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Tuesday, October 11, 2011
What in the world was Tom Crean thinking?

By Eamonn Brennan

If any program in the country should know that it pays to observe the NCAA rule book -- even when the rules are minor or procedural in nature -- it's Indiana.

Nearly four years ago, Kelvin Sampson brought himself and the storied program to ruin, and for what? Violating his probation and the minor recruiting restrictions it entailed. In other words: phone calls. Sampson left, Indiana was placed on probation, a talent exodus ensued and the Hoosiers have spent the past three seasons trying to dig out of the hole their former coach's entirely minor -- and entirely silly -- violations caused.

Given that history, you'd think current IU coach Tom Crean wouldn't make a similar mistake. You'd think a front-row seat for the 6-25 season the proud Hoosiers posted in 2008-09 would have been enough to remind him of the disproportionate damage seemingly minor NCAA violations can cause.

You'd think he'd know better than to visit a heralded recruit at his high school one day after the end of the NCAA's mandated fall contact period.

Apparently, you'd have thought wrong.

From ESPN.com's Pat Forde:
Indiana has self-reported a secondary NCAA rules violation by the men's basketball staff involving blue-chip recruit Gary Harris, according to multiple sources.

The school acknowledged to ESPN.com that coach Tom Crean committed the violation while recruiting an unnamed student-athlete in Indianapolis last week.

In a statement released Tuesday, the school said, "Coach Crean immediately reported an inadvertent recruiting contact violation to our compliance office, and we are following our normal procedures."

To be clear: This is a secondary violation, one that IU has self-reported. It happens. It is not the end of the world.

It is, however, a problem. Indiana was placed on three years of probation in November of 2008. It is not yet November of 2011. That means the Hoosiers may well have committed a secondary violation while on probation. The NCAA committee on infractions may extend probation or levy new sanctions against any school that violates probationary terms.

If that sounds scary to IU fans, well, it's supposed to. In reality, any punishments arising from this mistake are likely to be minor. It may simply end with an extension of the probation. More likely than not, the effect felt by the program is going to be minimal.

Whatever the eventual consequences may be, one can't help but wonder: Why?

According to Forde's story, the school explained the visit as a calendar mixup -- the classic case of an assistant coach mistakenly telling a head coach he was clear to visit a recruit on the wrong date. That explanation is difficult to buy, because the Oct. 5 date is not exactly obscure. It's a hard and fast fact of recruiting life.

The question, then, is why violate a rule that every coach knows like the back of his hand? If you're going to run adrift of the rules in search of a recruiting advantage -- if you're going to cheat -- why do it like this? People notice when the Indiana coach shows up at a high school in Indianapolis. They send emails. Those emails get back to people who know when the contact period ends. Those people start poking around.

Why take the risk at all? Is Crean feeling the pressure of his job, the expectations of the fans, and acting irrationally as a result? Is he worried that the Hoosiers are considered long shots behind rivals Michigan State, Purdue and Kentucky for Harris according to most recruiting experts? Or -- as the school has asserted -- was he just being careless?

I don't know the answer, and we're probably not going to get one out of Crean. I wonder if he really knows. But it's hard to imagine this veteran coach not understanding the stakes.

If anyone should know that the silliest and most minor violations can still wreak havoc on your program, that person is the head basketball coach at Indiana University. Yet here we are. How baffling is that?