Big Ten's intrigue is off court College basketball: Without high-rated teams and star players, the focus is on Purdue's troubles and another outburst by Indiana coach Bob Knight.

March Madness

March 06, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

CHICAGO — Sun staff writer Don Markus continues the March Madness Tour that will take him to eight conference tournaments in eight days.

CHICAGO -- Timing in college basketball isn't merely about blocking shots or taking charges or tipping in offensive rebounds. It has to do with marketing and public relations, with perception and reality.

In the case of the inaugural Big Ten tournament, the timing couldn't be worse.

Forget the lack of highly ranked teams and marquee players.

Or even the lack of teams on the NCAA tournament bubble.

The talk here at the United Center going into yesterday's opening-round games focused on the impending NCAA investigation into one of the league's traditional powers, Purdue, and the league's ongoing controversy involving its most successful coach, Bob Knight.

Gene Keady can thank his bitter in-state rival for the Boilermakers' potential problems being an afterthought among the 750 members of the media credentialed for the tournament. What are a few alleged infractions by a member of Keady's coaching staff compared with another Knight tirade?

Wayne Duke, who for 18 years served as commissioner of the Big Ten, knows how difficult a position his successor, Jim Delany, finds himself. Duke was the guy who suspended Knight for tossing a chair out on the court in 1985.

"Not knowing all the details, it appears to me that Jim is following all the correct procedures," said Duke, here for the games. "But as you sift it down, it could appear that Jim or somebody else might be dragging their feet. I don't think so, but that could be the public perception."

The perception is that Knight has again flexed his considerable muscle and intimidated Delany as he couldn't Ted Valentine, the official who tossed the Indiana coach from a Feb. 24 game at Illinois after assessing him a pair of technicals, the second coming after Knight went on the court to check on injured Hoosier Luke Recker.

"This and that guy are the greatest travesty I've seen in 33 years," Knight said in a news conference that was shown on ESPN.

Since then, the rumors about if, when and how Delany and the Big Ten would punish Knight have flown like so many expletives from the volatile coach's mouth.

A Bloomington newspaper reported that Knight would get a game's suspension or a $10,000 fine, and that Valentine would not work Big Ten games for the first two months next season.

"There's been a lot of heat," Delany said yesterday, "but not a lot of light."

Delany declined to comment further.

Certainly Delany is not shedding any light on the league's findings or on its proposed penalty for Knight and Indiana school officials to consider. A lawyer by training, Delany is a no-nonsense guy who once played guard for Dean Smith at North Carolina.

But the perception is that Delany is powerless when it comes to punishing a legendary figure such as Knight.

"I don't think Jim is backing down," Duke said. "I think as a lawyer he's following the rules of due process."

Duke knows about about that, too.

The first basketball game Duke watched as commissioner after coming over from the Big Eight to the Big Ten in 1972 involved Minnesota and Ohio State. In that game, two Gophers, Corky Taylor and Ron Behagen, viciously attacked Luke Witte of the Buckeyes.

"I suspended both players for the season," Duke said, "and I was hauled into court the next day."

The attorney for the players claimed they were denied due process. Duke's suspensions were upheld. But as a result, the Big Ten revised its conduct code, giving players or coaches a chance to appeal. It also, according to Duke, "put the onus on the institution" to hand down its own penalty.

It meant that Duke didn't have to suspend Woody Hayes after the legendary Ohio State coach slugged a Clemson player during a bowl game, because school officials took action. But when Knight tossed that chair onto the floor at Assembly Hall, he was hit with a one-game suspension. "He didn't talk to me for months," Duke said.

Yet when Duke retired in 1989, Knight called him and invited him to Bloomington with the words, "I've got something for you." It turned out that Knight gave Duke an NCAA championship ring from the 1987 season, a ring Duke wears to this day. "I gave him an official's shirt and a whistle," Duke said.

Delany said yesterday that by commenting on the Knight situation, he would be violating the league's bylaws for confidentiality. The process could drag into next week, should -- the Hoosiers advance or be invited to the NCAA tournament or National Invitation Tournament.

Did Knight think there was a chance he might not coach in the Big Ten tournament?

"There was never any doubt that I'd be coaching," Knight said last night after his sixth-seeded Hoosiers hung onto their NCAA tournament hopes by beating 11th-seeded Ohio State, 78-71. "I know the rules."

There was, of course, great irony in the fact that Knight has fought to coach in a tournament he fought against for years. If any single person was responsible for the Big Ten's not holding a postseason tournament until this year, it was Knight.

"The thing you have to understand is I'd have voted against it at 8: 30 tonight," he said. "But I had my say. I conveyed my reasons. The majority of the people in the league wanted to have the tournament. Once that was decided, we had to figure the best way to get ready. We worked like hell."

Knight raised his hand.

"Do me a favor -- strike out the word hell," he said, with a trace of a smirk. "That might be unsportsmanlike conduct."

Pub Date: 3/06/98

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