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Insider

It's plausible IU, Tom Crean made a mistake

10/11/2011

Indiana coach Tom Crean has committed and subsequently immediately self-reported a secondary recruiting violation regarding an impermissible contact with Gary Harris (Fishers, Ind./Hamilton SE), ESPN’s No. 10 prospect in the senior class, according to Pat Forde.

Conspiracy theorists are going to have a field day with this one.

Those who don’t have a fond opinion of Crean will undoubtedly rush to judgment and believe that he tried to gain a recruiting edge with a player the Hoosiers are not the favorite for, despite residing in the same state. They’ll surmise that there’s no way a head coach and one of his assistants could make a mistake regarding the end of the fall contact period. Guilty, they’ll say. Crean did it to gain an advantage and he should be punished. You know what, if it comes to light that the coach did in fact visit with Harris to gain an advantage, punish him, throw the book at him.

The reality is, as difficult as it may seem to outsiders, it’s plausible that the Indiana staff did make a mistake and inadvertently sent Crean out to see a top target one day after the contact period ended. Someone on Indiana's staff could have watched Harris workout that day, but not speak to him as IU admitted to doing. There’s a clear-cut violation here, but there’s a gray area in terms of the intent. Therefore, barring an investigation that turns up something more, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal.

In situations like this, coaches with successful records of compliance deserve the benefit of the doubt. Surely there are some who take issue with Crean and will use this against him in recruiting. Some won’t buy the excuse but for every guy who questions Crean’s motives or judgments, you’ll find another coach who’s glad it didn’t happen to him. This particular violation is more embarrassing than it is intentional. In the grand scheme of risk-reward recruiting, visiting with a player a day after the period ends wouldn’t be worth the public relations and NCAA hit that comes with getting caught. Like the report said, Indiana got its days messed up and it intend to impose restrictions on its staff commiserate with the crime.

Along the continuum of violations, if former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl’s lying about a photo is on one end and Mike Krzyzewski’s July potential secondary violation phone call to Alex Poythress is on the other, Crean’s a whole lot closer to Krzyzewski than to Pearl. Neither Krzyzewski nor Crean’s secondary violations need to receive the attention they have or will gain. Every move Krzyzewski makes is scrutinized and therefore he drew the headlines. Indiana’s under restrictions from the Kelvin Sampson era and that lends itself to increased scrutiny. Trust me; there won’t be uproar from other coaches calling for stiffer penalties on either violator. Krzyzewski’s phone call may even lead to a clarification in the rules going forward.

The reality of recruiting is this: there are bigger fish to fry and more pertinent topics to ruffle your feathers over. We’re in an era of blatant disregard for basic recruiting rules. Across the country, prospective student-athletes (that’s an NCAA word, not mine) are jumping on planes this weekend to take unofficial visits. Don’t think for one second all of them are paying their own way. While Indiana fills out its NCAA paperwork, another assistant from another school is illegally meeting with a player and his parents. He’s not going to report the contact or even turn in the receipt for the meal he bought them. There’s no way you’re going to catch him either because he used a non-school expensed phone to make the illegal call to set up the dinner. He dialed the cell phone of a player whose bill is being paid for by a third party AAU coach, runner or agent.

Yes, Crean and Indiana violated a rule. They’re going to receive a punishment that fits the crime. However, the real crime is that the real infractions -- the ones that involve cold hard cash and tilt the playing field to create a competitive disadvantage -- will continue to go unchecked, unreported and most certainly unpunished.