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Coaching Under a Black Cloud

November 26, 2008

Indiana University and two of its former men’s basketball coaches were penalized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association Tuesday for major recruiting violations and unethical conduct. Although Indiana was spared the NCAA’s harshest punishments -- such as the vacation of records or a postseason ban -- the two former coaches received lengthy restrictions on their recruiting activities at the college level.

The NCAA’s Division I Committee on Infractions found that Kelvin Sampson, Indiana's former head basketball coach, knowingly violated recruiting limits that the committee had placed on him because of violations he committed in a previous job, and then lied about doing so during an investigation. Soon after Sampson was hired by Indiana in March 2006, he and his former coaching staff at the University of Oklahoma were found guilty of placing hundreds of telephone calls to high school juniors and seniors in violation of NCAA recruiting rules.

Indiana self-imposed stricter regulations on Sampson in the wake of those previous violations, which Sampson and his staff and Indiana promptly violated, the infractions panel found.

The committee’s report on the violations notes that Rob Senderoff, Indiana's former assistant men’s basketball coach, put Sampson in touch with numerous prospective recruits and their parents by way of prohibited three-way calls and conversations in which he “handed off” the phone to Sampson. Senderoff was found guilty of knowingly committing these impermissible recruiting actions and then lying about them in the subsequent investigation.

These infractions at Indiana took place in the weeks and months immediately following the news of Sampson’s infractions at Oklahoma. As such, the committee found that Indiana’s compliance staff -- given the task of monitoring Sampson’s behavior -- “placed undue emphasis on good relations with the men’s basketball staff, to the detriment of effective oversight.” The report notes that the university did not give Sampson the “heightened scrutiny” required of its hiring of him, and concludes that Indiana failed to monitor the basketball program, but it stopped short of the more serious finding of "lack of institutional control."

“This is an extremely serious case,” said Josephine Potuto, chair of the infractions committee and constitutional law professor at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. “Here, two separate coaches deliberately flouted their responsibility.”

Apart from a standard three-year probation, all of the other penalties that the infractions panel imposed on Indiana, the university had earlier imposed on itself. They include reducing the number of off-campus recruiting days and limiting the recruiting activity of its coaching staff before the current season. The harshest of the self-imposed penalties upheld by the committee -- removing one men's basketball scholarship -- leaves the university with nine this season.

In declining to impose significant new penalties on the university itself, the infractions panel took into account the "decimation" that has already occurred in the Indiana basketball program in the wake of the violations. After Sampson resigned from Indiana in February and his coaching staff was dismantled, only two underclassmen returned to the program -- one of whom was on scholarship. The other players either left for the National Basketball Association or transferred to other universities with hopes of playing again. Potuto said the committee also took into consideration the university’s 50-year record free of major NCAA infractions (before now) -- a fact that Michael A. McRobbie, Indiana president, said he hoped the committee would remember.

Indiana officials expressed their satisfaction with the NCAA ruling late Tuesday but said they thought they had sufficiently overseen Sampson during his tenure.

“From the very beginning of these proceedings, we cooperated fully with the NCAA and, in fact, imposed severe recruiting penalties on our men’s basketball program,” McRobbie said in an Indiana news release about the committee’s findings. “Although I still believe the failure to monitor charge was unjustified, I am glad that the NCAA has accepted our self-imposed penalties with no further sanctions except a three-year probationary period.”

Sampson, now an assistant coach with the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, received one of the NCAA’s harshest penalties for an individual -- a five-year order that would impose significant recruiting limitations on any college that sought to hire him. Among these include an outright ban on off-campus recruiting during the academic year and both on- and off-campus recruiting during the summer for three years. After this, these restrictions loosen, but Sampson’s mobility as a recruiter would still be limited for the two remaining years on his show-cause penalty. If Sampson decides to coach at a college again in the next five years, then the institution that hires him must abide by the sanctions imposed by the committee or appeal to it for a change in policy.

“I’m deeply disappointed in today’s finding by the NCAA, but the accusations at hand are things that happened on my watch and therefore I will take responsibility,” Sampson said in a statement. “I am truly sorry that there were so many people who were hurt in this situation. For the sake of everyone involved, including my family, it is time to move on.”

Senderoff, recently hired by Kent State University as an assistant men’s basketball coach, received a three-year show-cause penalty, worded similarly to Sampson’s, for his involvement in the case. This bars him from on- and off-campus recruiting for one year and then places limits on his ability to do so for the remaining two years.

Despite the details of the committee’s findings, Kent State officials say they plan to keep Senderoff on the coaching staff of their men’s basketball team.

“We accept the NCAA infractions committee’s sanction on [Senderoff],” said Laing Kennedy, Kent State's athletics director, noting that the university was aware of Senderoff’s previous activity when it hired him in April. “He was on our staff prior to going to Indiana, and we’re committed to keeping him. What he does on the court far outweighs these sanctions. He got caught up in a situation that he didn’t handle properly at that time. Now that he’s on our staff, he’s under our watch. And I feel that he has performed in a diligent manner.”

 

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