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Crean argues against additional NCAA sanctions

Monday, October 6, 2008

By MICHAEL MAROT

AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- Tom Crean has never been part of a basketball program facing this much self-inflicted adversity.

Indiana has already been stripped of three scholarships this season, is virtually devoid of depth, size and experience, and attrition has taken away all but one scholarship player from last season's roster.

The next punch could come in a few weeks when the NCAA infractions committee decides whether to impose even harsher sanctions stemming from former coach Kelvin Sampson's high-profile phone-call scandal.

So with Hoosiers fans bracing for the worst season in years, and school officials preparing for additional penalties, Crean begins his first season in Bloomington with an unusual plea: Don't damage the program any more than it has been.

"We've paid a price, a lot of people have paid the price and it's been a serious price," Crean said Monday in Indianapolis before participating in the Basketball Hall of Fame Showcase golf tournament. "So I say let's move forward because (the program) is already behind, way behind, where it should be and where it could be."

How bleak does 2008-09 look in Bloomington?

Consider that Crean has only two players back from last season -- forward Kyle Taber and guard Brett Finkelmeier, who played 11 minutes in 2007-08. Taber, the only eligible player with significant Division I experience, is recovering from knee surgery last August and could miss another five weeks, too.

The roster includes just one senior (Taber), two junior college transfers, one sophomore (Finkelmeier), eight freshmen and only three players taller than 6-foot-6.

And when Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, Gonzaga coach Mark Few and Ohio State coach Thad Matta -- representing the schools playing in this year's Hall of Fame Showcase -- were asked to discuss their prospects for the coming season, Crean chimed in with: "You don't want me to talk about all my returning players?"

Crean, too, has faced school-imposed limitations on phone calls and visits to recruits while having to answer dozens of questions about the future of the program and what potential sanctions Indiana might still get.

"We've been hit extremely hard by this, and I hope everybody is really paying attention to it, and the people making the decisions realize how much of a detriment this is," Crean said. "The restrictions have hurt us moving forward, esepcially with young players, and anyone who doesn't understand that isn't paying attention."

The Hoosiers made that argument in their most recent response to the NCAA, which was released last week.

Yet it may not be enough to win over committee members, who added a fifth major accusation against Indiana when it filed a failure to monitor charge in mid-June.

Fortunately, for Indiana, 12 months of tumult may be nearing an end.

It was last October when athletic director Rick Greenspan announced Sampson and his assistants engaged in more than 100 impermissible phone calls to recruits, violations Greenspan initially called secondary infractions.

The NCAA disagreed, accusing Sampson and his staff of major violations in February.

That led to a $750,000 buyout of Sampson's contract and prompted a major housecleaning project.

Indiana let all of Sampson's assistants go when it hired Crean in April, and the exodus of players followed. Some opted to transfer, others were kicked off the team and Eric Gordon decided to turn pro after his freshman season.

It also forced Greenspan to reorganize the compliance department and while Crean scrambled to fill his roster, the Hoosiers finally got some good news in early June when one of the major charges was downgraded to a secondary violation.

Then came the failure to monitor allegation, which the school announced on the same day Greenspan said he would resign at the end of December.

Ever since, Crean has found himself stuck in the middle.

"I think you try to explain past precedent to them (recruits)," Crean said. "When you're not seen at their games or at their school, it is hard to talk to them, and you feel like it will be a lot more work."

The school contends Sampson withheld information and concealed the impermissible calls, a notion Sampson adamantly denied in a statement he released last week.

Crean declined to comment on Sampson's statement, saying that it had nothing to do with him.

But the fallout clearly does, and Crean begins this season, which officially kicks off with Hoosier Hysteria on Oct. 17, trying to dig himself out of a deep hole he hopes doesn't get any deeper.

"I think what we'll go through this winter with our youth and inexperience, it's going to be a very, very difficult experience for all of us, all of you and all Hoosiers fans," he said. "I've never been part of something like this, and neither have you. But we all have to move forward."



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