Could current college hoops scandals hurt former Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton's hall chances?
Eddie Sutton sat in his wheelchair in the bowels of the BOK Center, a black stocking cap on his head, an animal-print blanket on his lap and a cheesy grin on this face.
It was hard not to smile at his smile.
These are clearly trying days for the 83-year-old. His health isn’t great. His energy isn’t high. But Friday he spent much of the day at the NCAA Tournament games in Tulsa. Then he did the same again Sunday.
And Sunday evening with son Sean on his left and former assistant Glynn Cyprien on his right — the Texas Tech staffers were still in suits and ties after a big second-round win — Sutton looked like he was in basketball heaven.
Here’s hoping he’ll soon join the basketball pantheon.
Next week, the newest inductees for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame will be announced. Sutton is a finalist for the sixth time. Yes, sixth. That tells you he is clearly worthy of induction, and yet, he has failed to garner the needed votes for inclusion.
Sutton has great credentials. More than 800 wins. Four different schools taken to the tournament. Three Final Fours. A future generation of coaches mentored, including Gene Keady and Bill Self.
But of course, Sutton has two big black marks against him. First came payments to players at Kentucky leading to Sutton’s ouster. Then there was the return to alcohol ending his time at Oklahoma State.
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Which brings us to an interesting intersection.
Sutton is being considered for the hall of fame at a time scandals have become as much a part of college basketball as NET rankings and bracketology. Since the FBI announced findings from a lengthy and far-reaching investigation back in the fall of 2017, a cloud has hung over the sport. There have been assistants in court. There have been coaches on wiretaps.
You’d have thought the start of March Madness might turn attention to basketball, but when LSU muscled its way into the Sweet 16, you couldn’t help but see head coach Will Wade was absent, suspended indefinitely by the school when a Yahoo! Sports story revealed he had been caught on a federal wiretap and was under investigation by the FBI.
And when Auburn crushed Kansas, you couldn’t help but think about former Tiger assistant Chuck Person, who helped Bruce Pearl recruit a lot of the current players before pleading guilty earlier this month to conspiracy to commit bribery.
And when Duke superstar Zion Williamson made that gutsy drive in the final seconds against Central Florida tower Tacko Fall, you couldn’t help but remember Williamson was one of the prized recruits talked about in the feds' first big trial.
Shadiness seems around every corner in college basketball these days. Usually, scandals are limited in scope. One school. A coach or two. A couple boosters. But this is different. Feels like anyone could be involved.
It’s so far reaching it might just impact Eddie Sutton’s hall hopes.
Remember, this is the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame we’re talking about, not the College Basketball Hall of Fame. Sutton is already enshrined in the latter. The Naismith Hall considers candidates from all levels and all areas of basketball. Pro and college. Domestic and overseas. Players and coaches. Referees and contributors.
Might hall-of-fame voters think twice about candidates from the college ranks? Might voters be so turned off by the stain of this scandal they say no to anyone with a hint of their own dirty dealing?
They didn’t a year ago, voting in Lefty Driesell only a few months after news of the FBI investigation broke. His resume is nearly identical to Sutton’s — hundreds of wins, lots of NCAA Tournaments but not even one trip to the Final Four — and Driesell, too, had a bit of scandal. After Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose, it was learned five members of Driesell’s team at Maryland, including Bias, had stopped going to classes and were failing all their courses.
The truth is, the hall has welcomed plenty of college coaches with scurrilous behavior in their past. Jim Calhoun. Jim Boeheim. Denny Crum. John Calipari. Rick Pitino. Jerry Tarkanian. Bob Knight.
If the basketball hall of fame has looked past all of that, why not look past Eddie Sutton’s transgressions? Why not include him when others like him are already in?
Yes, the current climate makes everyone and everything associated with college basketball seem slimy as a bullfrog after a rainstorm. But Eddie Sutton continues to love this flawed sport.
Time for the hall of fame to love him back.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.