The NCAA's predictable injustice

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

Tom Crean was hired as Indiana head coach in April.

(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The NCAA manual is thick, detailed and contains about a million bylaws. None of them state "Indiana must field a winning basketball team."

Yet there was Josephine Potuto, the chair of the committee on infractions, claiming that one reason the NCAA had sympathy for Indiana in its major violations case was the Hoosiers might not field a winning basketball team this year.

"The committee did note the current condition of the program," Potuto said.

IU had already fired coach Kelvin Sampson and come up with its own sanctions prior to last month's ruling. It's not that additional sanctions were necessarily needed.

The NCAA just didn't have to base its satisfaction with IU on an illogical (and inaccurate) standard.

What criteria did the NCAA use to judge the "condition of the program" (it's actually quite good)? Why should anyone care that a cheating school might lose some games (isn't that the point)? And how did Potuto figure Indiana was, presumably, going to struggle since the Hoosiers record at the time was just 2-2?

The statement spoke to the NCAA's history of going easy on powerhouse programs while burying small schools.

Few places have more power than Indiana. Its basketball program is one of the NCAA's top television draws. Its former campus leader is current NCAA president Myles Brand.

Maybe that's why the NCAA feels bad for Indiana's current condition.

And what condition is that?

IU's condition was strong enough to lure a top-line coach, Tom Crean, to replace Kelvin Sampson, who was fired for his role in the scandal. It's wealthy enough to soon open a $15 million practice facility. It has enough fans to fill 17,000-plus seat Assembly Hall. And it had enough appeal to sign a top-10 recruiting class this fall despite the specter of further sanctions.

Almost every school in America would trade "conditions" with Indiana. It won't be long before it's back contending for national championships.

The current team is 5-4 and isn't competitive against big teams. So what? Even if it were to lose every game, failing to win is not a punishment. IU has no birthright to victory.

So far, the Hoosiers haven't experienced one bad season. Before firing Sampson late last year, they won 25 games.

Due to a youthful roster (more on why that is later) current expectations are low. But the games have yet to be played. To cite the "condition of the program" is to assume there will be a losing season. It's a judicial decision based on game prediction.

What if IU actually winds up with a winning record? Would it get an extra year of probation because its condition wasn't so bad after all?

Probably not, since as this case shows, even when caught breaking the rules, it's good to be Indiana.

For decades the NCAA has been accused of selectively enforcing its rules based on the political and earning power of the offending institutions. It's an oft-repeated topic here.

Under Brand, the NCAA has taken it to a new level. With the Thanksgiving week ruling, Indiana was the first major men's basketball program found guilty of a major infraction in 25 months. The NCAA hasn't caught a major football program in 17 months and counting. The previous two decades it averaged seven such cases a year.

It's had no problem continuing to hammer the St. Augustine Colleges and Texas Southerns of the world, of course.

Indiana, which hired Sampson fresh off a major infractions case at Oklahoma only to watch him commit the same offenses under limited supervision, could've been made an example.

The NCAA opted against it. It deemed IU's self-imposed penalties sufficient. You can't expect a committee on infractions that hasn't done anything lately to start now.

If the NCAA had limited its explanation to praising the school's efforts and noting its 50-year record of compliance, that would've been fine. But it didn't.

Instead it fell for the argument that the team is young and lacking talent because IU blew everything up in response to the scandal.

Which while effective isn't true.

Here's how the IU roster was depleted.

Three key players from last year – D.J. White, Mike White and Lance Stemler were all seniors and out of eligibility. They were gone no matter what happened.

Freshman guard Eric Gordon did what everyone knew he would, turn pro after one season. To claim Gordon's departure was in any way associated with firing Sampson and self-imposing sanctions is folly.

He only became a rent-a-star for IU when Sampson got him to break a verbal commitment to Illinois, a move that resulted in cries of unethical behavior from Champaign.

Starters Armon Bassett and Jamarcus Ellis were dismissed by interim coach Dan Dakich for repeated violations of team rules.

Crean then dismissed Brandon McGee for "academic and team guideline violations" and DeAndre Thomas for unspecified reasons. Eli Holman left after a meeting with Crean got so heated police were summoned to the basketball offices.

Essentially, IU had numerous head cases and academic risks. That they didn't make it is what often happens with risky recruits. IU gambled and lost. There's no reason to reward or excuse it.

"We fully expect our student-athletes to accept the responsibilities academically, athletically and socially that come with representing [Indiana]," Crean said in a statement announcing the dismissals and setting a new (or old) course for the program.

The school actually tried to draw credit out of the player's foibles. It argued firing Sampson caused a breakdown in the monitoring process.

Only the NCAA could buy that one.

If it took just one month for players to get kicked out because Sampson wasn't around, it says more about IU's program before the firing, not after.

One other player, Jordan Crawford, transferred to Xavier on his own accord. This was clearly due to the firing of Sampson.

Transfers happen in college athletics though. If IU deserves sympathy because it lost one then what should it get for accepting Jeremiah Rivers after two years playing at Georgetown?

The only other applicable self-sanction was the loss of a single scholarship for this year only. Crean might have saved that for future recruits anyway, but give IU credit for being down one freshman.

The reason for the thin roster has everything to do with the compromised actions of the school during the Sampson era and nothing to do with the supposedly pious decision to end it.

The NCAA didn't just think otherwise, it somehow determined that not only were losses coming but that the entire program's condition was troubled.

Indiana, one of the nation's richest and most popular programs, apparently deserved a break because it hired a coach with a track record of major violations who promptly committed major violations while building an out-of-control team that predictably imploded.

And now, because Indiana's not winning (or might not win) like it did under Bob Knight, IU's suffered enough. The potential losing is itself a sanction.

Texas Southern didn't get that consideration.

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