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End of a sad saga

IU had few good options in getting rid of Sampson

Posted: Friday February 22, 2008 8:14PM; Updated: Friday February 22, 2008 10:15PM
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Kelvin Sampson accepted a $750,000 buyout that includes a provision that prevents him from filing suit seeking further damages.
Kelvin Sampson accepted a $750,000 buyout that includes a provision that prevents him from filing suit seeking further damages.
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The road getting there wasn't pretty but Indiana's weeklong quest for a divorce with Kelvin Sampson ended at the best possible destination.

All day long Friday, speculation ran rampant over which bad option IU would choose. If the school fired Sampson without cause, it faced a protracted and potentially expensive lawsuit. If it let the NCAA infractions process run its course, it would have had to wait until the fall to cut Sampson loose. That would have meant losing a summer's worth of recruiting and then looking for a replacement at a time when no respectable college coach would leave his program.

If Indiana had waited for the NCAA to rule on this matter, it's likely the penalties would have been even more severe. The NCAA prefers that schools police and punish themselves. If IU hadn't fallen on its sword, the NCAA would probably have plunged it even deeper. The school still has to go through the infractions process but they've done all they can to mitigate the outcome.

Clearly, Sampson had no stomach for a long fight. He also realized just how precarious his situation was. Even though Sampson was in the second year of a seven-year, $7.3 million contract, he accepted a buyout of just $750,000. Remember, former Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien won a $2.5 million judgement because the school fired him in the midst of an NCAA investigation --- even though the NCAA later found the program guilty of committing major violations. If Sampson had forced Indiana's hand and let the school fire him for cause, he may have ended up with more money. He wasn't willing to take that chance.

The bottom line is IU understood that even if it did go through the infractions process, the chances of Sampson being exonerated were next to nil. Remember, this is not like a court of law, where the NCAA is the prosecutor who presents his case, followed by Indiana's defense, with the matter then being decided by a jury. The NCAA is the jury. The verdict was for all intents and purposes preordained.

Many people have asked, if Sampson committed NCAA violations, why couldn't the school have fired him without having to pay him any money? The answer is that the only entity that is able to establish a violation is the NCAA. Athletic director Rick Greenspan can't do it, and neither can IU president Michael McRobbie. So it's not that Indiana can't fire Sampson for committing violations. It's that he hasn't been officially found guilty of committing them.

The reality is, Sampson's fate was sealed the moment McRobbie announced the school's investigation into the NCAA's charges would only take seven days. There's a reason the NCAA gave Indiana 90 days to respond to the notice of allegations: It's a massive undertaking. It involves going through boxes and boxes of files, interviewing dozens of witnesses and compiling a mountain of information. The only thing Indiana could do inside of a week was read through the evidence the NCAA had already collected. How could that produce any other outcome other than acknowledging the charges were legitimate?

So Sampson walked off with his money Friday and Indiana moved forward on its season. Sampson's former players are understandably devastated, but I doubt they would really carry out a boycott. For all the pain and humiliation this situation has caused, Indiana fans should feel fortunate it ended so cleanly. In Dan Dakich, IU has a capable steward who played for and coached under Bob Knight and was the head coach at Bowling Green for 10 years. The Hoosiers have enough talent to win the Big Ten and reach a Final Four. And the school will have ample opportunity to find a permanent replacement once the season is over. Make no mistake: This is still one of the top five jobs in America. It will draw plenty of interest.

I know this whole episode has been a nightmare for Indiana. This is a program that is as proud of its integrity as it is of its championships and it won't soon recover from this gaping wound. But at least the worst part is over now. It's time for the healing to begin.