Hoosier house divided over new violations

Hoosier house divided over new violations

by Doug Wilson, H-T sports editor

October 15, 2007

The Orange Crush student section at Illinois holds up cell phones as Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson enters the arena with his team before a game on Jan. 23, 2007, in Champaign, Ill. Chris Howell | Herald-Times
From the Oct. 15, 2007 Bloomington Herald-Times

The improvement in Indiana’s basketball program since Kelvin Sampson’s arrival has had a lot of Hoosier fans feeling better about their team than they have in years.

Then along came an announcement Sunday that Sampson and his program are being sanctioned by the university for recruiting violations. Sampson’s second season at Indiana hasn’t yet started and already he’s been sanctioned by the NCAA last year and by IU last year and this year, with the possibility of more NCAA sanctions on the horizon.

This news is going to tear Hoosier fans apart once again. Sunday afternoon, we were already reading comments from the full gamut on HoosiersHQ.com, ranging from those who thought the new violations are not a problem to those who think Sampson should be fired.

In listening to IU officials talk about this situation Sunday, I wondered if they were underestimating the anger and angst these new revelations will cause in their fan base. The sanctions that athletic director Rick Greenspan announced were significant enough to show that IU takes the situation very seriously, but I don’t know if Greenspan and Sampson understand the sense of alarm many fans are feeling.

It was a concern for many when Indiana hired a coach with a pending NCAA investigation into 577 impermissible phone calls. But Greenspan and other IU officials assured them that Sampson would run a clean program at Indiana.

When that investigation culminated in the NCAA banning Sampson for a year from making recruiting phone calls or off-campus visits, their concerns grew. It was tough to swallow hearing NCAA infractions committee acting chair Thomas Yeager say he’d never seen a case where so many impermissible phone calls had been made during his nine years on the committee.

“This is a case of (Sampson’s) complete disregard for NCAA guidelines for proper telephone contact with recruits,” Yeager said at the time.

But Sampson assured the Hoosier faithful that he and his staff would not commit further violations.

Duke fans hold up their cell phones and homemade signs making fun of Kelvin Sampson’s NCAA sanctions during the Hoosiers’ visit to Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., Nov. 27. Indiana announced more violations by Sampson and the Indiana basketball program regarding phone calls to recruits on Sunday. Chris Howell | Herald-Times
From the Oct. 15, 2007 Bloomington Herald-Times

“I have learned an invaluable lesson, and I hope that this reinforces to other coaches the importance of every aspect of NCAA compliance,” Sampson said in a May 2006 press release. “I am fortunate to have a quality, veteran staff who has built and maintained a high standard in all aspects of coaching, particularly in recruiting.”

After hearing that, it’s amazing to many to learn that a year later Sampson’s staff was again making impermissible phone calls, even if they were far fewer in number and by themselves didn’t appear to be major violations.

So when Greenspan tells the public now that he’s sending a strong message with the new self-imposed sanctions, and that he will tolerate nothing short of complete compliance with NCAA rules, he shouldn’t be surprised if many think that message should have been driven home more than a year ago.

Other fans say there are so many NCAA rules, big and small, that all programs violate some of them. Sampson and assistant coach Rob Senderoff are only doing their best to land top players, they argue, and it’s hard to even understand why making three-way phone calls is a violation of the previous sanctions.

The exact nature of the 35 impermissible phone calls and the 10 three-way phone calls is something we’ll hopefully understand better in the days ahead. The explanations Sampson gave Sunday weren’t entirely clear, particularly since a conference call between IU officials and reporters Sunday had a technological glitch that produced an echo that had participants wondering again and again what had just been said.

What anyone should be able to understand, though, is that this was an awful day for Indiana’s basketball program. Even if the violations don’t particularly concern you, the controversy ahead should.

Even if Sampson’s team plays as well as hoped this year, people will say that it’s because of breaking NCAA rules, whether that’s fair or not. It will be another year of opposing fans waving cell phones and derogatory signs at Sampson when the TV cameras swing their way.

And who knows what the news will be once NCAA committees take a look at the two reports IU has submitted on the violations and self-imposed sanctions. Before the May 2006 NCAA sanctions, Indiana officials told me they had looked closely at the situation and weren’t overly concerned about it.

“We don’t expect the NCAA investigation to be a problem for coach Sampson or Indiana University, and expect to have it behind us soon,” IU trustee Pat Shoulders said in May 2006.

IU officials reminded me of those comments Sunday when they expressed confidence that the penalties the university is imposing on the basketball program are severe enough for the violations committed.

I wonder if the NCAA will agree.