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Thursday, February 14, 2008
Indiana Caught in a No Win Situation

It was only 19 months ago that I posted on Indiana University's questionable hiring of Oklahoma University's former head basketball coach Kelvin Sampson. Immediately following the ruling of the NCAA Committee on Infractions that Sampson had made 233 of 577 "impermissible" phone calls to recruits while at Oklahoma from 2000-04, IU athletics director Rick Greenspan and then IU President Adam Herbert publicly commented that Sampson is a man of "highest integrity" who simply made an error in judgment. Now Sampson faces more serious allegations of NCAA rules violations, including that he knowingly violated recruiting restrictions and gave IU and the NCAA's enforcement staff "false or misleading information" during their investigations (in other words, that he lied). The NCAA's enforcement staff sent a "Notice of Allegations" outlining five potentially major violations to IU President Michael A. McRobbie on Friday, which was released by the school yesterday.

Mark Alesia of the Indianapolis Star provided all the details in a very informative piece yesterday, which included a timeline of events over the past four months:

Oct. 3, 2007: In a self-report to the NCAA, IU details “more than 100” phone calls that violated the restrictions on Sampson and his staff.

Oct. 14, 2007: IU announces Sampson violated NCAA recruiting sanctions by participating in 3-way phone calls and imposed three penalties: forfeiture of $500,000 scheduled raise; loss of one scholarship; extended staff recruiting restrictions. “The rules that we broke were mistakes, but they weren’t mistakes with us hitting our chests thinking that we don’t have to worry about this,” Sampson said. Ice Miller, an Indianapolis law firm, conducted the investigation. “We had what we thought was a very thorough investigation,” athletic director Rick Greenspan said.

Oct. 16, 2007: IU announces assistant coaches made more than 100 impermissible calls. It initially reported 35 such calls.

Oct. 30, 2007: IU releases the Ice Miller report, which details Sampson’s participation in impermissible three-way phone calls.

Nov. 1, 2007: Sampson tells The Star he gave investigators “the right answer” when he said he did not knowingly participate in any three-way phone calls.

Feb. 13, 2008: After its own investigation, the NCAA charges IU with five potential “major” violations concerning recruiting by Sampson and his

What do you do right now if you're the IU president in this situation? IU has until May 8 to respond to the notice of allegations. Do you fire Sampson? It was just announced this evening that IU is launching an internal investigation into the allegations released yesterday in an attempt to accelerate the adjudication process involving Sampson. At a news conference tomorrow, McRobbie will explain the investigation procedure and name those who will conduct the investigation. Greenspan hopes to offer a recommendation within a matter of days.

According to Alesia, among the definitions of “just cause” termination in Sampson’s contract include (1) “a significant, intentional, repetitive violation of any law, rule (or) regulation” of the NCAA; (2) “failure to maintain an environment in which the coaching staff complies with NCAA … regulations”; and (3) in IU's “sole judgment” Sampson’s conduct “reflects adversely upon the university and its athletic program.”

It is in IU's best interest right now to perform a thorough internal investigation, and to do it as quickly as possible. First, if IU delays the process and it is later determined that IU knew or should have known that the allegations are true, it risks being tagged with a "lack of institutional control". Second, if Sampson is fired immediately, and before a ruling by the NCAA Committee on Infractions, it bolsters his claim that IU fired him without just cause. But if prior to firing Sampson IU performs an investigation and the investigation reveals that the allegations are true, it lends support for a just cause termination pursuant to (2) and (3).

UPDATE (2/15/08): Mark Alesia followed up with a good question and answer piece today, Analysis: What it all means.


Prof. Karcher,
This situation seems analogous to the Jim O'Brien firing at OSU a couple of years ago. I agree that IU must take immediate action, but not so quick as to increase the likelihood that IU will suffer further loss thru employment lawsuits from Coach Sampson. With outdated facilities and impending sanctions forthcoming, IU will need all the money and good publicity they can get to ensure the future head coach and blue chip players still find IU's program appealing.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 2/15/2008 8:42 AM  

You have to love the irony of Bob Knight retiring at the same time that Indiana Basketball gets into serious NCAA trouble under Knight's successor. Say what you will about Knight and his personality and the way he treated people (which is not so different, really, from the way a lot of coaches treat players, assistants, etc), he ran a clean program and his players graduated. Indiana wanted to get the "opposite" of Knight when it hired his first real successor 19 months ago. (Mike Davis was something of an accidental hire and less of a conscious choice by the school). But there are many "opposites" of Knight, some of which are not, in fact, positive; I guess IU did not count on that.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 2/15/2008 9:06 AM  


Thanks for the comment. O'Brien is a different situation. Although O'Brien was terminated prior to an NCAA determination, OSU's termination wasn't supported by the for cause termination language in O'Brien's contract, which required "a material breach" by O'Brien or "an NCAA violation that results in a major infraction investigation and which results in a finding of a lack of institutional control or sanctions imposed upon Ohio State".

So while I agree that a just cause termination would be more "fool proof" if IU waits for a ruling, I see two main distinctions. First, the for cause termination language in Sampson's contract is much more favorable to IU than OSU's contract with O'Brien. Second, Sampson's alleged conduct (lying and repetitive) is more serious than O'Brien's.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 2/15/2008 9:19 AM  

a rather insensitive headline given the shootings at ISU

Anonymous Anonymous -- 2/15/2008 1:11 PM  


Thanks for bringing it to my attention. That definitely didn't cross my mind when I wrote the post. I didn't mean to offend anybody, and I will change the title right now.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 2/15/2008 3:47 PM  

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