Indiana freshmen Peter Jurkin and Hanner Mosquera-Perea each received nine-game suspensions Tuesday evening because they accepted thousands of dollars in gifts from a Hoosiers alum considered by the NCAA to be a university booster.
Sounds straightforward enough, right? Well, sure, until you scratch below the surface.
The "booster" is a Bloomington-based youth basketball coach named Mark Adams, who is the Venezuelan-born Perea's legal guardian and the former AAU coach of both players with Indiana Elite.
The gifts included plane tickets, meals and housing for both players and a laptop, phone and clothing for Perea, all legal under NCAA rules were Adams not classified as a booster.
And the only reason the NCAA has labeled Adams to be a booster is a result of $185 in donations he made to Indiana's Varsity Club between 1986 and 1992 — long before he knew of Jurkin's and Perea's existence or even became a basketball coach.
By the letter of the NCAA rules, perhaps Adams is indeed an Indiana booster for life as a result of the $30 per year he gave the school 20-something years ago. By any modicum of common sense, however, punishing two kids for small-change payments that happened before they were born is too harsh at best and illogical and flat-out wrong at worst.
"There's no question they're contributors in this program right away, but the bigger concern right now is for both Hanner and Peter individually," Indiana coach Tom Crean told SiriusXM's Jeff Goodman and Bruce Pearl on Tuesday night. "They don't really know why this is happening and it's hard to explain it to them because I don't really know why this is happening."
Why would the NCAA go out of its way to punish Perea and Jurkin? Well, one possibility is the organization may be doing it as a way to penalize Adams and Indiana for violations it can't prove occurred.
Since Adams lives in Bloomington, went to Indiana and had a son who worked on Crean's staff for a while, the suspicion in some circles is he is funneling players to the Hoosiers. Two previous foreign-born players whom Adams helped bring to this country went on to sign with Indiana, though one never played for the Hoosiers and the other, Tijon Jobe, contributed little during his tenure.
Adams has long denied exerting undue influence over his players, a claim he reiterated last year when ESPN.com published a lengthy investigative piece questioning the coach's relationship with Indiana. Crean has also correctly pointed out Indiana has failed to land players Adams brought over from Africa and coached with Indiana Elite, most notably former top 100 prospect Emmanuel Negedu, who signed with Tennessee in 2008.
If investigators had uncovered proof Indiana is donating money to Adams' charitable foundation in exchange for his influence, then by all means the NCAA should have doled out stiff punishments to Adams, the program and the kids involved. But since it appears the NCAA has no money trail or evidence corroborating that notion, its decision to punish Perea and Jurkin anyway for something so small from 20 years ago feels petty and tone deaf.
Top-ranked Indiana will survive without Perea and Jurkin for nine games, though the loss of the 6-foot-8 forward and 6-foot-11 center will certainly weaken the Hoosiers' frontcourt depth behind starters Cody Zeller and Christian Watford. Senior forward Derek Elston is also sidelined as a result of knee surgery, so freshman Jeremy Hollowell will have to play some meaningful minutes off the bench and 6-foot-6 Will Sheehey will probably have to log some time at power forward here and there.
Regardless, whether the punishment is damaging or not isn't the point. What's pertinent is that the penalty feels unfair to two kids who can't possibly understand why they won't be in uniform for Indiana's season opener this week.
"As a coach, it's one thing to be able to tell them how to attack a zone or break the press or improve their free-throw shooting," Crean said. "It's another thing when you don't have an answer for why they have to sit games out."
There's only one answer here and it isn't a good one: Sometimes the NCAA makes head-scratching rulings that simply don't make sense.
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