You can’t really call it a vengeance tour.
Very few people involved with IU basketball in 2008 are even still around the program.
But the IU fans remember. And for them at least, the name Kelvin Sampson is synonymous with pain, frustration, embarrassment, and three years of misery.
Sampson, of course, was the IU basketball head coach in 2008 when the team was placed on probation following an NCAA investigation into impermissible phone calls. And if Indiana advances to the Sweet 16 on Sunday, there’s a good chance they’ll face Sampson and his No. 1 seeded Houston Cougars next week.
But the ties to the 2008 implosion begin on Friday night in Albany when the Hoosiers face Kent State (9:55 p.m. ET, TBS).
In May 2006, Sampson announced Rob Senderoff as the final addition to his Indiana assistant coaching staff, joining Ray McCallum and Jeff Meyer. Sampson was friends with then Kent State head coach Jim Christian, who Senderoff was working under at the time.
“He is going to be an outstanding head coach one of these days,” Sampson said when he announced his hiring of Senderoff in 2006.
He wasn’t wrong about that.
Senderoff just completed his 12th season as Kent State’s head coach and he is the all-time winningest coach in program history with 247 wins. He’s won 20 or more games in 8 of his 12 seasons and never suffered a losing record.
Back in 2007, what Senderoff has since accomplished at Kent State didn’t seem possible.
The same month Sampson hired Senderoff at IU, the NCAA sanctioned Sampson for making 577 impermissible phone calls while he was the coach at Oklahoma. As a result, Sampson was not allowed to call recruits or make off-campus recruiting trips for one year.
But on Oct. 14, 2007, less than five months after those sanctions expired, Indiana announced its compliance office had discovered new violations that occurred while the original sanctions were still in effect.
Senderhoff was at the center of the new violations. The IU investigation found he connected Sampson to 10 three-way calls involving recruits, which were banned as part of the previous sanctions. It also found that Senderoff made the majority of 35 undocumented calls from his home.
With the NCAA now hot on IU’s trail, Senderoff was forced to resign in October, 2007, just 17 months after he was hired by Sampson.
And for six months, he was completely out of college basketball.
According to a 2019 Cleveland.com report, Senderoff moved back in with his parents at age 34 after he was fired by IU, and took a surveillance job. Once the subject of surveillance by the NCAA, now Senderoff was doing stakeouts to make sure people weren’t filing fraudulent medical insurance claims.
The job at Indiana was his first big time opportunity, but after being embroiled in NCAA violations, Senderoff couldn’t immediately find work in the coaching world.
This is no sob story. The NCAA handed Senderoff a three-year show cause penalty for his actions at IU. He was at the center of it all. He knowingly committed violations under Sampson’s direction, which was unforgivable since Sampson was already on probation for the same violations. The violations he and Sampson committed aren’t even in the NCAA rulebook anymore, but no one can say the pair weren’t aware of the rules.
Show cause penalties typically keep coaches out of the business, but Senderoff had a safety net. With the trust of his former colleagues, he returned to Kent State in April of 2008, just six months after the debacle at IU started to unfold.
And the rest is history.
Until Friday that is, when everything kind of comes full circle.
That includes Senderoff’s return to Albany, N.Y. where he attended college, and just a couple hours north of his hometown of Spring Valley, N.Y.
If he holds any kind of personal grudge against IU for seemingly being Sampson’s fall guy, Senderoff of course isn’t saying that publicly.
“We’re playing a great team in Indiana, who has had an incredible season as well out of the Big Ten,” he said in a television interview on Sunday evening. “They’re an elite program. One of the tradition rich historic basketball programs in America.”
He said he even he voted for Trayce Jackson-Davis as a first team All-American.
Senderoff used poor judgment while at IU, but it would be a stretch to say he’s the villain as it relates to what went down at Indiana during his time there. That label belongs to Sampson, who called the shots and established the culture, and the IU administrators who hired him from Oklahoma — with baggage, and then failed to implement protocols to avoid what happened.
While Friday’s game will no doubt have meaning to folks on both sides of the equation, Senderoff’s name is under the radar enough that none of this will turn into a circus.
That will have to wait until next week — if Indiana and Houston are still dancing.
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