clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Emmitt Holt's dismissal wasn't a punishment, it was a purchase of political capital for Indiana

When the Indiana Men's Basketball program dismissed Sophomore Emmitt Holt on Monday, it didn't serve any traditional purpose of punishment. Instead, it served the personal interests of the decision makers.

Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Retribution. Deterrence. Rehabilitation. Incapacitation.

The primary purpose of punishment that we choose says a lot about us as a society and as individual punishers. Each of those four legitimate purposes of punishment has a different underlying reason for being administered. Although deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation are all consequential purposes -- meaning they're geared toward what will happen in the future -- they're different in who they protect. Retribution is a deontological approach, which means that the actions of the punisher are based on moral duties.

A man commits a burglary. He's arrested and convicted. He will be sentenced, but why and to what extent depends on the theory of punishment to which the judge subscribes.

The judge could set a harsh sentence for more than one reason. He might want to be retributive in his punishment, sending the convicted man away for being a bad person who deserves to suffer because he violated the law and is immoral. He might also want to hand down a heavy sentence to deter the individual, and society as a whole, from committing burglaries in the future (the theory being that people will associate the bad behavior with the harsh sentence.) Or he might send him away for a while just to incapacitate him under the theory that society as a whole is safer with this man in jail.

The judge might choose a lesser sentence, though, if he sees rehabilitation as the purpose of punishment. He might decide that the man needs to slowly be integrated back into society, and needs a work release program so that he can get a job (so that he won't need to commit burglaries) and needs a support group (so he won't be tempted to commit burglaries).

No matter which of these theories you, me, or anyone else subscribes to, there is no denying that one of these purposes underlies every punishment that is ever doled out. And that's what makes it so abundantly clear that what Indiana Basketball did to Emmitt Holt wasn't about punishment.

One by one, let's dispel each theory as the underlying purpose of Holt's dismissal.


Holt's dismissal was the equivalent of sending that hypothetical burglar to the Department of Corrections for life. He has no chance of rehabilitation. To me, there are only two ways to look at Holt's behavior. Either 1) he is a college kid and college kids drink, or 2) he has a substance abuse problem. I'll get to theory number one in a moment. But if he has a substance abuse problem, the last answer to his issues was dismissing him from the program. Keeping him in the athletic department, getting him counseling, sending him to meetings, etc., all would have been viable options. So, I'm dismissing that theory quicker than Tom Crean dismissed Holt.


The last time I checked, the only single person who Indiana Basketball has recently needed protection from was Kelvin Sampson. Not one of the "thugs" or "bums" that put on the cream and crimson has brought this program to it's knees. As most of you would undoubtedly agree, this program is bigger than any one person, including The General. This dismissal wasn't about protecting the program or any of the other players.


Could fit. But it's not rational. If that's what was behind this, the Hoosiers doled out a $10,000 punishment for a 10-buck crime. I wonder if SPEA or Kelley dismissed any of its students for drinking citations after Little 5. If they did, it's just as irrational. But I bet not.


It's the only viable purpose for punishment in this case. It wouldn't be about deterring Holt anymore, because -- let's face it -- who cares if he drinks again now? No, it would be about deterring the rest of the program committing a Class C Misdemeanor.

But if this really was the theory behind the punishment, then someone really needs to seriously evaluate the competency of the this program's decision makers. Did the dismissals of Perea and Davis deter anyone? Certainly not Emmitt Holt. Why? Because college kids drink now, are going to drink later, and nothing about this dismissal will change much of anything about any Indiana athlete's weekend plans. You are naive if you believe otherwise.

In the end, the only thing that Holt's dismissal could deter is Indiana from winning a Big Ten Championship.

This wasn't a punishment. It doesn't fit the theories of punishment, unless Tom Crean is channelling the God of the Old Testament, letting Holt be put to his Indiana Basketball death for a petty sin.

No, this wasn't punishment. This was a cheap, quick purchase of political capital. After Indiana University President Michael McRobbie put the Athletic Department on notice, blasting the behavior of student-athletes, the department, and specifically two most visible figures, Tom Crean and Fred Glass, had nothing to lose (except size and games) and a lot to gain by getting rid of Holt, the most recent two-time offender.

Emmitt Holt was the quasi-guilty, sacrificial lamb for a University department publicly embarrassed by the lambasting from its boss. And make no mistake, Crean also appeased the plenty of fans who thought Holt deserved the boot. Had he kept Holt, they would've called for Crean's head with the type of fervor that would have suggested they'd just watched film from the Syracuse game.

But by doing that, Crean cut off his nose to spite his face, because the irony of it is that in temporarily cooling off his seat, he put his job in more danger. Indiana is a worse team now than they were on Sunday. And when this team lines up against Purdue, those same people that wanted Holt booted or Crean fired will come, pitch forks in hand, to demand he be relieved of his duties for not having enough big men.

Back to our hypothetic burglar for a moment. What if I told you the judge gave a harsher sentence because he wanted to lock up reelection? Or because his biggest donor made a public comment condemning the defendant?

Your feeling on the matter should fall somewhere between being uncomfortable and being disgusted.

Now, let me say again: The primary purpose that we choose says a lot about us as a society and as individual punishers. Emmitt Holt's dismissal speaks volumes about the political pressures surrounding Tom Crean and the Indiana Athletic Department.