Mar 4, 2012; Bloomington, IN, USA; Indiana Hoosiers guard Matt Roth speaks on senior night. (SENIOR NIGHT!!!)
Nor should anyone construe this article as a blanket defense of Tom Crean's oversigning practices. Thus far, it has worked out. Ron Patterson's decision to enroll at Brewster Academy rather than at any of the handful of high quality programs that expressed interest after he was let go by IU, would seem to be an indication that the academic issues were not a pretext. In addition, those in the know have suggested that the long-discussed "in-stater paying his own way" hypothetical was actually in play had Patterson been good to go academically. That's all fine and good for 2012-13, but it's possible that in the future things won't work out. All that said, Matt Roth's departure from the program is not an example of things failing to work out.
Let's take a quick look at Matt Roth's history. He signed with IU in November 2007, along with Devin Ebanks, Tu Holloway, and Tom Pritchard. After the implosion and Sampson's ouster as coach, Roth elected to enroll at IU. Had he asked for his release (as Holloway and Ebanks did), he would have received it. After playing about 20 minutes per game and averaging 6.7 ppg as a freshman, Roth played in two games in his sophomore season, 2009-10, before a foot injury ended his season nearly as soon as it started. Roth either applied for or is plainly eligible for a medical redshirt year in place of 2009-10. Roth played as both a junior and a senior, but thanks to the upgraded IU roster, neither his minutes not his scoring averages ever returned to freshman levels. Academically, Roth was a standout. He earned a BA at the end of the 2010-11 school year and earned a masters degree in 2012. To say the least, he seems to have taken advantage of the academic opportunities presented by his four years at IU.
The critics of this situation seem to be focused on a couple of different theories. First, there is the notion that any player who enrolls and remains in good standing should be allowed to exhaust his eligibility. My response to that is, why? According to whom? I don't mean to be dismissive of the risk that players will be exploited by win-at-all-costs coaches. It can happen. For instance, I can imagine a scenario in which a player is told, either explicitly or implicitly, that he will have five years to finish a bachelor's degree, who sets up his class load in reliance on that indication, and then has the rug pulled out from under him after his fourth season because of an oversigning. That most decidedly is not Matt Roth's situation. In fact, there was some chatter after the 2011 season, when Roth graduated and could have transferred without penalty and with two years of eligibility remaining, that he might go elsewhere. Obviously, that didn't happen, and Roth was an asset to the 2011-12 Hoosiers and the program's return to relevance. At no point has Roth acted as if Crean either explicitly or implicitly promised him a fifth year.
Would it be different if Roth had been promised something more than he received? Yes. Would it be different if Roth had been left hanging academically? Yes. Would it be different if Roth's 2009-10 season had been a planned redshirt year rather than a medical redshirt year? Probably. But none of those things happened.
What we are left with, then, is some vague notion that a student-athlete, regardless of his academic standing and regardless of his value to the team, is owed the opportunity to fully exhaust his athletic eligibility at the school where he originally enrolled. But if Roth wasn't promised a fifth year, and NCAA rules don't require it, and he hasn't been exploited academically, then from where does this obligation arise? I wish I had cut and pasted it when he posted it, but back when this was in the news a few months ago, John Infante, an IU alumnus and author of the excellent NCAA Bylaw Blog, said something to this effect (sorry if I'm butchering it, John). The essence of what Infante said is that IU upheld its end of the bargain academically. Roth earned two degrees. Roth's sole motivation for wanting a fifth year is athletic. If IU has already met its obligation academically, shouldn't it be okay for IU to make a decision that is solely about athletics for reasons based solely on athletics?
Finally, there is the continuing suggestion that Tom Crean has somehow kept Matt Roth in the dark, that he has somehow prevented Roth from enrolling elsewhere and that there is bad blood between the two. I can't possibly know what Roth and Crean have discussed. But here's what we know: 1) Roth pursued degrees at an accelerated pace; 2) Roth participated in Senior Night; 3) Roth has continued to maintain a relationship with Crean and IU, coaching at Crean's camps and appearing with him at an alumni function in Fort Wayne a few days ago; and 4) Roth has said he doesn't want to play anywhere else. Much of this seems to be based on a Dustin Dopirak article from a few weeks ago, now behind a paywall, in which Roth indicated he had been advised to "keep his options open" and that he hadn't been formally released by IU. Nevertheless, like all of us, Roth can count to 13. Unquestionably, he knew that the odds were against him. The NCAA allows players in Roth's situation to transfer without penalty. He could do so. He chooses not to. I'm not concerned that IU hasn't given him his release. I would be concerned if IU refused him his release. There is no suggestion that he has asked for it.
In summary, I'm open to the idea that oversigning will put Crean and IU in a bad spot at some point, but I don't think this is it. IU upheld its end of the bargain, and Matt Roth has options if he chooses to exercise them. Again, I would love to have Roth on the 2012-13 team, but not at the expense of any of IU's current scholarship players. More importantly, I don't believe that IU has breached any promise or duty it owes to Roth.