Sunday, March 18, 2001

Knight: High risk, high reward?

Texas Tech is hoping so

        In the immortal words of Ricky Ricardo, David Schmidly has some 'splainin' to do.

        The president of Texas Tech is considering hiring Bobby Knight over the objections of at least 58 members of the university's faculty. With a faculty senate session scheduled for Wednesday, Schmidly needs to construct a cogent argument to justify the employment of college basketball's most chronic cretin, the serial bully late of Indiana University, the heaver of flower pots and the humiliater of innocents.

        Schmidly needs to figure out how such a man fits in an academic environment. He should be able to articulate what putting Knight on the payroll would say about the institution. He has to reconcile the risks of employing such a combustible personality in such a high-profile position.

        Or he could just come clean and admit that it's all about money.

        Texas Tech has a new basketball arena and an ancient problem — more ambition than opportunity. The school aspires to be big-time but is sadly situated in low-rent Lubbock. To attract the kind of athletes necessary to compete on a national level, Texas Tech must take some chances. It must overlook problems that would raise hackles at other institutions of higher learning. It must dare to be different, hold its breath and hope.

        “A lot of people feel that Tech can't become big-time,” Dan Law, of the school's athletic council, told the Dallas Morning News. “But just you back off and watch. Bobby Knight can put us there. We can win with him. I think he's still got 10 good years left.”

        Few self-respecting schools could hire Knight at this stage of his career, but he's an ideal candidate on those campuses with inferiority complexes. It is not much of a stretch to suggest Texas Tech has generated more national notice in interviewing The General than in everything else it has ever done. Knight is guaranteed to raise the university's profile and its revenues, to put its athletic program on the map and the networks and elevate Red Raider hoops with hydraulic efficiency.

        It is, to be sure, a seductive sales pitch. Knight won three NCAA championships at Indiana while adhering to the rules and graduating his players. His tragedy is that his lofty values and laudable achievements are forever diminished by his abusive behavior.

        Were it not for that conspicuous character flaw, a school such as Texas Tech would be hard-pressed to compete for Knight's services. He would be in demand in places more conducive to winning, or would have remained a revered icon in Bloomington until retirement. He might be a candidate at Michigan instead of a pariah Wolverines athletic director Bill Martin has rejected out of hand.

        Schmidly might argue that Knight deserves a second chance; that his attributes outweigh his shortcomings; that he has learned his lesson and the limits of institutional tolerance. Yet nothing Knight has said or done since his dismissal at IU indicates contrition or change or accountability. He continues to view himself as a victim, done in by the disloyalty of others rather than his own excesses.

        Contrary to the image he conveys in commercials, he is increasingly bellicose (witness his Playboy interview) and litigious (witness his lawsuit against IU). He has not seen the light but embraced the darkness that got him fired in the first place.

        A naive sportswriter — this one — asked a Division I coach recently how any college president could justify hiring a coach with so much baggage.

        “None of that matters,” the coach replied. “It's all about the money.”

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