Big Ten drops ball on Knight decision

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany sat on his perch Wednesday with a wide, gummy grin on his face.
His mouth was closed, in a failed attempt to conceal what was made obvious by the decision handed down by his office on the eve of the first men’s basketball tournament in conference history: He is toothless.
On the same day Latrell Sprewell’s suspension lost a lot of its bite, the Big Ten’s ruling on Indiana coach Bob Knight — if it can be called that — was completely sans chomp.
Delany could have suspended Knight for the first round of the Big Ten tournament for a comment he made about officiating last week. Or he could have issued a small fine or no penalty after reviewing tape of the game.
Instead, the conference on Wednesday decided what action it would take on the matter but said it wouldn’t be disclosed until Indiana officials have a chance to accept or appeal the resolution.
The timetable for the school’s decision is three business days, making Monday — the day after the conclusion of the Big Ten tournament — the deadline.
In the meantime, Knight will be free to roam the sidelines at the United Center and permeate the homes of a national cable television audience.
How convenient.
When it comes to motive, the yellowness of this decision gives way to another color: green. Knight — college basketball’s love-hate attention- getting equivalent to Howard Stern — is a big name for the league. Good or bad, he brings attention, and having him miss any of the inaugural Big Ten men’s basketball tournament would dent the conference’s power and pocketbook.
But the conference couldn’t just come out and admit that by slapping Knight’s wrist. Instead, Delany and Co. concocted a plot to get them through the Big Ten tournament without relinquishing the power to punish the coach.
Sorry, it just doesn’t fly.
When Monday rolls around, no one will care whether Knight is suspended. Public relations people would call this slick. Others would call it tainted.
Sadly, this was an opportunity for the Big Ten to take a stand. The gist of what led to all this rigamarole is this:
During an 82-72 home loss to Illinois last week, referee Ted Valentine called three technical fouls on Knight, leading to his subsequent ejection. The last two technicals, and the ejection, came after Knight made comments to Valentine after the coach walked onto the court to check on injured player Luke Recker.
At that point, the situation was nothing new to Knight, who likely receives a greater mixture of praise and scorn than any other coach in the country. But the coach, who seemingly lives life at 211 degrees Fahrenheit, requiring only the slightest change in his equilibrium to reach a boil, went off after the game.
“That guy (Valentine) is the greatest travesty I’ve ever seen in college basketball in 33 years as a college head coach,” Knight said.
After that comment, the coach, who was also teed up by Valentine in a 1992 Final Four game against Duke, faced the prospect that he might have gone over the line and would have to be punished.
Only a few people will know the exact circumstances that led to the three technical fouls and postgame comments. Was it all Valentine’s ego run amok? Was it Knight pushing too many buttons and then going over the edge?
Likely, it was a little bit of both. But even if Valentine went overboard with his calls, Knight outdid the official with his verbal undressing.
Indeed, the saltiest of coaches knows the rule — criticizing officials in an open forum is a no-no. Knight went too far, and he and his team deserved the consequences in the Big Ten tournament.
But that isn’t going to happen. Conference officials decided they couldn’t live without their dependable cash cow, so they sent credibility out to pasture.
In light of that decision, even those in Knight’s corner on this one have to acknowledge that Ted Valentine, regardless of whether his technical foul calls were warranted, is not the greatest travesty in college basketball.
— Michael Rand is the sports editor at The Daily. He welcomes comments at [email protected]