Monday, October 15, 2007

More on Sampson (pun intended).

Like most Hoosier fans, I'm still digesting yesterday's bombshell (to be honest, most Hoosier fans are either standing outside Sampson's house with torches and pitchforks or are hunkered down with him in the bunker like Eva Braun--let's say "like some significant minority of Hoosier fans, I'm still digesting yesterday's bombshell"). As I said yesterday, my ultimate conclusion on this matter probably will depend on the timing and sequence on the events. The IU officials and legal counsel who spoke during yesterday's press conference were vague, perhaps purposefully vague, about such things.
I thought this tidbit from Terry Hutchens was interesting.
I have talked with Kelvin Sampson on many occasions during his first year at Indiana and one of the things I always came away with was how overly conscious he was to anything that had to do with the sanctions. Here's an example. I do know that coach Sampson said on numerous occasions that he didn't make a single outgoing phone call on his cell phone during the sanction period because he didn't want to take any chances. Recruits could call him, and his assistant coaches would call and give him any other information that he needed. But he was committed to abiding by the rules and refused to make any calls. He told me one time that as far as incoming calls he had gotten to the point where he didn't even look to see who was calling him. He said when you're on phone restrictions for a full year and you're not allowed to call anybody, when the phone rings you just answer it. He said he told his wife many times over the year of the sanction that he was looking forward to a time when the sanctions were behind him so he could start looking at the incoming call number again to determine who he did and didn't want to talk to. And so I must admit I was surprised -- maybe even shocked -- when I learned that he had telephone issues again.
It would be really interesting to know when Hutchens and Sampson talked about those issues. Certainly, what Sampson says in that passage provides some insight into one of the key questions, namely, how it would have been possible for Sampson not to know that the conference calls originated from Rob Senderoff's phone. Frankly, it so neatly ties up the questions that it seems a little too convenient. Still, if Sampson said this back in January, for instance, it does lend some credibility to what he is saying now.
So, here's what we know: there were "about ten" (about 10? How can they not be sure?) conference calls, only one of which Sampson admits that he knew was a conference call. Much more troubling are the vaguely described 35 additional calls made by assistants. Again, the sources I have read so far are quite vague on the who/what/when of these calls. Still, at least some of the articles suggest that these were calls in excess of those allowed to a single recruit in a particular period, calls made from home, calls not logged properly, and the like.
So, is there anything encouraging here? Well, as far as we know now, Sampson did not personally initiate any of the offending calls (although, I'm not exactly clear on this). By saying that, I do not mean to make light of the overall problems, but simply to note that it could have been worse, and that despite what I and other said initially, he wasn't caught doing "the exact same thing" again. And really, that's the only positive spin I can put on this affair. I suppose that I should compliment the compliance office and IU's commitment to getting to the bottom of this issue rather than letting it fester, as would happen and has happened at other schools (including Oklahoma). Nevertheless, I have some issues with the compliance work here, as I will discuss below.
The bad:
  • Regardless of what Sampson did personally, the 35 calls seem to be the same sort of improper calls that were made by Sampson's Oklahoma staff. That's really, really bad, and plainly inexcusable. The assistants themselves bear some blame, as do Sampson, in his capacity as the head of the basketball program, and Rick Greenspan and his compliance staff.
  • Why in the world, when the head coach is on probation, did the compliance staff not audit the telephone records monthly, or even weekly? What if IU had caught this after one call? Sure, it would have made the news, but people will accept one mistake. Ten calls are tougher to explain away, particularly months after the fact.
  • I'll echo what I said yesterday: why isn't IU putting all of the information on the table? They have reported to the NCAA, and the NCAA will do as it pleases. I would like to draw my own conclusions, but as far the the official IU athletic department site is concerned, none of this ever happened.
  • To further elaborate, we need to know when the NCAA issued its "interpretation" of conference calls as forbidden by the terms of Sampson's probation, and when and how the compliance staff passed that information on to Sampson and/or his assistants. I assume that if the timing were favorable (i.e., if the interpretation were issued after the calls), we would have heard that by now. But suppose that IU received the information early on and clearly transmitted that information to the entire basketball staff. If that happened, how in the world is Rob Senderoff still drawing a paycheck from IU?

So, where am I on this? Pretty damn depressed. I wasn't thrilled when IU hired Sampson, but the more I saw of him, the more impressed I became. My hope was that after a rough start and some bad publicity, Sampson would have a successful 15-year run at IU, with one or more championships, and would leave with a clean NCAA record and with his personal reputation and IU's reputation intact. Now, that's never going to happen. Sampson is always going to be under the umbrella of suspicion, and so, by extension, will IU, for as long as he's here. I, like most IU fans, took great pride in IU's status as one of the slim minority of major athletic programs without any major violations in recent decades. It's not clear that IU will be put on probation for these offenses, but it's going to be a close call. My estimation of Sampson's ceiling at IU is much lower than it was two days ago. As it stands, I would be surprised if Sampson is still at IU five years from now. As I may have said yesterday, and as I have thought many times in the last 18 months, all we really wanted was for IU basketball to be fun again. This isn't fun. I'm not going to call for Sampson's termination at this point, but if the inevitable NCAA investigation reveals more, I certainly may come around to that viewpoint.

1 comment:

Abraham said...

What a fantastic commentary. As an IU alum and (not surprisingly) a staunch supporter of IU basketball, I can honestly say you hit the nail right on the head. The "umbrella of suspicion" is a sadly perfect description of Sampson's reputation from here on out. And your questions of why the administration wasn't on top of this issue like white on rice has no satisfying answer. Seriously, why not keep an unblinking eye on the issue?!

Perhaps the NCAA will return a verdict that pleasantly surprises us, to the tune of: "we feel that Indiana has self-instituted more than adequate sanctions for the previously and accurately described violations." But as your comments mention, why the double speak and lack of transparency from the administration? It fills me with dread that we may hear terms like "unforgivable" and "probation" applied to IU basketball by the NCAA. If this happens - if the violations warrant this level of penalty - then the house should be completely cleaned. Just as Kravitz stated in the Star this morning: this means Sampson, this means Senderoff, and this means Greenspan. If the violations were this bad, I sickens me to say that the program needs to be completely rebuilt.

And damn, it did seem like the fun was back, didn't it?