by Kent Sterling
Managers in business create a culture, hire to it, and enforce it. Those who violate the culture as defined by the manager are penalized. Those who embody it are rewarded.
That’s business, and that’s basketball too.
Each coach or manager prizes different behaviors, and what is not strongly discouraged will become the norm. Some are hard asses, some are soft, others try to lead as friends, and still others demand only what will make their unit successful.
There are unique responses for different violations, and for some as many sets of consequences as people on the staff or team. There is no hard and fast blueprint for success, but consistency sure seems to help.
We are learning for the first time how Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean works to maintain discipline on his Hoosiers team. Jeremy Hollowell was suspended for three games earlier in the season because of a behavioral issue, and Hanner Mosquera-Perea was suspended for two games for his Operating While Intoxicated arrest early Valentine’s Day morning.
Prior to that, the Hoosiers had toed the line – at least as far as we are aware – so any look at the penalties for indiscretions either didn’t exist or were kept from the public.
When I was a manager in radio, there were some correctable behaviors that required an occasional conversation, and some that required more severe measures. I only fired one person because he stepped out of line with my core beliefs, and that was the easiest decision I ever made. He plagiarized, and no one who ever works for me will be allowed to continue once revealed to be an intellectual thief.
There aren’t too many third rails that would result in an automatic dismissal, but I dealt with adults who were paid to perform a specific task, not adolescents who need to be prepared for adulthood. I can’t say with any certainty that I would have punted an employee for a OWI arrest, but there are many companies where termination is mandated.
Crean made the call to suspend his wayward players, and quickly welcome them back. Whether this sufficiently discourages future idiotic and selfish acts is yet to be seen, and will be the defining factor in assessing the quality of his disciplinary tactics.
Indiana University is not a business and the students are not adults – not in any real way. College students are not schooled in the ways of the adult world where screw-ups come with getting fired, losing a house, and finding it difficult to put food on the table. If they have the idea that an OWI is a simple and short-lived distraction, they are sorely mistaken. Lives are lost or ruined everyday because people get behind the wheel of a car after drinking.
Sitting a kid for participating in a victimless crime or team code violation is one thing, but when the stakes are as high as they can be for drunk driving, a stern message is required. That Mosquera-Perea’s episode had no more adverse result than embarrassment, legal fees, alcohol education classes, and hours of community service that will be required if he is convicted is by the grace of God.
Many others aren’t so lucky, and the innocent victims of drunk driving accidents are always unlucky.
The relevant question regarding Crean’s disciplinary choices for Hollowell and Mosquera-Perea is whether they serve as sufficient disincentives for future errors in judgment. If so, good for Crean and good for the kids. If not, Crean needs to adjust his threat level until the players become less menacing on the streets of the town they briefly call home, or Crean’s role as leader needs to be evaluated.
What does Indiana University Basketball stand for is the question that Crean must answer as he asserts his culture. That program is the most visible representation of the university, and the players behavior reflects directly upon IU. That’s a lot of weight for a young adult to carry, but that’s the deal when a high school kid commits to Indiana. If he wants to play in anonymity, their are plenty of places where that happens.
Whether IU players are seen as a bunch of good kids who diligently work at their craft, like last year’s group – or a bunch of idiots who are interested only in their own self-gratification, like the boobs that Kelvin Sampson brought in – is entirely up to the players. The truth for both groups is probably closer to the middle, but we believe what we see and hear.
Whether Tom Crean finds an allowance for stupidity a fair exchange for a better chance to win is the more important question. The choices made by the players will provide the answer.