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Don't condemn Bobby Knight for boorish behavior

Bobby Knight, the embattled head coach of men's basketball at the University of Indiana, has been all over the news recently. Allegations of chokings, thrown punches and temper-tantrums have swirled around the "The General." In order to uncover the truth, I paid a visit to the Guru and asked him some questions.

The Guru lives in a small wooden shack on the outskirts of Bloomington, Ind., off Highway 46. I rounded a corner, flew by some grazing cows and parked my car in front of a row of flailing corn stalks (very "Field of Dreams"-esque). I ambled up a worn dirt path where I found the Guru perched on his porch swing, loudly singing along to Steely Dan's "Bodhissatva."

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Feldstein: (Shouting through synthesized '70s pop) Hey Guru!

Guru: (Annoyingly hitting the stop button on his eight-track) Hello.

Feldstein: I'm here to —

Guru: No need to clarify, the Guru knows all. You're here about a certain Robert Montgomery Knight.

Feldstein: That's right. Wow, you are prescient.

Guru: (With a wave of his hand) It's my job.

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Feldstein: So, it's been a rough month for Bobby. What gives? Has Knight outstayed his welcome? Is it Woody Hayes, Part II? (Clarification: Woody Hayes was the legendary coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes from the 1950s to the 1970s. He was forced to resign in ignominy after punching a player from the opposing team in frustration.)

Guru: That depends. After all, hearsay is hearsay.

Feldstein: Well, let's review the facts. In this past month alone, Knight has been implicated for a variety of offenses. Former player Neil Reed has accused Knight of choking him in practice. Ex-player Ricky Calloway swears that Knight once punched star guard Steve Alford after a scrimmage. There are even allegations that Bobby verbally assaulted University of Indiana President Miles Brand. Sounds like The General has met his Waterloo.

Guru: Granted, Bobby has been a bit of a loose cannon recently, but let us examine these accusations, point by point. Reed is a bitter former player who was voted off the team by his own teammates. The alleged choking incident occurred three years ago. Statute of limitations, anyone? The Alford incident is admittedly serious. But Alford completely denies that it happened. It's the word of Calloway versus the word of Knight — with the victim siding with Knight. In other words, what you've brought to the table is: 1) an accusation by a disgruntled ex-player regarding an incident that took place three years ago, 2) another accusation by another ex-player about an incident that took place 12 years ago and 3) unsubstantiated rumors. Not much of a case in my opinion.

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Feldstein: Still, these aren't just isolated incidents. Bobby has exhibited boorish behavior since the beginning. Remember the game where he threw a chair in anger on the court? Or last year's altercation in a local restaurant, when another patron confronted Knight over racist remarks that Bobby allegedly uttered? The man is a disgrace and should be fired.

Guru: Admittedly, Knight has displayed shoddy judgement. But let's not vilify him. He's had his share of successes and accomplishments, beginning with three national championships. In an age of corrupt coaches, dubious shoe deals and under-handed player payments, Knight's program has been a paragon of decency.

Feldstein: Fine. Despite his questionable behavior, he runs a clean program. But what good is a clean program without wins? When was the last time IU made it to the Sweet 16? Or even past the first round? Knight can't seem to win games. He has lost the ability to inspire his players. I stand by my last statement — he should be let go.

Guru: Disagree. My prediction: Knight will weather the recent storm of criticism just fine. In two years, he'll ride the shoulders of incoming six-foot, 11-inch recruit Jared Jeffries to the national championship. Then he'll walk away from the game, dignity intact, Hall-of-Fame status ensured.

With that, the Guru shut his eyes and went to sleep. I watched the flies buzz around his head for a bit. Then I hopped out of my seat and left the amber cornfields of Indiana for the purple-colored haze of New Jersey. Steve Feldstein is a politics major from Bloomington, Ind. He can be reached at feldsten@princeton.edu.