Is Benson anonymous donor for IU's buyout?

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By Larry Goffinet

For years guessing the identity of the Washington Post's Watergate informant, "Deep Throat," was a national game.

Now Indiana University basketball fans should be guessing who is the anonymous donor producing $550,000 of the $750,000 IU is paying Kelvin Sampson to buy out the rest of his coaching contract.

It seems likely that this person will have considerable say in who Sampson's permanent replacement will be. As "Deep Throat" told the Post reporters, "Follow the money trail."

Knowing that the donation would give the donor influence on the coaching selection, one would hope IU wouldn't accept the money from him unless he is someone with extensive basketball experience whose opinion would be valued highly in most basketball circles.

He is also likely someone whose stand on ethics issues has always been beyond reproach.

He is also likely an alumnus who felt strongly from the start that IU's hiring Sampson was a bad move because of his previous NCAA recruiting violations at Oklahoma.

And obviously he has to be someone with a cool half million bucks to spare.

My guess is former IU center Kent Benson.

Though he played before today's $20 million per year contracts, he made a few million in his 11 years in the NBA (after being the league's No. 1 draft choice in 1977) and one year playing in Italy.

In recent years he has been a partner in a telecommunications company developing wireless Internet for rural America, probably good for a few million more bucks.

An outspoken leader of Christian athletes' groups when he played center for IU's undefeated 1976 national champs, he has never lost his strong sense of right and wrong, as some in business or athletics do through the years.

He still lives in Bloomington and remains deeply interested in IU's athletic program.

His daughter, Ashley, plays volleyball for the Hoosiers. And one IU backer told me Benson's company jet has been used to fly previous IU basketball coaching candidates to Bloomington for interviews.

Reportedly one of those former candidates was Steve Alford (before Mike Davis was hired).

Whether Benson is still interested in Alford's getting the job and whether Alford, now at New Mexico, is interested are unknown at this point.

But if Benson is the anonymous donor, his favorite candidate will have a great shot at the job.