Monday, March 22, 2010

Why John Calipari May Not Be the World's Biggest Scumbag...


For whatever reason during the NCAA Tournament, the nationwide jubilation at the games themselves causes a general love-fest for the NCAA as a whole. The closest anyone gets to criticism is whether the tourney field should be expanded. So I guess I should just hop on the bandwagon write my own ‘ode to the NCAA.’ Here goes:

The extent to which college basketball’s inner-workings completely contradict its popular image is almost laughable. On the outside, we tend to idealize the college game. Look at the fans, the passion and the NCAA Tournament; a place where even lowly George Mason can make a run at greatness. This is what we see, mostly because that’s the picture painted for us.

Why is this? The popular consensus is the involvement (or lack thereof) of money. This makes some sense too. Young college stars aren’t sitting on monstrous contracts; hence they aren’t possessed with the kind of complacency of someone like Eric Dampier. The college guys are hungry.

What’s lost in the translation is that there is a lot of money in college basketball. It just exchanges hands with more subtlety. Obviously, since college basketball players don’t receive an appropriate slice of the money that they generate, far less scrutiny is directed towards the avalanche of NCAA money. And trust me; it’s quite a sum of money.

In 1999, CBS (the company that has exclusive rights to Tournament broadcasting) signed a brand new, 11 year six billion dollar deal. Six billion dollars! That’s enough to send the goddamn space shuttle (the most expensive vehicle on the planet) on ten missions. All this money is being spent to broadcast a game where the main people involved don’t get paid.

Since the main actors in the process (the players) aren’t receiving more than token benefits of that six billion, most people tend to think of NCAA sports as a more pure version of the game. This couldn’t be more wrong.

Calipari: the usual suspect

Love him or loathe him, Kentucky Basketball Coach John Calipari is one of the most polarizing figures in college basketball this side of Coach K and Duke. He currently holds the unofficial title of best recruiter in all of college basketball. In certain ways he’s an undeniable trendsetter, being the first to openly adopt a style that took advantage of the ‘one and done’ mentality among pro-prospects in the college game (a trend that has emerged since the 2006 rule requiring a minimum NBA age of 19.) Still, he’s by far the best known of the coaches who fall into the category of having questionable morals (or, as I like to call them, scumbags).

Everywhere Calipari’s gone as a coach, he’s stirred up controversy like bear swatting a bee’s nest. At UMass his best season was erased from the record books after illegal recruitment practices were discovered with star player Marcus Camby. This didn’t stop Calipari from being hired at the University of Memphis, where he achieved some of his finest moments to date (including an NCAA record four straight 30-win seasons). Yet the pinnacle of his tenure (Memphis’s 2008 run to the NCAA Championship game) was again erased from the record books when severe academic violations were discovered with (surprise) his star player, Derrick Rose. It was also discovered that Rose’s brother, Reggie, had been illegally allowed to travel with the team on Memphis’s dime.

Still the school administrations at Umass and Memphis probably look on Calipari’s time with them as a golden age. Beyond the obvious exposure they received because of his victories, new athletic facilities and expanded athletic budgets were a direct result of Calipari’s time at those schools.

In this way, you could almost sympathize with athletic directors at schools like this. Think about it: in the ever-combative debate over school budgets, the only surefire method to generate funds is by winning. And say what you want about Calipari, but the guy can win. So for an athletic director (whose probably very conscious of the fact that his own ass is on the line) to hire someone like Calipari makes all the sense in the world. This is completely because the only thing separating this AD from a job and the unemployment line is a consistent string of tourney appearances.

The hidden-handed powerhouse of college basketball

While John Calipari was well established as a national scumbag in 2008, it’s revealing then that he was hired by Kentucky the next season. With such a controversial record, how else can Kentucky justify his hiring other than the fact that they want victory at any cost? Let’s be honest: when you hire a guy whose had multiple seasons at multiple schools voided by the NCAA due to unsavory tactics, it doesn’t exactly feel like your waving the flag of the scholar athlete.

So in reality it’s not even John Calipari who’s really the worst of the worst. As despicable as his methods may be and as brazenly as he disregards academic and NCAA standards, it wasn’t John Calipari who hired John Calipari at any of these schools. It was the university, who were well aware of money they stood to gain from anyone who could produce post-season success and national exposure.

With no regard for the consequences, countless universities have made this same compromise in their standards in order to attain a faster route to win-generated cash. For a second though, I’d like to look at the consequences that they generate in doing this:

  1. Scumbag coaches keep getting better and better jobs despite the fact that they have the morals of Rod Blagojevich.
  2. These coaches directly impact the recruiting class in each season. In particular, the way that they treat high school phenom/pro prospects is appalling. Instead of telling them “you probably want an education so that you don’t end up in the terrifyingly large group of former millionaire pro’s who are now broke,” they’re pitched a different narrative.
  3. Guys like Calipari will tell the John Wall’s of the world that their future is in the NBA anyway, so why not just go to a place where they can start right away and where academics is a non-issue. This helps to encourage a mentality where dozens of young men view college as merely a one year stepping stone to the ultimate prize as a lottery pick in the NBA draft (whether those expectations are realistic or not).
  4. As a result of recruiting flocks of ‘one and done’ players like Wall, an enormous sum of scholarship money is wasted on guys have no intention of getting a degree. More money than usual is required to upkeep this kind of recruiting strategy, because the team cannot retain its star players for more than one year.
  5. Due to the increased demand on money, other areas of the university might suffer if there’s a down year. Namely, other sports, which can either see drastic scale-backs or being cut completely. Mostly though, it effects the school’s academic departments, which suffer in silence (since their stars usually don’t go onto be on national television every night like their hoops counterparts.)
  6. Since scumbag coaches bring wins and money, the Conference they play in gains more power. This in itself creates problems because the NCAA tournament selection process is driven by the powerful conferences who get many more bids. This is just another example of how much a college stands to gain from a “good coach” (translation: an immoral coach).

The list goes on and on, but those are some of the major consequences. Basically the ripple effects caused by a school employing a coach like Calipari are too big to ignore. The flagrant disregard for an acceptable standard of scholarly athletics all in the name of money is, in my opinion, an even more criminal offense than anything happening in the NBA. Yet we continue to go on looking the other way as guys like John Calipari and Bob Huggins (who has gotten two more coaching jobs since posting a one in three graduation rate at Cincinnati) get top jobs.

But on the bright side…how bout Cornell?

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