Tony Woodlief | Author

Winner Take All

I’ve been watching with one eye the travails of Kelvin Sampson, coach of the Indiana men’s basketball team. Sampson has been tripped up by the pharisaical system of NCAA rules, which pays close attention to who pays for a player’s meals, but scrutinizes less closely whether the player ever receives an education. In Sampson’s case, he transgressed rules about when recruits can be telephoned, and when questioned, the NCAA says he lied about it. What fascinates me is that when he was receiving the National Coach of the Year award at Oklahoma in 2002, his team’s graduation rate, averaged over four years, was zero. That’s right, you had a greater chance of winning the Oklahoma lottery than securing a college degree under Kelvin Sampson.

Even though its own team’s graduation rate stood at a respectable 70 percent, Indiana University saw fit to lure Sampson away from Oklahoma, which had no problem with his mockery of the NCAA’s widely touted moniker for players, “student athletes,” so long as he was winning games.

Despite luring kids to a school they had no hope to graduate from, when they might have received scholarships as well as degrees from smaller schools, Sampson was awarded one of the NCAA’s highest honors for a men’s basketball coach. But now that he has made too many calls on consecutive second Tuesdays, he’s going to be suspended without pay.

Why not fired? Isn’t Indiana University’s motto, after all, “Light and Truth?”

Yes, but Sampson’s team is, you see, 22-4 this season. So they’ll slap him on the wrist, and hope it’s good enough penance to satisfy the NCAA. At the very worst, they’ll fire him later, but only after the NCAA tournament. No need to get crazy with this whole “consequences” thing, after all. It’s not like their motto is “Light, Truth, and Consequences.” And as the famous Roman once asked, “What is truth, anyway?” That’s the enlightened approach to things in today’s modern universities.

I still insist that if the NCAA were serious about its “student-athlete” notion, it would require the team with a lower graduation rate to spot the differential to its opponent in games. This would mean that if Davidson met Memphis in the NCAA tournament, it would start the game with a lead of 67 points. And perhaps alongside the won-loss record posted under a coach’s face when he’s on television, networks could also start posting his graduation rate.

Maybe then more schools would ask not only, How many points can he score? but also, Is this the best place for him to receive an education? If they’re really student-athletes, after all, it seems we ought to be asking the latter.

As for Kelvin Sampson, I wouldn’t worry about his job future; there’s always a Cincinnati or a UNLV — or an Indiana University, if they can get away with it — willing to place a higher imperative on winning than on integrity. Sampson should have no problem finding employment. Too bad we can’t say the same for the kids who have been unfortunate enough to play for him.

Looks like Indiana gave Sampson cash to go away, and several of their players are having a hissy fit. Pat Forde has it right:

“Here’s my suggestion: Any player who doesn’t make the trip to Northwestern is cut. Kelvin Sampson should not be made a martyr for breaking NCAA rules. College players aren’t in charge of personnel decisions. Period.

If need be, grab six walk-ons who would donate an organ to play for the Hoosiers and suit them up. Indiana basketball is bigger than the players who walked out.”

On Key

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