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'You Love Him And You Hate Him'
John Feinstein
November 19, 1986
A season spent with Indiana coach Bob Knight revealed a unique and mercurial presence
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November 19, 1986

'you Love Him And You Hate Him'

A season spent with Indiana coach Bob Knight revealed a unique and mercurial presence

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If there has ever been a college basketball program that follows NCAA rules to the letter, it is Indiana. Knight has often made his alumni unhappy because he allows them so little contact with the players. But the less alumni contact, Knight figures, the less tempted the alumni will be to try to break any rules.

But now, Alford had broken a rule. Scholarship athletes at NCAA schools weren't allowed to pose for any picture or film made by any person or organization outside the athletic department. This rule hasn't prevented athletic departments from profiting from the sale of posters featuring their athletes, hut it has prevented businesses from using college athletes to sell their products. Alford could not pose for a local department store; he understood that, but he hadn't understood that the ban extended to charitable causes.

For the better part of the next two hours Knight, Crabb and Alford were in and out of practice. Knight's mood had quickly changed to black. Alford was in for a couple of plays, then out. He and Knight were gone for 30 minutes, then back. Serious negotiations were going on. Sales of the calendar had been suspended as soon as Crabb told the sorority there was a problem. But the question was, What to do next? Calendars had been on sale. There was also the question of blame: Alford said he had told the sorority to make certain there was no problem with his posing. The women claimed Alford had made no such request. They argued this back and forth for a while before Knight told Alford it really didn't matter. "Their eligibility wasn't at stake, Steve," he said. "Yours was. You should have checked it out yourself."

There was really only one thing to do: call the NCAA and report what had happened. Given the nature of the "crime" and given Indiana's track record over the years, there was a good chance—or so it seemed—that the NCAA would let Alford off with a letter or reprimand. Knight called the NCAA enforcement office himself as soon as practice was over and explained the situation. He got the answer he had been hoping for. "They say," he reported back to his assistants, "that we should be all right."

Under NCAA rules, a player involved in something like this calendar, provided he receives no money, can be suspended for up to three games. With the game at Kentucky two days away, losing Alford for even one game was unthinkable. Knight was angry with Alford because he had been careless. But he was also relieved after his conversation with the NCAA.

But the crisis had not been averted. Shortly after lunch on Friday the NCAA called back. The infractions committee's initial ruling was that Alford would be suspended for one game. The mitigating circumstances, including the fact that Indiana had turned itself in, wouldn't get Alford off.

Knight was enraged: at the NCAA, at Alford, at the sorority, at life. He also had a decision to make. The suspension could be appealed. If it was, Alford could play at Kentucky and continue playing until the committee met formally to hear his appeal on Dec. 23. But if the committee then decided that a three-game suspension was merited, Alford would have to sit out the next three games, the third of which would be the Big Ten opener against defending champion Michigan. Given a choice between losing Alford for Michigan or Kentucky, Knight would choose Kentucky. There may have been one other factor involved in Knight's decision, although he never mentioned it: If the NCAA was going to put its foot in its mouth by making an example of Alford in this way, what better way to call attention to the NCAA's apparent selective enforcement policy than by having Alford sit out the Kentucky game?

The irony was obvious. Kentucky was one of the most penalized schools in NCAA history. It was one of two schools that has had an entire schedule canceled. In Oct. 1985, The Lexington Herald-Leader, in a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of stories, reported a pattern of alleged payoffs to former Kentucky players during the 13-year tenure of former coach Joe B. Hall. Already, the NCAA was dragging its feet in following up on the newspaper's revelations. What a scenario: Kentucky, bastion of cheating, facing Indiana, bastion of honesty, and whom had the NCAA chosen to suspend? Indiana's best player.

"For Alford not to play when all their kids are playing kills me," Knight said. "There are kids on that team right now who have gotten more crap from alumni than any players in the country. I suppose [Kentucky forward] Kenny Walker's never gotten anything. Anyone who believes that is either stupid or blind." Knight offered no particulars of any wrongdoing by Walker, and there is no known evidence that Walker has ever broken any NCAA rule.

Knight was also influenced in making his decision by his anger at Alford. To Knight's way of thinking, Alford had gotten himself in trouble by acting as if he were above the law. Later, Knight would soften on the issue, coming to understand that Alford was a good kid who had been careless. But on that frigid Friday he was angry enough to want Alford punished. Sitting out the Kentucky game would certainly be a major punishment.

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