College sports will break your heart, assuming anyone out there is dumb enough to still love the thing. Me, I'm dumb. I still love college sports. Which is why the news this week out of Nebraska and Indiana crushed me again.
The lesson from Nebraska and Indiana was clear, and it's the same lesson that has underscored college sports for decades:
|Kelvin Sampson, you're getting a pass of sorts, for your debauchery. (Getty Images)|
A winning cheater won't.
Nebraska fired athletic director Steve Pederson on Monday, two days after the football team's worst home loss in 49 years. That loss was overseen by coach Bill Callahan, who was hired by Pederson. The school didn't have the guts or the financial wherewithal to fire the coach, so it sacrificed the guy who hired him. How that will help Nebraska beat Texas A&M this week, I couldn't tell you. Neither could Nebraska's leadership. But its fans were angry, and angry fans are the tail wagging college football these days. So, goodbye Steve Pederson.
And hello Kelvin Sampson, you recidivist cheater. You tried and convicted -- and then convicted all over again -- con artist. Sampson will keep his job as Indiana's basketball coach despite being found guilty of breaking NCAA rules for the second time, and at a second school, in 17 months.
You've got to hand it Sampson. He didn't just break a significant and obvious NCAA rule. He broke the same damn rule he broke at Oklahoma, where he was found guilty of making 577 illegal phone calls to recruits from 2000-04.
This time, Indiana found Sampson guilty of taking part in 10 illegal phone calls to recruits since being hired by Indiana last year. The school believes Sampson's assistant coaches committed additional violations by making undocumented recruiting calls from home. A report on that is due soon, but in the meantime, Indiana apologists are wondering what's the big deal about extra phone calls. Sampson is probably telling people the same thing he told them in Oklahoma, that he's not cheating opposing coaches -- he's outworking them.
Kelvin Sampson is a charlatan. He has no shame, no remorse, and no ethics. But he still has one of the best jobs in college basketball. Indiana athletics director Rick Greenspan announced that the school would give up a scholarship next season, and that Sampson would not receive a scheduled $500,000 raise, but Greenspan made it clear that Sampson would not be fired.
That's no surprise. With one of the best jobs in college basketball to sell, Greenspan picked the cheating Sampson -- whose crimes at Oklahoma were already known -- to take over at Indiana. Sampson had to spend his first year on campus literally on campus, unable to recruit on the road because of NCAA sanctions. Hoosier Nation was so proud.
Still, Sampson did what he does. He won bigger than people expected, taking Mike Davis' bullcrap roster and winning 21 games overall, going 10-6 in the Big Ten and reaching the second round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament. One of the ironies of this is that Sampson can coach. He's really, really good. He doesn't have to cheat to win, though he obviously feels he does. Cheating is a drug. Sampson's an addict.
Make no mistake about this fact: Sampson's skill as a coach, and his overachieving first season with the Hoosiers, is why he's still employed by Indiana. If Indiana had stumbled last season -- finishing well down the Big Ten standings and falling short of the NCAA Tournament while struggling on the recruiting front -- Sampson would be gone. I believe that with all my heart.
If you don't believe it too, you're not paying attention. That's the lesson from Nebraska -- losers are expendable. The lesson from Indiana? Winners are forgiven. And Sampson promises to win much bigger than his 21-11 first season in Bloomington. He stole the state's best recruit in years, Eric Gordon, from a verbal commitment to Illinois. Sampson apparently stole him legally if questionably, by hiring people close to Gordon and then by pummeling the Illinois recruit with unethical but legal recruiting pitches. Gordon is a freshman this season, probably one of the best freshmen in college basketball, and he's expected to combine with senior forward D.J. White to lead the Hoosiers deep into the 2008 NCAA Tournament.
Indiana's going to be good, so Sampson's not going anywhere. If an athletics director should have been fired this week, it wasn't Steve Pederson. It was Rick Greenspan. He's the idiot who hired the radioactive Sampson, and he's the idiot who got burned when Sampson continued to do what he does: cheat.
But Indiana basketball is winning. Fans are happy. So Greenspan will keep his job, as will the cheater he hired.
Nebraska football is losing. Fans are miserable. So Pederson is gone, and Callahan is probably next to go. I can't argue that Nebraska football has been in good hands. Clearly it has not.
Pederson obviously made a mistake when he hired Callahan, and it was a mistake that has surely been noted by every athletics director in the country: Pederson didn't hire a coach willing to win at any costs.
Greenspan did at Indiana. And he has the weekly paycheck to prove it.