NCAA needs to send a message

Kelvin Sampson just got caught cheating. Again. Big shock there. ESPN’s Andy Katz broke the story Sunday that Indiana University has self-reported to the NCAA that Sampson’s basketball staff made 35 inappropriate telephone calls that violated the NCAA rules about how many calls can be made to specific recruits. On at least 10 occasions, Sampson was part of a three-way call to recruits that violated NCAA rules.

According to Katz’s story, Sampson will have to forfeit a $500,000 bonus, one scholarship has been revoked, and assistant coach Rob Senderhoff will be banned from recruiting off campus and making any telephone calls to recruits. Senderhoff also won’t receive a bonus or a salary increase.

For that, we’re supposed to applaud Indiana University for its diligence and the harshness of its punishment. Don’t think for a second that cutting the scholarship is a big deal. One of Indiana’s prize recruits for 2008 was arrested about three weeks ago and charged with possession and trafficking in cocaine so that’s already one scholarship that the Hoosiers couldn’t count on.

And get this: Sampson claims he didn’t know he was part of a three-way call on nine of those 10 calls.

Somebody hand me a barf bag! Quick!

This is the same Kelvin Sampson that cheated at Oklahoma and got caught. He and his staff made 577 inappropriate phone calls to recruits and Sampson made 233 of them personally.

You make four or five inappropriate calls and maybe you just got confused because you were maxing out the number of phone calls you can make to a recruit. I could buy into a story like that if it was just four or five calls. The NCAA rules can be vague and when you have three assistant coaches recruiting as well, I can see that someone might forget to log in a couple of calls here and there so you would lose track.

When you make 577 illegal calls and the head coach makes 233 of them, that’s blatant cheating. There’s no other way to describe it.

“I think there were more documented calls in this case than any other I’m familiar with,” said NCAA Infractions Committee chairman Thomas Yaeger to the Associated Press last year when the rules violations by Sampson and his Oklahoma staff were announced.

Now, here’s where this story gets funny.

Indiana knew about the cheating at Oklahoma and hired Kelvin Sampson anyway. Indiana, the same school that fired Bobby Knight who would rather die than cheat, hired a blatant cheater. It didn’t matter to Indiana that Sampson left a mess at Oklahoma that Jeff Capel will have to clean up. Oklahoma cut two scholarships for last season and has cut one scholarship for 2007-08.

Indiana hired Sampson anyway and at least the NCAA had the guts to impose a one-year moratorium on Sampson’s recruiting. For one year, Sampson was not allowed to recruit off campus or make phone calls to recruits. As if a tiny little matter such as NCAA rules or a university/NCAA moratorium would deter Kelvin Sampson.

According to the Katz story on ESPN, Sampson’s one-year ban stretched from May 24, 2006 to May 25, 2007. It is during that one-year period that Sampson’s staff made the 35 illegal calls and Sampson was part of a three-way conversation on 10 of them.

Consider me highly skeptical if it’s only 35 undocumented calls and pardon me if I think Sampson is lying when he says he was unaware that he was involved in the three-way conversations. I would trust myself in a small dark room with a poisonous snake before I would trust a word that Kelvin Sampson has to say.

When I read the Katz story, I was reminded of a 10-minute visit I had with Illinois coach Bruce Weber back in July at the Peach Jam in North Augusta, South Carolina. Weber is one of the good guys that plays by the recruiting rules. At one point, Eric Gordon, the nation’s top recruit, was committed to Illinois, but last summer he switched the commitment to Indiana. I asked Weber if he thought there was some hanky panky involved in the commitment switch.

I already knew the answer when he rolled his eyes back and shook his head. This is not a coach who is simply bitter because he lost a recruiting battle. This is a coach [Weber] with a record of doing things the right way that lost a recruit to a coach [Sampson] that has a history of cheating.

Now how and why is all this relevant to the University of Florida?

It’s relevant because Florida has been going head to head with Indiana for recruits. For example, just this weekend, the Hoosiers had 2009 recruits Dexter Strickland (6-3, 175, Elizabeth, NJ St. Patrick’s), Lance Stephenson (6-6, 200, Brooklyn, NY Abraham Lincoln) and Stephan Van Treese (6-8, 225, Indianapolis, IN Lawrence North) on campus for unofficial visits.

It is relevant because Billy Donovan and his University of Florida staff play by the NCAA rules. They don’t cheat and they know that if they did, Jeremy Foley would send them packing pronto. That’s the way things are done at Florida. You either play by the rules or you’re gone. Foley has turned an athletic program that was tainted by brushes with the NCAA into one that is a model of integrity during his nearly 16 years on the job as athletic director and he should be given all the credit in the world for his insistence that every coach and every Florida booster plays by the rules.

I’m sure Indiana thinks it really put the hammer on Kelvin Sampson by denying him a $500,000 bonus, but the man already makes $1.1 million a year and he’s been denied his bonus the last two years (one at Oklahoma and one at Indiana) because he cheats. I know $1.1 million doesn’t go quite as far as it used to, but it’s still plenty of money, far more than the average college basketball coach makes.

This is reality: Indiana knew what it was getting when it hired Sampson. Now that he’s done what everybody knew he would do, the punishment should be far more severe than what Indiana is offering up.

My hope is that the NCAA steps in on this one. One scholarship? Give me a break. You want to make the punishment fit the crime, why not eliminate all scholarships offered for the recruiting class of 2008? Better yet, why not eliminate all the 2008 scholarships and jettison Kelvin Sampson and his staff. That would send a message loud and clear — if you harbor cheaters, then the price you pay is going to be severe.

If the NCAA really wants people to take them seriously, then they need to send a loud and clear message starting with Indiana basketball.

Previous articleKentucky vs. Gators to air on CBS
Next articleA couple of minutes with Adam Allen
Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.