- Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer
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(Editor's Note: When originally published, this post stated that Jeff Meyer was fired before Kelvin Sampson at Indiana. He was not. He was let go at the end of the season with a severance package. ESPN.com apologizes for this error.)
Beau Archibald. Patrick Sellers. Rob Senderoff.
In mafia parlance, they’re your henchmen. If Disney created basketball, they’d be the evil minions.
They do the dirty work and when necessary make like Secret Servicemen and take the bullets.
The first two served as the collateral damage at Connecticut, canned as soon as the university found itself in the NCAA crossfire. The latter was the initial expenditures at Indiana, fired so head coach Kelvin Sampson could keep his job … before the axe dropped on Sampson himself.
Connecticut released its self-imposed sanctions on Friday, a 700-page, textbook-long response filled with black-streaked redacted names.
The university admitted it committed major violations, including hundreds of impermissible phone calls and free tickets for high school coaches and assorted hangers-on, smacked itself with two years probation and knocked one scholarship from its ledger books for each of the next two seasons.
Athletic director Jeff Hathaway admitted “that there were areas of oversight that needed to be addressed,’’ and university president Philip E. Austin said it is clear that "mistakes were made."
But the man in charge of the office where the oversights occurred and the mistakes were made?
He knew none of it.
The university insisted that the enforcement staff’s charge that coach Jim Calhoun “failed to promote an atmosphere for compliance,’’ is not supported by the evidence.
The buck, according to the university, stopped at Calhoun’s desk.
Certainly passing the buck did.
In his own response, Calhoun said he wasn’t involved with the improper benefits, did not know they were being provided and "made reasonable efforts" to try and avoid the situation.
All this bad stuff going on -- people dialing up Josh Nochimson (a manager-turned-agent who was taking care of recruit Nate Miles), leaving tickets, making improper text messages -- it all happened just a few doors down from Calhoun’s office. But he didn’t know?
It’s amazing, really. If you asked him, a college coach could probably tell you his players’ class schedules, how their love lives are going and how much weight they can bench press. They know when a recruit is playing and what school he is visiting.
But when the NCAA comes sniffing around, they all go Sergeant Schultz.
Suddenly the men who know everything know nothing.
And nine times out of 10, the university will have their back.
Florida State practically twisted itself into a pretzel trying to get Bobby Bowden’s vacated wins back. Sampson kept coaching at Indiana until the NCAA dropped the hammer.
Butch Davis? Still employed.
Tennessee’s public wrist slap of Bruce Pearl may have been transparent, but it is the first time I can recall that a university took a coach to task before the NCAA told it to.
And the reason is simple: cash.
College teams need branding and when the athletes change over every few years, the branding falls to the guy on the sidelines.
I say Duke, you say Mike Krzyzewski. I say Penn State, you say Joe Paterno.
Calhoun is more than a basketball coach. He’s a basketball icon, a Hall of Famer who is a living, breathing advertisement for the university.
A stain on his resume is a stain on the university’s image, so the university will admit that the potted plant in the corner of the office committed an NCAA violation before Calhoun did.
A year ago, Calhoun came under fire for his salary. Detractors argued that in tough economic times, his $1.6 million deal was out of line and suggested that the state’s priorities were out of whack when the basketball coach was the state’s highest paid employee.
This offseason, Connecticut gave Calhoun a new deal, one that gives him $400,000 more this year, $700,000 more next season and will pay him $13 million over five years.
UConn will pay him without apology because of the attention Calhoun brings to the university.
And their decision to defend Calhoun to the NCAA?
Consider it little more than protecting an investment.