Dick Vitale, let it go; IU has moved on

November 27, 2012

First of all, let me say this: I am not a Dick Vitale hater.

The guy’s palpable stoke for college basketball makes me smile every time I hear his self-depricating, slightly-obnoxious-but-loveable commentary. And I appreciate that the guy is so committed to keeping the memory of Jimmy Valvano alive while supporting Valvano’s organization to fight cancer.

But as an Indiana University graduate, I have to say his incessant loyalty to Bob Knight has grown a little old.

I don’t know if he’s doing the Indiana-North Carolina game on Tuesday, but if he does, I’ll guarantee you he’ll once again try to get Knight and IU to kiss and make up, as he did during the IU-Georgetown game last week. Then — as Dickie V. does — he’ll insist that IU’s Assembly Hall should be re-named Robert Montgomery Knight Hall.

We’re talking about Bob Knight — the got who got fired by IU.  The guy caught on video choking one of his players.

Robert Montgomery Knight Hall?

Get a T.O., baby. You need to re-think that call.

Don’t get me wrong. Knight was a great coach (until the mid-90s, anyway.) His three titles with Indiana forever placed the Hoosiers among college basketball’s elite. And — let’s face it — they made my degree a little more prestigious.

When I tell people I graduated from Indiana, they don’t ask me about the political science program or the business school.They want to talk about basketball.

Bobby Knight.

Which is to say they’ve heard of IU because of Knight, and the significance of that can’t be ignored. Because of that, the school gets a better pool of student applicants, they sell more stuff, they attract better professors, build new facilities and so on.

Don’t think college sports are important? Don’t be a chump.

I never talked to Knight, though he once nodded at me as he walked into a Mexican restaurant with his fishing buddies in little Spencer, Indiana. After he sat in a nearby booth, a friend and I eavesdropped as Knight complained about the latest player to quit the squad.

And that was the problem with Knight: It was getting to the point where too many players didn’t want to be on his team. And then too many hot prospects didn’t want to be on his team. Think about it: Would you rather play for Knight, be berated like the guys from “Full Metal Jacket” and have your pro prospects limited due to Knight’s slow, Indiana-style of play — or would you rather play for a more even tempered guy like Coach K at Duke and have better NBA prospects?

That’s why Duke’s stock went up in the 90s, and Indiana’s plummeted as soon as Calbert Cheaney left.

And that’s probably why Knight got angrier, bullying his players and then random students on campus.  And he remained indignant because his ego had gotten so big, he assumed people would tolerate it. Which they did — until IU started getting knocked out in the first round of the tournament by teams like Kent State.

Yes, Knight won three titles. But reputations both build and destroy programs.

Knight still thinks he’s the greatest thing to ever grace a basketball court and obviously still carries a grudge. (You could practically hear him gritting his teeth when he called a recent IU game on ESPN.) But could Knight have done what Tom Crean has achieved, taking a team of walk-ons to a #1 ranking in four years?

Certainly not the post-1994 Knight. When his teams began to choke, so did he. And for all he achieved, Dick, that’s not something IU wants to be associated with.

Fortunately, Crean has fans looking ahead and not behind. And if IU does win another title, that banner will be raised in Assembly Hall, not Robert Montgomery Knight Hall. Because you simply can’t reward bad behavior.




About P.Pemberton

Pembertonian, originally from the Midwest, prefers stalls to urinals, binges on fudgesicles and thinks the most exciting play in football is a blocked punt. A newspaper/magazine/online journalist for too long -- as his bank account demonstrates -- he now lives on the West Coast.

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