet.
Understandably Hoosier Nation is up in arms that there is more negative light being placed on the basketball program. Indiana's Athletic Director, Rick Greenspan reacted swiftly by prohibiting Senderoff from going out on the road to recruit for a season and giving up a scholarship for next season. Sampson also voluntarily gave up a $500,000 raise that he was scheduled to receive this year.
Message boards have been afire since the news broke over the weekend and the reactions have been pretty extreme.
Some of the holier-than-thou's out there feel like this should be grounds for Sampson to be fired. How quickly fans are to turn their backs on a guy that they were lauding during the offseason for bringing in the heralded class that includes Eric Gordon and a supporting class that could bring the program back to national prominence. While it certainly is inexcusable to be ignorant of the NCAA regulations, especially when it was an improper number of phone calls to recruits while Sampson was at Oklahoma that earned him previous sanctions, this is a pretty minor violation. The penalties self-imposed by the Athletic Department, are quite likely even more harsh than necessary, but meant to make a point. Greenspan won't allow the program to get away with even minor infractions by providing a slap on the wrist.
The loss of a scholarship and a half a million dollar fine is pretty steep for a few extra phone calls when you consider no one has even drug USC football coach Pete Carroll's name through the mud for apparently not noticing that former star running back, Reggie Bush and his family, received nearly $300,000 worth of benefits while he wore Trojan colors.
The list of NCAA rules and regulations could easily fill an entire room which is why most major university have a Compliance Officer which keeps track of what coaches can and can't do while recruiting. While that's not an excuse for skirting the rules, it focuses on the sheer volume of what coaches have to keep track of while trying to get a potential recruit to choose to wear their uniform. I have no doubt there are plenty of violations going on in programs around the country which go unnoticed because many university's more or less have a don't ask don't tell sort of policy. Many of these violations tend to be turned up by reporters looking for a good story, not by the school itself.
For those who will undoubtedly respond with the 'this would have never happened under Coach (Bob) Knight, well, while the General is, in my opinion and certainly many others, one of the greatest basketball coaches of all-time, he certainly had plenty of grievous issues as well.
Those who are calling for Sampson's head as a cheater, should realize that the harshest penalty will be the negative publicity around the country. The recruiting battles are difficult enough without having to answer more questions like these.
I'll admit I'm an IU fan and I have mixed emotions about what direction the program is in right now, but I can honestly say that I'm not going to rush to judgment in this case. Sampson has proven to ultimately be a great teacher and a standup human being in the community and a leader to his players. The NCAA and not the message boards will ultimately decide Sampson's fate in this case.