Let's start here: Southern Methodist University and Larry Brown deserve each other. A university that did everything it could to ignore and even foster the slush fund that bought a decade of unprecedented football success in the 70s and 80s. A coach who is batting 1.000 when it comes to acquiring NCAA sanctions. Evil begets evil, and SMU and Larry Brown brought each other back into the realm of dirty intercollegiate athletics.
None of that is to say that Brown or the people at SMU are bad people. That hinges upon whether or not you find NCAA rule violators to be, by nature, bad. Brown has always seemed like he genuinely cares about his players, whether it be with Kansas, the Pacers, or anywhere in between or after. And on a fateful night at the Palace of Auburn Hills just over a decade ago, he may have been the only adult in the building.
But, for Indiana fans, the last 12 games of the 2015-16 SMU basketball season should not be watched with the idea that Brown is a good guy, though he may be. Instead, it should be watched in fear.
Indiana basketball fans are not like the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Most seasons, when the last unbeaten falls, Hoosier fans quietly think to themselves, "Good. Our guys are still the last. Our guys are still the best." There is no champagne, there is no taunting. There are no parties. Most years.Last year was different. The hatred that this fan base has for Kentucky is real. You all know that. There is no reason, nor is there a way, to describe it in words in this forum.
When Kaminsky and Dekker and Koenig, and others took down Big Blue just 48 miles from Assembly Hall, we celebrated. It may have been with a yell. It may have been with a jump. Hell, I bet some of you did pop champagne. We don't want anyone to go undefeated. But if North Carolina did it? It was a good run being the last one. If Kansas does it? Have a respect a hard-working, tough-nosed program. If Kentucky had done it? Again, I don't think words can describe it.
But here's the thing: As much as we hate Kentucky and as filthy as John Calipari appears to be (and rightfully so, given his track record at UMass and Memphis), his tenure in Lexington has been clean, as far as we know. Larry Brown at SMU? He cheated.
Say what you will about the NCAA and its rules. I am in the minority of Crimson Quarry writers in thinking that the NCAA is not pure evil. And even if some of the rules are archaic, the member institutions, the coaches, and the athletes all agree to play and live by those rules. And if you broke those rules, you cheated.
Larry Brown cheated. SMU cheated. And the NCAA did what it should have done. Brown got some individual punishments, which we can all agree coaches need to receive more often. (I'm looking at you, Frank Haith.) Most notably, Brown received a nine-game suspension and was barred from doing what he does best and loves most -- coaching. SMU? They cheated. And they received a postseason ban. Rightfully so.
We read that on the ticker. And in our minds, we bury SMU until they're eligible again.
But something has happened to put them back in your mind. They won their first 18 games.
At least they should be in your mind. Because 18-0 is not a fluke. SMU is a very good basketball team who played Michigan and an array of cupcakes in the non-conference. And they play in an okay-at-best basketball conference. Right now, Joe Lunardi projects that three teams from the AAC will make the tournament -- Connecticut as a 9-seed, Cincinnati in play-in game, and Memphis as a 14-seed.
So when you look at SMU's remaining schedule, six of the 12 remaining games jump out at you as potential losses. They play Memphis and Connecticut twice, they host Gonzaga in Dallas, and they finish the season at Cincinnati, a team they only beat by two at home. Could one of the other six games be their downfall? Sure. Will one? Probably not.
SMU has nothing to play for other than 30-0. They aren't playing for a 1-seed. They aren't playing for a tournament berth. They aren't playing to get better so they can make a deep run in March. They're simply playing for one thing: to be the first team to finish a season undefeated since Indiana's run 40 years ago.
Now imagine they get there. Imagine a 30-0 SMU. It looks something like this: Larry Brown declares SMU the last, great undefeated college basketball team. SMU hangs a banner for a team that was ineligible to win any titles. Indiana fans become enraged. Our team was the last one to go undefeated, damnit. You didn't play in the tournament. You didn't run the gauntlet. You didn't go undefeated.
In sports arguments, rarely is one side completely right and one side completely wrong. Should Casey Martin have been allowed to use a cart on the PGA Tour? Should the college players be allowed to unionize? Should the IHSAA have class basketball? But sometimes, you get arguments where one side is completely right and one is completely wrong. Should the National League adopt the Designated Hitter? Should Rutgers be in the Big Ten?
If March rolls around, SMU is 30-0, and we have to have this argument, one side will be completely right. SMU will be completely wrong. They cheated. They forfeited their right to stake a claim to greatness, to immortality. Larry Brown squandered his chance to win another national championship. SMU will be completely wrong. Right?
But just because people are wrong doesn't mean they'll shut up. For the sake of Wilkerson, Buckner, Radford, Wisman, Bender, Eells, Haymore, Abernathy, Valavicious, May, Roberson, Crews, and Benson, let's be like the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Cheer against SMU. Want them to lose. It's okay to be selfish in sports once in awhile.
If they don't, it'll be worse than if Kentucky had done it.