Column: Eddie Sutton's exclusion from Hall of Fame a disgrace to basketball

Men's Basketball vs. Baylor

Eddie Sutton presents a check for $20,000 to the University Counciling Services from the organization he is a honorary chair of during halftime at the OSU game against Baylor on Jan. 27 at Gallagher-Iba Arena. The Cowboys beat the Bears 64-53.

Eight coaches in the history of Division-I men's college basketball have notched 800 wins on the hardwood.

Seven of them have been inducted into The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

It's an abomination to the great sport of basketball that this column needed to be written in 2020, more than a decade after Oklahoma State dedicated its historic maple hardwood basketball court at Gallagher-Iba Arena as "Eddie Sutton Court," after Sutton, who is highly regarded in the basketball community as a coaching legend.

With 806 victories as a head coach, Sutton accompanies Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Bobby Knight, Dean Smith, Jim Calhoun, Adolph Rupp and Roy Williams as the only coaches who have reached the 800-win mark.

Every name in that sentence is a member of the basketball Hall of Fame, besides Sutton.

In a 2016 column for the Washington Post, John Feinstein deemed the Naismith Hall of Fame as “perhaps the least transparent organization in sports.”

Most voters in equivalent positions in other sports, such as Heisman Trophy voters and voters for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, reveal their identity and selections after the fact, but the basketball Hall of Fame lacks similar accountability.

Sutton coached NCAA Tournament teams at Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky and his alma mater, OSU. Sutton played for the Cowboys and legendary OSU basketball coach Henry Iba, Sutton's mentor, during his college days from 1955 to 1958.

Sutton began his coaching career as an assistant on Iba's staff at OSU for a year after his graduation in 1958. His head coaching career began in 1967 in Twin Falls, Idaho, where he founded the men's basketball program at the College of Southern Idaho.

He later returned to Stillwater to coach the Cowboys from 1990 to 2006 and became the first coach to take four schools to the NCAA tournament.

He coached three Final Four teams, one at Arkansas and two at OSU, which was the last two times the Cowboys reached that stage of the NCAA Tournament, in 1995 and again 2004.

The Cowboys reached the postseason 14 times in his 17 years while at the helm in Stillwater, including 13 NCAA Tournament bids, three regular-season conference titles and three conference tournament championships. He is the second-winningest coach in school history behind Iba.

So the obvious question arises: Why is Sutton not already in the Hall of Fame?

Sutton has been named a Hall of Fame finalist five times, most recently in 2016, but failed on each occasion to get the minimum number of votes to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. The panel is composed of 24 selectors whose identities have been kept confidential for decades, and a candidate must get at least 18 votes to be inducted.

Sutton was not a finalist in 2019, which reportedly "stunned" members of his family, who felt confident enough last year to make arrangements to transport the legendary coach to Minneapolis, the site of the 2019 Final Four, for the announcement of last year's class, only to receive the outrageous news that Sutton had once again been left out of the Hall of Fame just days before the event.

Sutton's Hall of Fame snub is not justifiable based on his coaching resume and body of work. That part is obvious.

So, that moves us to the off-court issues, because as we all know, every current member of the Basketball Hall of Fame has lived a perfectly moral, controversy-free life, has never had a single off-court issue and has never even come close to committing an NCAA violation. We all know that.

Sutton's Hall of Fame candidacy is presumably damaged because, while at the helm of Kentucky during the late 1980s, a Wildcat assistant coach was accused of having mailed cash to the father of a top recruit. Sutton himself was not implicated in the NCAA's ruling to punish Kentucky with a three-year probation.

Sutton also has a well-known clouded history of alcoholism, which he was very open about during his time at OSU, and alcohol ultimately being involved in Sutton's car accident in Stillwater in February of 2006.

The alcohol-involved wreck ended Sutton's coaching career, but opened up a new door for him, as he became an outspoken advocate on the dangers of alcoholism, and he specifically spearheaded a campaign for an addiction center on OSU's campus and has helped raise thousands of dollars for OSU's University Counseling Services.

At the time, Sutton said he thinks God might have intervened in his alcoholism by telling him, "You coached long enough. Now I want you to do something really worthwhile."

Randy Rutherford, who played for Sutton on OSU's 1995 Final Four team, said Sutton, "has taught us a lot about basketball, but more importantly, he has taught us a lot about life ... about accepting responsibility for our actions.

"We all make mistakes in life," Rutherford said. "But we shouldn't be judged by the mistakes. Judge a man by what he does to correct that mistake."

So, I ask of the 24 members who make up the basketball Hall of Fame selection committee, have you made no mistakes in your life? Why is Sutton's past being held against him, but not the controversial pasts of other coaches who are already in?

Did Derrick Rose not get caught cheating on his SAT under the helm of (Hall of Famer) John Calipari while at the University of Memphis?

He sure did.

And were Calipari's Final Four berths while at UMASS not vacated when it was learned Marcus Camby had illegally received payments?

They sure were.

Did (Hall of Famer) Bobby Knight not consistently make a mockery of our game by going ballistic on referees and players and allowing his anger issues to control him?

He sure did.

Is (Hall of Famer) Bill Self not currently under FBI investigation at Kansas for committing major recruiting violations?

He sure is.

Rick Pitino is in the Hall of Fame, for God's sake. Pitino has been involved in three different scandals as a coach, one of which involved strippers and prostitutes being paid to have sex with recruits and players under Pitino's watch.

Clearly, the issue of morals hasn't been a prerequisite for past Hall of Fame inductees.

As ESPN's Fran Fraschilla put it, "If anyone votes against Eddie because he had an NCAA issue when he was at Kentucky, then more than a handful of coaches should be removed from the Hall of Fame."

Longtime ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale echoed Fraschilla’s opinion.

“First of all, Eddie Sutton belongs in the hall of fame,” Vitale told the O’Colly on Thursday. Eddie was a terrific, terrific sideline coach. He’s right now struggling a little bit physically and my heart goes out to him. I’m hoping he gets his vote to get in the hall of fame.

As the OSU men's basketball team commemorates the 25-year anniversary of OSU's 1995 Final Four team before the Cowboys host Texas Tech this Saturday, it's unfortunate the coach of that team still hasn't been recognized for his contributions to the game of basketball, and the impact he's had on the lives of hundreds of young men who played for him.

It's an insult to the game of basketball to keep Sutton out of the Hall of Fame because a bunch of anonymous cowards clearly have some kind of vendetta against him.

It's time to end this ridiculous charade and put Sutton, a now frail 83-year old who is undeniably in the fourth quarter of his life, into the Hall of Fame where he belongs.

It is long overdue.

sports.ed@ocolly.com