The good news for Indiana is that both Cody Zeller and Christian Watford will be returning to school for another year.
Indiana was already considered one of the best teams in the Big Ten and a team with a shot at the Final Four, but with Zeller and Watford back along their front line, Tom Crean has a team that could very well end up being the No. 1 team in the country when the preseason polls are released.
And while that is all well and good, Crean is going to have some tough decisions to make in the coming weeks. With a five-man recruiting class coming in, Crean has promised a scholarship to 14 players for next season, one over the limit of 13. Here’s the breakdown:
Seniors: Derek Elston, Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford
Juniors: Maurice Creek, Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey
Sophomores: Remy Abell, Austin Etherington, Cody Zeller
Freshmen: Yogi Ferrell, Jeremy Hollowell, Peter Jurkin, Ron Patterson, Hanner Mosquera Perea
And that doesn’t even take into account Matt Roth, who still has one year of eligibility remaining to go along with his first Master’s degree.
So what happens?
Well, there are a few options. Crean can run-off one of his returners, forcing someone to transfer. Austin Etherington played a grand total of 77 minutes as a freshman, and with the way that Crean has been able to recruit, it is quite possible that he never works his way into the rotation. But he’s also an Indiana native that is living out his dream playing for the Hoosiers. It would be tough to see him decide to leave. It also may not be out of the realm of possibility that Crean asks Creek to leave the team. Creek has spent the last two years injured and while he is a junior in regards to his eligibility, he is a senior academically.
Another option is to ask one of the incoming freshmen to prep for a year. The problem with that is that all of the incoming freshmen could push for big minutes this season. The lowest-rated recruit — Peter Jurkin — is a seven-footer that could end up playing a key back-up role behind Zeller.
The final — and most-likely — option is to ask someone to give up their scholarship and spend the year as a walk-on. And, frankly, if I am Tom Crean, I ask Zeller to do so. He’s a year away from being a top five pick and has a brother, Tyler, that is about to become a first round pick and rake in those guaranteed millions. According to IU’s website, it costs $18,044 for an in-state resident’s tuition. Grab a couple of loans (which he’ll have no issue paying back), pick up a few scholarships along the way and have his family (or IU boosters?) make up the difference. That simple.
The bigger issue is that this issue even arises.
This is why the NCAA needs four-year scholarships. The way the current system is set up, coaches — like Crean — can pull a kid’s scholarship whenever they feel that the player no longer is useful to the program. That’s exactly what happened to Nick Martineau, who spent his three years at BYU busting his tail in the classroom only to see Dave Rose neglect to pick-up his scholarship for his fourth year of eligibility.
That’s unfair to the players.
And it’s a rule that needs to be changed.