Saturday, May 13, 2000

Indiana has to do something

        The end is near for Bobby Knight. He has made too many enemies, and they have begun to smell blood.

        College basketball's preeminent bully has been weakened, and many of those he has assaulted, insulted, menaced and maligned are lining up to testify about his temperamental transgressions.

        What has emerged is a progressively unflattering portrait of a coach out of control, with too much material from too many independent sources to explain, excuse or ignore.

        After 29 years of administrative negligence, Indiana University has been forced to confront Knight's serial savagery and the school's feeble oversight of its most famous employee. This is an intensely awkward position. If Knight is to be fired, IU administrators will need to construct a cover story that accounts for their abject failure to discipline him for nearly three decades and the urgent need to get rid of him now.

        The operative word here is hypocrisy. Knight's methods are well-known and his misdeeds extensively documented. Calling him on the carpet at this late date is almost comical. It conjures the scene in Casablanca where Captain Renault must invent an excuse to close Rick Blaine's casino.

        “I'm shocked — SHOCKED — to find that gambling is going on in here,” Claude Rains tells Humphrey Bogart, just before the croupier delivers his winnings.

Defy spin control That said, it's hard to see how Knight can survive, how any public institution can condone his continuing embarrassment.
        The Neil Reed videotape is not, by itself, grounds for dismissal. Yet there is a frightening frequency to Knight's misbehavior, and a cumulative effect. Now that his Hoosiers no longer contend for national titles, what were once seen as eccentricities are now viewed as excess.

        Even if you assume that some of the specific testimony about him is exaggerated, perhaps even fabricated, there are some scenes so vivid, so vulgar and so unimpeachably witnessed that they defy spin control.

        Consider the episode in which Knight is alleged to have thrown a flower pot against a glass picture frame in a rage against his boss' secretary.

        Imagine your mother in the place of Jeannette Hartgraves, the IU secretary who has repeatedly incurred Knight's wrath and claims to have been struck by his shrapnel. Then try telling me about his graduation rates.

        That this story, which dates to the late 1980s, did not surface until this week speaks to Knight's influence and intimidation. But now that they have heard it — and Lord knows what else — the IU administration can no longer absolve Knight without incurring legal liability for his future tantrums.

Drawing a line
        According to one report, four of the nine members on the university's board of trustees already favor Knight's firing. Others may be withholding their opinions in deference to due process.

        If Knight is not fired outright, he will likely be confronted with a set of conditions designed to prompt his resignation: public apologies, anger management therapy and a “zero tolerance” code of conduct.

        Trustee William G. Mays, a Knight supporter, told the Indianapolis Star his sense of the board's po sition was that “a slap on the wrist doesn't do a whole lot, and what we need to do is draw a line in the sand.”

        A line in the sand is an improvement on a head in the sand. It's a big change at Indiana.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail at

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