Like any good, crazed IU fan, the first thing that ran through this head after hearing that Bud Mackey had been arrested with crack in his backpack was “Well, there goes that.” (OK, that was the second thing; the first thing was: “Man, crack? Not even, like, ecstasy or something? Seriously? Crack?”) The immediate reaction was devoid of legal considerations; whatever happens to Mackey, just a brief dalliance with freaking crack cocaine makes him Undesirable No. 1 even in the seedy world of college basketball recruiting. To allow Mackey to come to IU, regardless of what happens legally, would stink of hypocrisy on IU’s part.
At least, that was the first thought. But is that all there is to it? Is Mackey officially done with IU basketball, convicted in the court of public opinion, opportunity to don the candy stripes lost forever?
I’m not so sure. Ditching Mackey entirely — essentially giving up on him and cutting him loose — is the exact opposite of the idealistic things that Kelvin Sampson and Co. usually recite endlessly. The odes to “doing things the right way,” the pressure on students to perform academically if for no other reason than to please an academics-concerned fanbase … this is exactly what Sampson talks about all the time. Is it in that spirit to give up on Bud Mackey? To tell him that one encounter with the law is one too many to be an Indiana Hoosier? To deny him the safe haven of Bloomington?
Sure, allowing Mackey to enroll would invite criticism. All too easily, people could argue that Sampson is only keeping Mackey because he’s a potential star, and that the coach cares less about running a “clean” program than he does about winning. The moral superiority over rivals like Illinois — now affectionately known as dUI — would be lost. (And trust me when I say this: I really enjoy using that one.)
Cutting Mackey loose would avoid all that criticism, would allow IU basketball to maintain its inflated sense of moral superiority, and would keep people off the Sampson staff’s back. But it would also be taking the easy way out. Since when do we want the State of Indiana’s highest-paid educator to do that?
I know this is endlessly idealistic, and unrealistic. The savvy move is to send Mackey packing and to start recruiting his position again in the hopes of landing a replacement while there’s still time. (And to start really bugging Eric Gordon to stay another year.) There is no guarantee that if Mackey comes to IU, he won’t screw up again. That’s the nightmare scenario. Again, we know what the savvy move is here; it’s obvious. Still, I’d like to see a little less savviness out of Sampson, and a little more idealism. It would serve as an unlikely, rare reminder that there is still some redemptive value in Division I athletics.