I’ve heard people say that you can feel good rooting for this Kentucky team and its coach, John Calipari. To me, that’s laughable.
Massachusetts vacated their Final Four run of 1996 because their star player, Marcus Camby, signed with an agent during the college season and took payments from the agent. Calipari was head coach; he jumped to the New Jersey Nets, where he squeaked into the playoffs his 2nd year and was fired his third year.
He jumped to Memphis and built that program into a national power, mainly on the strength of his recruiting. Memphis then vacated their entire 2008 season, including the Final Four, because their star player, Derrick Rose, was ruled ineligible after it was learned that someone else took his SAT for him.
By the time the NCAA had made this ruling, Calipari had already accepted a contract from Kentucky that paid him nearly $4 million a year. He immediately landed the top recruiting class in the country.
So far Calipari has never been personally indicted by the NCAA. I find this very hard to fathom given that he basically has two strengths as a coach: his ability to recruit blue chip talent and a close relationship with his players (he’s often touted as looking out for their interests away from the basketball court). The idea that he then has no knowledge of recruiting violations or infractions his players might commit while on campus seems laughable to me. He’s the only NCAA coach in history to have two Final Four runs vacated. Moreover, on both occasions he jumped ship before the ink was dry on the violations that penalized his former school. Only a rabid Calipari booster or a diehard Kentucky fan would not find that suspicious behavior.
But then, the NCAA hasn’t shown a lot of consistency or competence in these sorts of matters, as witnessed by the timing of how it hands out suspensions.
Kentucky’s AD admits that Calipari gets as close to the legal line of recruiting as possible but insists that he doesn’t cross it. Based on . . . wishful thinking, I suppose. And a desire to hang more banners in Lexington. Kentucky should enjoy this Final Four appearance while it lasts, because Calipari’s history says it will be coming off the record books in a few years once it’s discovered that his players haven’t attended classes or have taken money from an agent or never qualified for school.
But people will probably forget that as well. It’s amazing how quickly these things can be buried if a coach or player stays in the public eye and has success somewhere else. Derrick Rose is likely to be the NBA MVP, which I think he deserves based on his stellar play and leadership as a pro for the Chicago Bulls, but nobody praising his character comments on his cheating to get into school or the penalty it cost Memphis, nor does he express remorse. I had forgotten that the Michigan Fab Five’s trips to the Final Four were vacated in large part due to star Chris Webber accepting $200,000 from a local bookmaker while playing for the school. Webber became a popular NBA commentator on cable TV.
Of course, Kentucky’s opponent in the Final Four, the University of Connecticut, is led by Jim Calhoun, who recently received a–wait for it–delayed suspension by the NCAA for his own role in recruiting violations for the Huskies. Of course, that suspension didn’t impact Connecticut’s Big East tournament run or its current NCAA tournament run, because that would run the risk of costing the school money.
So, root for the school with the coach who has presided over two Final Fours nullified by recruiting violations but managed to avoid any personal indictments, or root for the coach who actually got tagged, this year, with a penalty for recruiting violations? If only they could both lose. That might still be possible. I suspect that if Connecticut loses Saturday, Kentucky will be losing down the line. That’s the Calipari pattern. And sadly, it’s indicative of the sort of cheating that’s rife at the major conference level in college basketball. The little schools aren’t playing on the same court, and it’s not all due to talent.
The taint on Calipari’s record. More on the Memphis situation. (Note the quote from the NCAA Infractions Chair, “No allegations were made against the coach, so there were no findings against the coach.” Doesn’t sound like they investigated his role at all.) His recent brushes with toeing the recruiting line. A list of the schools that have vacated Final Four appearances. (To my knowledge, Calipari is by far the highest profile coach from one of those schools who still has a coaching job. He might be the only one.) Jim Calhoun’s denial of wrongdoing. Webber’s little pecadillo.
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